The Detroit News’ Top 50 Tigers prospects
Only a small percentage make it, of course. Few players signed or drafted or otherwise shipped to the minor leagues in the hopes they’ll someday graduate to the big leagues ever crack a major league boxscore.
But some do. Many others are involved in significant trades. The Tigers, who annually are viewed as having a low-grade farm system, always seem to scrape together enough talent to offer a smidgen of help in Detroit, or at least as often, in trades.
Their system isn’t as strong as those clubs that have been finishing in the division’s lower rungs. Teams such as the Twins, Brewers, etc., have been stockpiling early draft picks and avoiding forfeiture of those prized picks by ignoring expensive free agents, which is opposite of how the Tigers have done business in recent years.
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But still the Tigers produce talent, either by way of the draft, or thanks to their international scouting.
Here’s a look at The Detroit News’ Top 50 Tigers Prospects in 2016. Their paths. Their performance. Their potential.
1. Michael Fulmer, RHP, age 22, 6-3, 200: Dave Dombrowski played poker with the Mets ahead of last July’s trade deadline, and the former Tigers general manager won, at least from Detroit’s perspective. Dombrowski got the top pitching prodigy from the Mets as ransom for sending Yoenis Cespedes to New York. Fulmer has a fastball-slider combination that could make him a No. 2 or No. 3 starter in the rotation, perhaps soon. The Tigers likewise haven’t ruled out a potential closer’s role for Fulmer. But for now, he’ll remain a starter and likely begin at Triple A Toledo.
2. Beau Burrows, RHP, age 19, 6-2, 200: Nothing scares a club quite like making a teenage pitcher its first-round pick. The Tigers never flinched last June when they jumped on Burrows, a Dallas-area high school star who showed during last summer’s Gulf Coast League he had all the power and finesse of a potential top-of-the-rotation starter. He has a potent package of pitches, as well as the brand of smooth delivery a big league team can at least begin to trust during a young pitcher’s long march to the majors.
3. Dixon Machado, SS, age 23, 6-1, 170: Machado played in 24 big league games in 2015 and barely makes the cut as a true prospect. But unless injuries say otherwise, he’ll begin the year at Triple A Toledo. From there, it could be a quick trip to Detroit, or, perhaps, to another club at July’s trade deadline. The Tigers are of a mind to hang onto Machado for the long term. He likely is a better defender, range-wise, than Jose Iglesias, and could also swing to second base as protection against Ian Kinsler’s advancing age. He has latent power and ideally needs a meaningful half-season, at least, at Toledo.
4. Joe Jimenez, RHP, age 21, 6-3, 220: He should have been an early grab in the 2013 draft. But his temporary money demands forced teams to bypass Jimenez, a hotshot Puerto Rican high school star who was receptive to a postdraft Tigers counter-offer. They got a potential bullpen star whose fastball-slider tandem fuels strikeouts and a heavy collection of weakly hit pitches. He must evolve at higher levels (Double A a likely first stop). But the Tigers believe he could be in Detroit as early as this season.
5. Kevin Ziomek, LHP, age 23, 6-3, 200: He was supposed to have been on track for potential work in Detroit in 2016. But then came 2015, and something of an offseason for the second-round pick (Vanderbilt) in 2013. Ziomek was relatively ordinary at Single A Lakeland: 3.43 ERA in 27 games, although he had a 1.15 WHIP, a hundredth of a point higher than during his first full season of pro ball at West Michigan. Ziomek isn’t a bullet-thrower, but he has a solid arsenal that, as 2016 could confirm, simply needs time to reach full feather.
6. Christin Stewart, OF, age 22, 6-0, 205: Left-handed power. Teams never have enough of it. The Tigers liked Stewart, a Tennessee star whom they’d been following since his school days in Georgia. In 71 games at three farm stops last summer, Stewart hit .285, with 10 home runs and an .880 OPS. He had seen Grade A pitching during his Southeastern Conference days and in his early days after signing with Detroit proved why a team snagged him in the third round of last June’s draft and believes he could be on a relatively fast path to Comerica Park.
