Five Tigers prospects to keep an eye on

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
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For at least two reasons that have everything to do with winning baseball games, Tigers farm prospects are followed like any market commodity.

The roster in Detroit can always use help. And each July and offseason, Tigers front-office boss Dave Dombrowski loves having kids in the hatchery other teams and scouts find irresistible as he makes moves for more seasoned big-league help.

The question 40 games into 2015's minor-league season is how many of the above exist in a Detroit system chock full of fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-place teams, which is where you'll find Tigers teams residing at Triple A Toledo, Double A Erie, and either of two Single A stops, Lakeland and West Michigan.

It is a thinner crop than the norm, in great part because so many potential and active big-leaguers (Jake Thompson, Willy Adames, Corey Knebel, Eugenio Suarez, etc.) have been swapped for more mature talent in recent months.

But names and skills are in place at all four places. Based on conversations with those in charge, a few of the more noteworthy players and performers, who in time could me moving to Detroit or to another team, break down like this:

Steven Moya, Toledo outfielder: Moya is the most explosive hitter in the Tigers farm chain but ideally needed a full season with the Mud Hens before the Tigers could count on a 23-year-old left-handed hitter with his power package.

Then he got socked with plantar fasciitis and missed most of April. He's back and hitting near .300 (.289) in his last 10 games. Still, the Tigers have no idea if he'll be ready to help on Opening Day in 2016 or if he'll need even more time tuning up at Toledo. They'll have a better grip on that, they say, in the season's second half.

But they insist, with as much conviction as the team has ever viewed a prospect, that Moya will become more disciplined on his path to arriving as a game-breaking hitter and right fielder. The question is how soon. April's setback might have delayed the delivery date.

What the Tigers say, also with intensity, is that Moya's makeup and work ethic will conquer pitch-recognition and strike-zone criticisms outside appraisers have lavished upon him.

Ian Krol, Toledo reliever: Krol is making mincemeat of Triple A hitters. The Tigers shrug. That's what a kid (he turned 24 earlier this month) with Krol's palate of power pitches figures to do against batters at any minor-league level.

He needs to take a final step. Krol must polish his breaking pitch and make it the second weapon he needs beyond his top-floor fastball. It's getting closer. Once accomplished, which isn't a long-term process, the Tigers believe they'll have a high-horsepower left-handed reliever who does in the big leagues what he's now doing at Toledo.

Daniel Fields, Toledo outfielder: He started brilliantly, went rather cold, and now is back fighting to find the kind of week-to-week numbers that could make him of service for a team that soon will need outfielders.

As with Moya, his bosses will have a better handle later in the year. For now, Fields is healthy, which is progress. Hitting close to .300 on a steady basis is the mission.

Javier Betancourt, Lakeland second baseman: The Tigers envision in Betancourt a dandy everyday second baseman. He turned 20 on May 8 and has been hitting the ball harder since he shook off a spring thumb injury.

The thumb injury, say those who have monitored him, is a terrific testament to why in their view he will be a Placido Polanco-style second baseman — steady minus any meaningful power. He played over the injury in gutsy fashion that told the Tigers: You can and will win with this guy in the lineup.

But that's a couple of years away.

Mike Gerber, outfielder, West Michigan: Every draft brings a surprise. The Tigers got one in Gerber, a 15th-round pick last year out of Creighton University, who has been hitting .350 or better for most of the spring.

The left-handed bat is legitimate, say Tigers scouts. He almost certainly will be moving soon to Lakeland for some necessary summer drudgery in the Florida State League.

But the Tigers aren't rushing. A year ago he was playing college baseball in Nebraska. They only like the potential in a later-round pick, which is reminiscent of a bonus they got in 2012 when a second baseman named Devon Travis was nabbed in the draft's 13th round and eventually traded for the Tigers' current center fielder, Anthony Gose.

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