Minors : : General
Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Top Prospects: Detroit Tigers

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Perfect Game

General Manager: Dave Dombrowski
Minor League Director: Dan Lunetta
Scouting Director: Scott Pleis

Toledo Mud Hens (International League) 67-77
AA: Erie SeaWolves (Eastern League League) 67-75
Hi A: Lakeland Flying Tigers (Florida State League) 64-74
Low A: West Michigan Whitecaps (Midwest League) 70-69
Rookie Adv.: Connecticut Tigers (New York-Penn League) 39-35
Rookie: GCL Tigers (Gulf Coast League) 29-31
Dominican: DSL Tigers (Dominican Summer League) 26-41
Venezuelan: VSL Tigers (Venezuelan Summer League) 28-43

System Overview

Coming off of a season in which the Tigers advanced to the American League Championship Series, falling to the Texas Rangers, the offseason started rather quietly for Detroit. Major improvements weren't deemed as necessary, as the team already boasted one of the best young sluggers in the game in Miguel Cabrera as well as the best pitcher in all of baseball, Justin Verlander. Cabrera led the league in batting (.344), on-base percentage (.448) and doubles (48), while Verlander enjoyed a historic season in which he won both the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young awards after claiming the pitching triple crown with 24 wins, a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts.

The Tigers didn't have to make too many moves outside of some smaller cosmetic ones since they made two significant trades prior to the 2011 deadline that helped propel them to the playoffs.

To bolster the starting staff, Doug Fister was acquired from the Mariners at the deadline, and went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA through the end of the regular season.

Delmon Young was acquired in mid-August after the non-waiver deadline, and proved to be clutch down the stretch and into the playoffs, slugging eight home runs in August and September while adding five more bombs in October.

In the process, the Tigers didn't have to mortgage their future to acquire these two key players, both of whom will continue to be a big part of the team's success heading into 2012.

The need for a significant offseason acquisition changed at the end of January when it was learned that designated hitter Victor Martinez would miss the 2012 season after having reconstructive surgery on his left knee. A few days later, the Tigers addressed that loss by signing free agent Prince Fielder to a 9-year, $214 million contract.

Adding Fielder to the lineup gives the Tigers arguably the most fearsome one-two punch in all of baseball. Cabrera and Fielder enter the season at 28 and 27 years old respectively, and while many teams reportedly stayed away from Fielder due to the perception that his body would not hold up over time, he has been remarkably durable throughout his career. He not only played almost every single game for the Milwaukee Brewers since taking over as the everyday first baseman in 2006, but also has played almost every single inning of those games.

Acquiring Fielder was further proof that General Manager Dave Dombrowski has never been shy about making a bold move in an attempt to improve his team.

Cabrera was acquired along with Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins in 2007 in exchange for a prospect package that included two of the top prospects in the game at the time, outfielder Cameron Maybin and left-handed pitcher Andrew Miller.

Four regular contributors to the team, Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth, Phil Coke and Austin Jackson, were acquired as part of the blockbuster three-team trade in December of 2009 that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees and Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks.

Jhonny Peralta was acquired from the Indians at the deadline in 2010 and had a bounce-back year last season. Homegrown products Brennan Boesch and Alex Avila enjoyed breakout seasons, and Jose Valverde, signed as a free agent during the 2009-10 offseason, saved 49 games.

In short, this is a team Dombrowski has built through every avenue possible, whether it be via trades, free agency or as reinforcements promoted from within.

A lot of those reinforcements have come thanks to a previously aggressive approach to the draft. Starting in 2004 when the Tigers selected Verlander with the second overall pick, the team started to commit a lot more financial resources toward the draft. Cameron Maybin (2005), Andrew Miller (2006), Rick Porcello (2007), Jacob Turner (2009) and Nick Castellanos (2010) all signed for bonuses well above their recommended slot values. They weren't nearly as aggressive in 2011, but also didn't have a first-round pick after signing Victor Martinez as a Type A free agent.

The team has also made greater financial investments with international free agents, particularly in Latin America. It will take a few years for those players to make an impact at the big-league level, but is further proof of the Tigers' commitment to their own internal player development process.