7. JaCoby Jones, IF/OF, age 23, 6-2, 205: Jones was the Pirates’ peace offering when they pried away Joakim Soria from Detroit in another of Dombrowski’s July 2015 deadline deals. The Tigers saw Jones as a right-handed hitter and potential super-sub who could play a variety of infield and outfield spots and provide power, to boot. He needs to chop down on his strikeouts, and to avoid mischief that led to a 50-game suspension in 2016 for use of a non-addictive drug. But a trip to Detroit at some point late in 2016 could be in the cards.
8. Derek Hill, CF, age 20, 6-2, 195: There are the usual concerns about Hill, who was a first-round pick in 2014, fresh from Elk Grove (Calif.) High. Will he hit in a manner necessary for the Tigers to take full advantage of a young man’s speed and physical gifts? The Tigers were satisfied during his 2015 season at West Michigan (58 games, .238, .619 OPS) that Hill had survived an always-tough first year of professional ball, which included a quad strain and assorted aches. The Tigers expect a smoother season in 2016.
9. Tyler Alexander, LHP, age 21, 6-2, 200: Potentially, the 2015 draft could become one of the best for the Tigers in decades, primarily because so many promising pitchers were grabbed early. Alexander, who pitched at Texas Christian, was nabbed in last summer’s second round and quickly made a mess of minor league hitters with his control and repertoire that doesn’t feature heat as much as a steady string of quality pitches. In 12 starts at Single A Connecticut, Alexander had an 0.97 ERA, a .133 opposing batting average and an 0.59 WHIP.
10. Drew Smith, RHP, age 22, 6-2, 190: Smith was part of the 2015 draft class that, if health holds up, might have helped re-stock a system that had gotten thin on arms. A third-round pick out of Dallas Baptist, Smith has a blowtorch for an arm and could be one of those rapidly arriving relievers the Tigers would welcome to Comerica Park. Soon. In 13 games, 11 at West Michigan, Smith threw 31 innings, allowed 17 hits, struck out 38, and walked five. His ERA: 0.29. Opposing batting average: .156. WHIP: 0.71.
11. Steven Moya, OF, age 24, 6-7, 260: There is the awesome power. And there are strikeouts to match. Which will it be for Moya, a left-handed batter who looks like the Penobscot Building when he steps to the plate? The Tigers understand a man of his height, with obvious challenges, could go either way as he prepares for a season at Triple A Toledo. But they believe Moya is gaining in pitch-recognition and that, even if he strikes out 170 times a season, his 30-homer potential is worth taking a long look, especially when Moya has speed and outfield skills.
12. A.J. Simcox, SS, age 21, 6-3, 185: He was Christin Stewart’s teammate at Tennessee and down the line could very well rejoin him in Detroit. Simcox has a deft glove, makes good contact, and figures at the very least to work as a big league backup, depending upon how his bat develops. That should be better gauged this season at Single A Lakeland after Simcox, who bats right-handed, hit .330 (.762 OPS) in 49 games at three low (Rookie League and Single A) stops last summer. The Tigers were relieved to have gotten Simcox when their ninth-round pick, Colorado high school shortstop Nick Shumpert, decided to play college ball.
13. Jairo Labourt, RHP, age 21, 6-4, 205: If he can find the strike zone with any frequency, the Tigers will make known why they insisted Labourt be part of last July’s trade of David Price to the Blue Jays. Labourt’s fastball has a kind of volcanic fury to it, which is how he strikes out nearly a man per inning. But he also averages a walk every two innings, which isn’t a ratio many big league teams can abide. Still, because of his youth, and his raw power, the Tigers will let him incubate on the farm in 2016 and further assess what they might have gotten, beyond Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, in last summer’s big trade.
14. Mike Gerber, OF, age 23, 6-2, 175: Once in a while the draft kicks out a teens-round surprise. The Tigers got one in 2012 with Devon Travis (13th round, traded for Anthony Gose). They probably got another in Gerber, a left-handed-batting Creighton product nabbed by the Tigers in the 15th round of the 2014 lottery. He’s done nothing but hit since the Tigers signed him, cooking up an .822 OPS (.292 batting average) in 135 games last season at Single A West Michigan. He has to do it at the higher levels, of course, and could find his way to Double A Erie in 2016, if his inspiring arc continues.
