Fence-buster Christin Stewart worthy of look in 2017
In a few years, the Tigers farm crop will be thicker, almost certainly so.
More and probably earlier draft picks will accompany what figures to be a team’s reconstruction cycle. With less big-ticket, free-agent investment envisioned, early picks won’t be forfeited. Likewise, fewer stars are expected to be renewed ahead of free agency, which likely will add draft chips rather than cost the Tigers helpful June options.
With past scouting misses (Wade Gaynor, Aaron Westlake, Austin Schotts, Daniel Fields, etc.) also part of some bad gambling, it wasn’t a bumper year in the bushes in 2016 for the Tigers, although there were pluses mixed with minuses to have created the usual season of surprises — both ways — not to mention breakthroughs and busts.
Position player of the year
■Christin Stewart, left field: Last year’s first-round (supplemental group) pick from Tennessee has walloped 29 home runs at Single A Lakeland and Double A Erie, including three in three days heading into Sunday.
He strikes out a bunch (130 in 126 games) but also has walked 85 times. Stewart is only 22 and will probably begin 2017 at Erie. He is adequate in left field and figures to play left field or DH as his career evolves. But it would surprise few if this left-handed hitter with a flash for the long ball gets a shot with the Tigers next season.
■(Runner-up) Mike Gerber, outfielder: Another left-handed hitter who in this case can play all outfield positions and who should likewise make it to Detroit in 2017.
Gerber had less fiery numbers since his July promotion to Erie (.265, .339 on-base, .442 slugging, .782 OPS), but showed why he just might play regularly in the big leagues.
Gerber is 24 and looks like one of the Tigers’ few late-round steals on the position side (15th round, Creighton, 2014).
Pitcher of the year
■Joe Jimenez, reliever: He pitched at three levels and was excellent everywhere. He will work in Detroit in 2017, very possibly out of spring camp as a 25-man roster piece en route to life as a future Tigers closer.
He still needs work on his slider and change-up, but at 21 the secondary stuff is on track. He has struck out 78 batters in 522/3 innings, with 16 unintentional walks and a mere 25 hits. Get ready for Jimenez.
■(Runner-up) Tyler Alexander, left-handed starter: During a year when rookies (Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd, and Daniel Norris) fled the farm to find fortunes at Comerica Park, potential future help was gestating, none more quietly than Tyler Alexander.
The Tigers’ No. 2 pick in 2015 (Texas Christian) doesn’t blow-torch batters (105 strikeouts in 1361/3 innings) but neither does he walk many (20) while he keeps the damage generally to just under a hit per inning.
Least certain future for a big-name prospect
■Steven Moya: He long has been a guy whose stock could go either way. And nothing substantive has changed in 2016.
Yes, he has power (20 homers in 95 games at Toledo). He has hit for average (.284) and has a plump .813 OPS. He also defends better than he showed during a mystifying stretch with the Tigers. And, oh yes, he just turned 25.
But why is there such a sense of can-you-count-on-him? It’s probably wise to — that word again — wait. Because when you have his easy left-handed power, giving up on it too quickly could be a massive mistake.
Most promising hitter
■Jose Azocar, outfielder: He’s 20, and the long season grind began taking its toll on Azocar during the season’s second half.
But don’t be fooled. Azocar has the right-handed bat, glove and arm to be an everyday big-league outfielder. He’s only 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, and hit no home runs this season at West Michigan.
But give his body time to add muscle and he’ll get his share of homers. He’s another of the Tigers’ Venezuelan harvests.
Biggest mystery (top pick)
■Derek Hill: Even before he tore a ligament last month and had Tommy John surgery, it was beginning to look like a long shot that Hill would ever become the multi-tool, everyday center fielder the Tigers envisioned when they drafted him in 2014 from California’s prep hatchery.
Opposing scouts, many of them, were never sold on Hill’s bat. His offense through two injury-dinged seasons has offered little to make the doubters reconsider early views.
You can’t miss on first-round picks. The Tigers might have missed in a big way with Hill.
First-rounder who hasn’t disappointed
■Beau Burrows: Always, there is a warning label on high school pitchers: Be prepared for fading skills and bad surprises.
But the Tigers have scored with Rick Porcello and Jake Thompson (now with the Phillies) and they like what they’ve seen from Burrows, who was their first pick in 2015.
He was solid at West Michigan despite a finger blister that held down his strikeouts. His last start (Friday) was vintage Burrows: five innings, six hits, no runs, no walks, eight strikeouts.
He’ll be moving to Single A Lakeland in 2017.
Best bets for 2017 breakout seasons
■Spencer Turnbull: He was hurt for much of the season, made it back and pitched reassuringly at Lakeland two years after the Tigers snagged him in the draft’s second round.
■Gerson Moreno: A right-handed reliever who this week turns 21, Moreno has a 100-mph fastball and heavy upside. He struck out 54 batters in 492/3 innings in 2016 at West Michigan and Lakeland where he showed earmarks of a potential big-league closer. He allows his walks (28), but in terms of age and raw skill, Moreno has a shot.
■Adam Ravenelle: Another who should/must pick it up in 2017. He was a fourth-rounder out of Vanderbilt in 2014 and has had an uneven time on the farm, which, in 2016, saw him pitch well at Lakeland and not-so-well at Erie. He’s probably destined for a return trip to Erie and, if he finds command that in his case can yet be harnessed, he could turn it around in 2017.
■Matt Hall: A left-hander and sixth-round grab in 2015, Hall is a curveball specialist who might or might not get by with a breaking pitch as his calling card. He carved up hitters at West Michigan but had a tougher time at Lakeland. Stay tuned for what could be a make-it-or-break-it season for Hall in 2017.
■Grayson Greiner: The Tigers keep finding catchers, and may have grabbed another in Greiner, a third-rounder in 2014 (South Carolina) who finished strong at Erie. He’s a tall one (6-6) with a right-handed bat that could make him part of an interesting upcoming mix.
Most talented 2016 picks
Young arms were the story for a team that had no second- or third-round turns, thanks to the Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton signings.
Matt Manning, Mark Ecker, Bryan Garcia, and Zac Houston had fine summers, while Kyle Funkhouser (fourth round) was also strong, even if they were outmatching, in most cases, younger hitters.
It’s fair to say Tigers scouts do a better job assessing arms than they do bats. Good hitters are always harder to come by, which the Tigers tend to confirm.