2011 Draft

The new draft rules will restrict how aggressive the Tigers can be with the picks they do have in 2012 after forfeiting their first-round pick by signing Fielder, severely limiting their draft pool. However, as noted above, they took a very conservative approach in 2011, which should give people a good idea of what to expect from them this coming June.

While the team hasn't been afraid to select and sign high school players to big bonuses in recent years, they haven't taken too many prep players past the big bonus babies listed above. In the past five years the Tigers have selected only nine players from the high school ranks in the top 10 rounds of the draft, including Porcello, Turner and Castellanos.

Last year they didn't select a high school player until the 15th
 round, signing toolsy outfielder Tyler Gibson away from Georgia Tech for $525,000.

Catcher James McCann was their first selection, a second round pick out of Arkansas who is hailed more for his defensive prowess than his offensive potential. Their next pick, third rounder Aaron Westlake, has a promising bat, but may be limited defensively and may not have the ideal power to be a fit at first base.

Third baseman Jason King (fourth round) and outfielders Tyler Collins (sixth), Jason Krizan (eighth), Chad Wright (ninth) and Jeff Holm (12th
) will give the team an interesting group of talent that could progress together in the lower levels of the system. All enjoyed statistical success at the college/junior college level, with Tyler Collins' left-handed bat standing out the most after hitting .313/.360/.534 with eight home runs in 42 games after signing.

Like McCann, shortstop Brandon Loy (fifth) is known more for his defensive skills, and will likely join this group of positional prospects on the West Michigan Whitecaps roster to open the 2012 season.

The team seemed more intent to infuse their system with bats, and didn't select a pitcher until the seventh round when they took Brian Flynn out of Wichita State. Flynn has exciting potential as a 6-foot-8 lefty that can reach the mid-90s with his fastball, but hasn't been able to put all of the pieces together yet. He signed quickly and was aggressively placed in the Midwest League to begin his professional career, going 7-2 with a 3.46 ERA in 13 starts.

The Tigers didn't take another arm until Ryan Woolley (13th
 round), and overall only selected and signed five pitchers in the first 20 rounds.

Top 10 Prospects

1. RHP Jacob Turner
Baseball-reference player profile

The first time I had seen Turner pitch was at the 2008 Perfect Game Pitcher/Catcher Indoor Showcase. Turner already showed the same impressive build he still has today, as well as the electric arm speed that allowed him to throw 92 mph fastballs that day to go along with a hard, mid-70s curveball.

Six months later Turner started the 2008 PG/Aflac All-American Classic for the West squad, working the first two innings while striking out five batters peaking at 95.

He carried that success into the following spring, which led to him being selected ninth overall by the Tigers, who signed him away from a strong commitment to North Carolina with a $5.5 million contract as the ninth overall pick in the 2009 draft. Similar to Rick Porcello, another former PG/Aflac All-American and UNC recruit that signed for big money, the Tigers have moved Turner aggressively up the ladder, as he made his big league debut on July 30 against the Angels, less than two years since signing. He made two more starts at the MLB level in September to close out the season after spending most of the year at the AA and AAA levels.

Turner uses his size well to throw downhill while adding sinking action to his fastball that routinely sits in the low-90s. He has the ability to dial his heater up to 95-97, but thrives on pounding the strike zone and inducing early, weak contact. His curveball has sharp downward break, and he also throws a promising changeup that continues to get better.

While he may open the season in the Tigers' big-league rotation, it is more likely that he re-opens the year back at AAA to add more seasoning, experience and polish. He could be a very welcome addition to the team mid-season, particularly given the Tigers' newfound postseason aspirations, and profiles as a strong No. 2 pitcher.

2. 3B Nick Castellanos
Baseball-reference player profile

Similar to Turner, Castellanos has a large, mature build, although is much more muscular throughout his upper half with great natural strength. That frame could push him either across the infield to first base or to an outfield corner as he continues to mature, but for now he'll be given the opportunity to stick at third base.