15. Anthony Pereira, SS, age 19, 6-0, 170: Pereira’s rank is all about age and upside. He has a chance to be a player in the lineage of Eugenio Suarez, a fellow Venezuelan whom the Tigers dealt to the Reds in 2014, much to Cincinnati’s delight. Pereira has size, lovely athleticism, and should develop power (he bats right-handed) as he adds crust and muscle to skills that make Pereira one to watch. If he follows script, the Tigers could be looking at a player who follows Suarez’s flight plan. If not, they’ll be saying hello to another Hernan Perez.
16. Buck Farmer, RHP, age 24, 6-4, 225: Farmer might be the most overlooked pitcher in the system. He hasn’t dazzled during his big league cameos. But he still has enough power on his fastball, and enough gyrations to his breaking stuff, to make it in the line of fifth-round picks (Georgia Tech) who often crack the big leagues. He has added a slower curve ball to his quiver, which might or might not be helpful. But if he’s going to arrive as a regularly beneficial pitcher in Detroit, this is the year Farmer needs to prove so.
17. Zach Shepherd, 3B, age 20, 6-3, 185: Lots of questions abound about this Australia native, who was signed by the Tigers as a teenager in 2012. Can he play defense with sufficient grace to hang at third base? Or, is he a potential outfielder? Ultimately, of course, the Tigers are more concerned about a bat that shows potential, especially for a prospect so young and with a body styled to production. He’ll get a shot to show what he can do in 2016 during a long, hot Florida State League season at Single A Lakeland. The Tigers, though, wouldn’t be shocked if Shepherd blooms.
18. Spencer Turnbull, RHP, age 23, 6-3, 215: If you’re grabbed from a Southeastern Conference school (Alabama) in the second round of a draft (2014), tools and talent generally speak for themselves. Turnbull has potential as one of those No. 4 or No. 5 starters who, of course, are as valuable on a percentage basis as top-of-the-rotation thoroughbreds. Turnbull walks a few too many batters (most of the reason behind a 1.35 WHIP last season at Single A Michigan). But he has enough talent to pitch in the big leagues. A reassuring year at Lakeland in 2016 would all but confirm it.
19. Adam Ravenelle, RHP, age 23, 6-3, 185: Ravenelle probably ranks higher than 19th. But he ranks first among Tigers prospects who had tough luck in 2015. He was sick (awful virus), and missed all kinds of time, and only late in the season did he begin to get his body back as he finished with a string of scoreless innings at West Michigan. It was then that a fourth-round pick from Vanderbilt (2014) began to show some of the stuff seen during Vandy’s 2014 College World Series victory.
20. Kade Scivicque, C, age 22, 6-0, 225: The Tigers have done a neat job the past decade drafting that most difficult of prospects to seize, catchers. They either have landed jobs in Detroit (Alex Avila, Bryan Holaday, James McCann), or they’ve been dealt for reasonable returns (Curt Casali, Rob Brantly, etc.). They probably got another poker chip of meaningful value in Scivicque, an LSU alum and right-handed batter, who after signing last season (fourth round), hit .406 at Single A Connecticut before cooling down at West Michigan. He’s more of a hitter, perhaps, than a gifted defender. But the Tigers know a catcher’s value and plan on Scivicque at least offering important options.
21. Dominic Moreno, RHP, age 22, 5-11, 197: Hard-thrower who was an eighth-round pick (Texas Tech) in 2015. Good control. A man who by next season could pitch in the big leagues should his early ascendancy hold course.
22. Julio Martinez, OF, age 18, 6-2, 195: Right-handed-hitting outfielder with tools and significant potential, which is why the Tigers signed this Dominican Republic prospect to a $600,000 deal when he was 16. He’ll be playing his first full season in the United States in 2016.
23. Gerson Moreno, RHP, age 20, 6-0, 175: Must chop down on the walks, but another strikeout pitcher who could find his way into some long-term, back-end bullpen plans. Signed as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic.
24. Josh Turley, LHP, age 25, 6-0, 185: You never rule out a man who can throw the knuckleball. Turley can pitch meaningful innings (153 at Double A Erie in 2015, with a 3.29 ERA and 1.22 WHIP) because of a knuckler he began dabbling with only a couple of years ago. He was a 16th-round pick (Baylor) in 2012.
25. Hector Martinez, 2B, age 19, 5-11, 175: Another of the potential prizes from the Dominican Republic, Martinez is a right-handed hitter who last season hit .336 with an .884 OPS in the Dominican Summer League. He’ll get his first taste of United States baseball in 2016.
26. Cam Gibson, OF, age 22, 6-1, 195: He runs well, gets a bat on the ball, and is, well, named Gibson, which means there are genetics that help explain how Kirk’s son has grown into a potential big leaguer. Doesn’t hit for great power, but this Michigan State man (fifth-round pick, 2015) could eventually drop anchor in Detroit as at least a fourth outfielder.
27. Jose Azocar, CF, age 19, 5-11, 165: A native Venezuelan, Azocar has serious skills, although at the moment pitch-recognition isn’t included. He’ll need to refine his judgment in 2016, which could determine whether this right-handed hitter has a viable future in the big leagues.
28. Randel Alcantera, 3B, age 18, 6-1, 180: One to follow, for sure. Alcantera has power in his left-handed bat and plays a position where offense and defense can be difficult to find in equal measure. He’s a Dominican native, headed for his first taste of U.S. baseball in 2016.
29. Angel Nesbitt, RHP, age 25, 6-1, 240: There’s no excuse for Nesbitt having fallen so rapidly a year after he made the big league club out of spring camp. Nor is there any reason why he later struggled at Triple A Toledo, although that’s one reason why the Tigers realigned minor league pitching coaches. A hard-thrower who could be due for a big rebound.
30. Paul Voelker, RHP, age 23, 5-10, 185: Had a bust-out season in 2014, making it all the way to Double-A Erie a year after the Tigers snagged him in the 10th round (Dallas Baptist). Good inventory of pitches. Can’t rule him out of the Tigers’ 2016 plans.
31. Jose Valdez, RHP, age 25, 6-1, 195: Has another of those high-octane arms that unfortunately is countered by low-mileage in the strike zone. He had a seven-game stint in Detroit last season and has much work to do. But the arm is big league grade, no question.
32. Trey Teakell, RHP, age 23, 6-5, 170: Another of the college-arms haul in 2015 (ninth round, TCU), Teakell doesn’t dazzle or overpower, but he knows how to pitch. Down the road could be a long-relief answer.
33. Jose Salas, SS, age 18, 6-0, 160: You never know about a teenager, although the Tigers have developed their share of Venezuelan youngsters and have seen their value soar. Salas is worth observing, all because of his size and right-handed bat. Might end up at third base or even at first.
34. Gregory Soto, LHP, age 21, 6-1, 180: One of those youngsters (turned 21 on Thursday) whose fastball and left arm make teams dream about what might be. Excellent potential in this Dominican Republic resident who could be headed to Single A West Michigan.
35. Kody Eaves, 2B, age 22, 6-0, 175: Eaves was part of a January swap that sent Jefry Marte to the Angels. A left-handed batter, he doesn’t project as a starter, but could be of help as a utility man. Likely will start the season at Single A Lakeland.
36. Grayson Greiner, C, age 23, 6-6, 220: Greiner was supposed to have been on his way to Double A in 2016 and to consideration as at least a potential backup in Detroit. But he had a terrible 2015 at Single A Lakeland and this third-round pick (South Carolina, 2014) needs to realign his offense in 2016.
37. Dean Green, DH/1B, age 26, 6-4, 255: He’s a career .309 hitter in five minor league seasons with the Tigers. The difficulty: Green, for all his size, isn’t a big power hitter (16 HRs in 2015), and if he plays anywhere in the field, it must be first base. Still, a guy who can hit liners and pop the periodic homer could find his way to Comerica Park as a fill-in or bench bat.
38. Dominic Ficociello, 1B, age 23, 6-4, 205: He’s a switch-hitter who twice was drafted by the Tigers (chose to play college ball at Arkansas) before Detroit finally won in 2013 (12th round). Ficociello hit .293 in 2015 with a .764 OPS in stops at high Single A and at Double A Erie. Needs to get stronger, but has a shot.
39. Eduardo Jimenez, RHP, age 20, 6-0, 183: A project all the way in the fashion of all young pitchers who have the arms but need artistry if they care to see the big leagues. The Tigers signed him out of Venezuela, which means he has typical trademark talent that, as always, needs seasoning.