Castellanos' bat is his calling card, as his strength gives him exciting power potential. After signing for $3.45 million as the team's first selection in the 2010 draft in the sandwich round, he spent the entire 2011 season in the Midwest League where he hit .312/.367/.436 with 46 extra-base hits. He gets great extension in his swing, with an aggressive yet disciplined approach that leads observers to believe many of the 36 doubles he hit will sail over the fence as he continues to progress.

Should he continue to enjoy success at the plate in the Florida State League, a league that typically suppresses offensive numbers, the Tigers could choose to speed up his progression. Ending the year at the AA level, and subsequently the Arizona Fall League, is a very realistic possibility for the 2012 season.

3. LHP Casey Crosby – Baseball-reference player profile

Crosby's career has had its share of ups and downs since signing for second round money as a fifth round pick in 2007. He missed most of 2008 after having Tommy John surgery the fall after he signed, and also missed most of 2010.

2009 and 2011 have been promising for the young left-hander, although similar to Andrew Oliver the Tigers may want to take their foot off the pedal with his development to allow him to build up the proper arm strength, especially given his injury history. While he was drafted in 2007, at 23-years old the Tigers can still be patient with his progression.

In 2009 Crosby spent his first full professional season in the Midwest League and enjoyed one of the best seasons of any minor league pitcher, going 10-4 with a 2.41 ERA in 24 starts, striking out 117 in 105 innings of work. Last year he was 9-7 with a 4.10 ERA at the AA level, making 25 starts while striking out 121 in 132 innings.

There's plenty to like about Crosby, as he passes the eye test with an athletic, 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame. He has the ability to dial his fastball up to the mid-90s while typically sitting at and maintaining low-90s heat deep into ballgames. He also throws a promising curveball and changeup, although he needs to continue to work on both for them to be consistent, effective offerings.

4. LHP Andrew Oliver
Baseball-reference player profile

Finding a consistent, effective offspeed pitch has been a challenge for Oliver dating back to his years at Oklahoma State. His fastball has always been a plus pitch for the big lefty, with the ability to sit in the low-90s, touching a few ticks higher on occasion and as needed. His control also can be inconsistent, and has struggled in seven big league starts the last two seasons, going 0-5 with a 7.11 ERA. His changeup profiles as an average pitch at worse when it is working for him, although he hasn't been able to settle in on one breaking ball, throwing both a curve and a slider the past several years with little success.

Oliver was hardly a finished product when the Tigers selected him in the second round of the 2009 draft, and they aggressively placed him at AA Erie when he made his professional debut in 2010, only to make five spot starts later that summer. While he has 262 strikeouts in 277 minor league innings, he has also walked 130 batters during that time.

Inconsistency as a starter may point to a future in short relief for Oliver, although the Tigers may want to pull back a little and allow him to spend some more time in the minors this coming season, as they did last year when he made 26 starts at the AAA level.

5. RHP Brenny Paulino
Baseball-reference player profile

One of the most promising developments from their newfound presence in Latin America, the Tigers proved to be as aggressive with their promotion of Brenny Paulino as they have been with the pitchers they have procured domestically. He made his stateside debut last year, his second as a professional, and finished the season by making two starts in the Florida State League.

Paulino gave up 13 runs in 5 innings in the FSL, but pitched well in the Gulf Coast League for most of the year. That makes the Midwest League a likely spot for him to open the 2012 season, and at 19-years old will still be one of the younger players in the league.

At 6-foot-4, 170-pounds Paulino screams projection. He has long, wiry strong limbs with great extension, and can pump his fastball in the low-to-mid 90s with plenty of room for added velocity as he continues to add strength. As you may expect, his control, command and overall repertoire needs work, all things that come with experience.

While a patient approach would be a wise one with Paulino, his upside is considerable if all of the pieces come together for him over the next two to three years.

6. LHP Drew Smyly
Baseball-reference player profile

Smyly is a prototypical finesse lefty, armed with a very good pickoff move and the ability to change speeds and command the strike zone. He has good size with some projection left in his 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame, and while he can dial his fastball up to 93, he usually throws in the upper-80s.