40. Francisco German, RHP, age 19, 6-2, 160: Again, the fiery fastball is there. And sometimes there’s control to match. But when you’re 19, nothing happens rapidly, which is why the Tigers will allow this son of the Dominican Republic to marinate for as long as necessary
41. Joey Pankake, 2B, age 23, 6-2, 185: He needs to move, rather quickly, to the upper levels and would do well in 2016 to have a big season at Single A Lakeland, or above. But there is just enough substance to this seventh-round pick (South Carolina) from 2014 to suggest Pankake, a right-handed batter, could someday crack Comerica Park’s menu.
42. Shane Zeile, C, age 22, 6-1, 195: He had injury issues in 2015 and played in 71 games, which probably contributed to a surprisingly anemic .220 batting average. But this is a fine athlete, drafted out of UCLA (fifth round, 2014) and a very good bet to have a more appealing 2016 season.
43. Adrian Alfaro, SS, age 20, 5-9, 176: Alfaro bats left-handed and has enough innate batting skill to make the Tigers wonder if they might have something cooking here. Question will be, as always: Is he a career minor leaguer? Or, a budding big leaguer who could, at a minimum, be a Ramon Santiago-type off the bench?
44. Endrys Briceno, RHP, age 24, 6-5, 175: Two years ago, the Tigers thought they had an assembly-line starter who was closing in on Detroit. He had a flame-licking fastball, size, spin on his breaking stuff, and a future. Arm problems developed and Briceno hasn’t come close to being the same pitcher. Yet. There’s still time.
45. Steven Fuentes, 3B, age 21, 5-11, 180: A switch-hitter, Venezuelan-born and raised, who could play third base, or shortstop, or second base, and who looked one time as if he might be a farm-system star. Those were the visions. But last year introduced a new reality as Fuentes batted .154 and slid as rapidly as he once had risen.
46. Artie Lewicki, RHP, age 23, 6-3, 195:He gave up too many hits in 2015 (87 in 79⅓ innings), which wasn’t ideal for a college pitcher (Virginia) working his first full season at Single A West Michigan. Lewicki, though, was an eighth-round draft pick with a chance. A more reassuring season at Single A Lakeland would at least leave him on track.
47. Johan Belisario, RHP, age 22, 5-11, 165: Not a bad pick to perhaps make a dramatic gain in status and pecking-order in the Tigers’ farm chain. Belisario throws heat, but needs substantially more – no surprise – command if he’s going to become a serious big-league contender. He’s another of the Tigers’ Venezuela imports.
48. Matt Hall, LHP, age 22, 6-0, 200: Another who could find his way closer to a Top 20 ranking should his 2016 season progress in happy fashion. Hall was a sixth-round pick (Missouri State) last June and, as a left-hander, has enough power to make him a comfortable presence in a farm system that needs any and all arms.
49. Gabe Hemmer, RHP, age 25, 6-3, 220: He’s a bit advanced in age, but not when one considers Hemmer wasn’t drafted until 2014 (24th round, San Diego Christian). What he spent most of 2015 doing was impressing at three levels, from Single A to Double A, to this tune: 67 strikeouts in 62⅓ innings, only 46 hits, and 18 walks. His WHIP was 1.03, his opposing batting average .204. Another who, with a pleasing season, could by next year be Top 20.
50. Eudis Idrogo, LHP, age 20, 6-1, 198: One of those Venezuelan prodigies who could find his way into the mix of Most Likely To Succeed should his 2016 season go as imagined. Has the size at a young age, and a high-rpm repertoire, to move in a hurry.
BEST OF THE REST
Prospects, who for all intents and purposes, are virtually interchangeable with many from the Top 50 list:
Sandy Baez, RHP
Matt Crouse, LHP
Edgar De La Rosa, RHP
Calvin Drummond, RHP
Julio Felix, RHP
Tyler Ford, LHP
Alfred Gutierrez, RHP
Alec Kisena, RHP
Confesor Lara, RHP
Patrick Mackenzie, 2B
Joe Mantiply, LHP
Whit Mayberry, RHP
Ryan Milton, RHP
Victor Padron, OF
Joe Rogers, LHP
Jake Shull, RHP
Andres Tejada, RHP
Jeff Thompson, RHP