He can also cut and sink his fastball, and also throws a curveball, slider and a changeup, giving him a rather deep and well-rounded arsenal. His arm speed can slow down on his curveball, but otherwise uses his entire repertoire well to keep batters guessing what is coming next.

After signing at the deadline in mid-August of 2010 as the team's second round pick that year, Smyly made his pro debut this year in the Florida State League, finishing the season at the AA level. Smyly is one case that the Tigers could continue to push, as while his upside isn't particularly high, he is one of the more polished pitching prospects in the minors and may not have much more to improve upon. Returning to AA is a possibility, as could opening at AAA giving the Tigers a trio of promising lefties in the upper levels of their system.

7. LHP Alex Burgos
Baseball-reference player profile

The Tigers have no shortage of talented left-handers in their system, and Burgos' emergence last year during his first full pro season was particularly encouraging. While he has a sub 6-foot stature, his pitching style is similar to Smyly's in that he records outs by changing speeds well with a broad arsenal while working in the upper 80s to low 90s with his fastball.

His ability to command and add movement to his fastball is what allows him to enjoy most of his success, as he averaged just one baserunner per inning last year in the Midwest League after beginning the season in extended spring training. He has the ability to miss bats (89 strikeouts in 95 innings) while limiting base hits against (63). He doesn't have a particularly high upside, but left-handers with a similar resume have a good history of performing better than their projected potential.

8. OF Tyler Collins
Baseball-reference player profile

The Tigers selected Collins in the sixth round of the draft last June after he enjoyed a monster season for Howard College in which he hit .488 with 19 home runs, 34 doubles and a .949 slugging percentage. That led to him being named the Division I NJCAA Player of the Year, and he continued to post big numbers over the summer prior to signing with the Tigers for $210,000 when he was named the top prospect of the Texas Summer Collegiate League by hitting .310-7-22. He followed that up by hitting .313/.360/.534 in 42 games in the New York-Penn League to close out the summer.

Collins has a strong and compact frame at 5-foot-11, 205-pounds, and an equally strong and compact swing from the left side of the plate. He has good, not great speed for his size, at least enough that will allow him to play an outfield corner. The lack of ideal arm strength likely limits him to left field, but his overall approach and power potential could make him a good fit at any run producing position. He likely will open the year in the Midwest League, but could be moved aggressively should he continue to post big numbers.

9. C Rob Brantly
Baseball-reference player profile

Brantly put his name on the prospect map during the summer of 2009 when he led the Northwoods League in hitting (.346) on his way to being named the circuit's top prospect. Draft-eligible as a sophomore coming out of UC Riverside the following spring and summer, the Tigers took him in the third round of the 2010 draft.

He made his pro debut that summer for West Michigan in the Midwest League, where he returned to open the 2011 season to hit .303/.366/.440 prior to a promotion to Lakeland of the Florida State League. He didn't fare as well as well there, hitting .219/.239/.322, which means for the second straight season he is likely to start the following season where he finished the previous year.

Brantly profiles similar to a left-handed hitting version of former big league catcher Brian Harper with a good approach at the plate and a knack for making consistent, hard contact. Like Harper, Brantly's defensive skills don't project as well as his bat, and his swing is made more for hard line drives from gap-to-gap than for lofting them over the fence.

10. C James McCann
Baseball-reference player profile

McCann's prospective status as a catcher is almost the opposite of Brantly's, as the two could create an interesting tandem down the road at the big league level should they both continue to progress. McCann's defense is ahead of his offensive prowess, and likely always will be, with good lateral quickness behind the plate and a strong, accurate arm.

While he doesn't project to hit for a high average, McCann does have some over the fence pop. He has good size and gets good extension. He also manages the game well behind the dish, and shows good leadership skills. After finishing the 2011 season with West Michigan in the Midwest League, he likely will begin there to open 2012, and could advance one level at a time just behind Brantly.

Others in the Conversation:
LHP Brian Flynn, OF Avisail Garcia, OF Tyler Gibson,, 1B Aaron Westlake

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