Most minor league sites will do top-10s, top-15s, top-20s, or some other ranking. Last year, to be a bit different, the FanSided team prospect lists (which were done at Call to the Pen, since S2S didn’t exist), instead listed a team’s top prospect at each position (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 3 OFs, 5 SPs, and 2 RPs). This year, we’re keeping that format, but also adding a “Best of the Rest” section that lists the top ten players beyond the positional rankings. That’s 25 players per system, if you’re counting.
While the Tigers system is in better shape than the Indians and White Sox, they’re still solidly in the bottom 20-25% of all organizations and they badly need an infusion of talent.
There is a dearth of legitimate impact position players outside of Castellanos and possibly Westlake, but there are a handful that could become steady major league regulars in time. On the mound things are in better shape, but if you’re looking for strike-throwers or guys with good control, your options are few and far between. Still, Detroit has assembled an astounding number of left-handed SP prospects and it’s the clear strength of the system. In fact 10 of their top 14 SP prospects are southpaws and a good number of them have a very good chance of sticking in rotations throughout the system as they progress toward the major leagues.
Beyond the left-handed pitching depth, the Tigers also have a commodity that is the envy of most teams. An elite pitching prospect who is just about ready for the big time. I am of course speaking of young Mr. Turner who has clearly established himself as one of the 3-5 pitchers in the minor leagues.
Detroit is especially thin at 2B and the system lacks any true standout relief prospects. In fact picking two relievers for this list was rather difficult since the guys with the best stuff don’t have the statistical results that the guys with decent, or fringe, stuff have shown so far in the minors. Obviously some of their starting prospects will shift to the bullpen as their careers unfold so this “weakness” isn’t a huge concern but it’s less than ideal.
Position Player Upside: C-
Position Player Depth: C-
Pitching Upside: B-
Pitching Depth: B
System Grade: C+
Catcher – Rob Brantly (22): Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft, Brantly hit 0.255/.352/.335 with 23 BB and 22 SO in 52 G for the West Michigan Whitecaps (A) after signing. This year he upped his level of production with the Whitecaps to 0.303/.366/.440 in 75 games before being promoted to Lakeland (A+). Brantly struggled in the FSL to the tune of 0.219/.239/.322 in 35 games and his walk rate dropped. As a prospect Brantly is a well rounded player who gets good marks for his approach at the plate, his ability to make contact and his well rounded defensive game. He even has good speed and athleticism for a catcher. There are some concerns about his lack of power but 33 of his 118 hits (22 2B, 1 3B, 10 HR) went for extra bases in 114 games between the 2 levels so he’s not without value. Most sources would have 2011 2nd round pick James McCann listed here but between the two I view Brantly as a everyday major league option and McCann as a potential backup.
First base – Aaron Westlake (23): After hitting 0.344/.463/.640, 18 2B, 18 HR, 47 BB and 54 SO in 66 games for Vanderbilt, Westlake was selected in the 3rd round of the June draft. He has a power bat, above-average bat speed and an idea of what he’s doing at the plate. To top it all off he’s also an excellent defensive first basemen. However, it’s not all sunshine and roses here as Westlake failed to impress during his 27 games stint in the New York-Penn League after signing. The power and plate discipline didn’t follow him from college but we can dismiss some of that due to the transition as well as the small sample size. Already 23-years old, he needs to move quickly to maximize his value and we still don’t know if his game will translate to professional ball. With Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and now Prince Fielder all signed through at least 2014 one has to wonder what his potential impact could be even if he puts it together and cruises through the minors.
Second base – Brandon Douglas (26): Not really a prospect, Douglas lands here primarily because there aren’t any other viable options in the system that have had any semblance of success. The former SS – who played his collegiate ball at Northern Iowa – has hit 0.313/.361/.406 in the minors since being drafted in the 11th round of the 2008 draft. He makes good contact but he lacks any real standout ability that rates above average. 2011 was the first season in his professional career that he played in more than 100 games and at 25 he was old for Double-A.
Third base – Nick Castellanos (19): There is absolutely zero doubt that Castellanos is the Tigers top prospect as far as their position players go. While the system is weak in this area, Nick is legit but he’s also quite a ways away from the majors. His 0.312/.367/.436 slash line in the Midwest League looked good but it was boosted by an unsustainable 0.401 BABIP and he struck out in 23.1% of his PA. Castellanos hits the ball hard but it remains to be seen whether his power production winds up being just average or something more. Opinions vary about his defense and his ability to stick at 3B for the long haul and one has to wonder just how valuable he will be if he has to move across the diamond to 1B. Just 19 years old he’s got plenty of time to improve and perhaps more importantly he has the talent to do so.
Shortstop – Eugenio Suarez (20): The Tigers signed Suarez out of Venezuela in October of 2008 and had him spend two years in the Venezuelan Summer League before bringing him stateside in 2011. Outside of a 12 game stint in the Gulf Coast League he spent the summer with Connecticut (A-) and hit 0.250/.323/.426 with 11 2B, 5 HR, 9 SB, 18 BB and 43 SO in 58 games there. Like several other SS in Tigers system, Suarez is an excellent defensive player and is almost a lock to stay at the position as he advances. The thing that sets him apart from his SS-peers in the organization is that he has some offensive potential both in terms of his ability to make contact and also to hit for some power as he matures. Suarez also has good speed and could develop into an excellent all around major league player.
Outfielder #1 – Danry Vasquez (18): The Tigers gave a cool million to Danry at age 16 to sign him out of Venezuela. The 2011 season marked his professional debut and he hit 0.272/.306/.350 in 224 PA with the GCL Tigers. He’s obviously a long way from reaching Detroit, but I think they have something here. He uses the whole field and already shows a good grasp of the strike zone. In 2011 he swung at 96.6% of pitches in the zone compared to just 11.8% outside the zone. His 34-to-7 SO-to-BB is nothing to write home about but his SO% of 15.6 was very good for a 17-year old in his first season in affiliated ball as well as his first season in the states. Reports from other sources suggest he lacks discipline but I’m rather encouraged by what he did this past season in that regard. Vasquez has some natural loft in his swing which should lead to some plus power numbers once he fills out his 6’3″ frame (he’s currently listed at just 170 lbs). I anticipate that we’re going to see a big season out of Danry in 2012.
Outfielder #2 – Tyler Collins (21): Taken in the 6th round of the 2011 draft, Collins signed for $210,000. Outside of appearing in one Arizona League game, he spent his first season with Connecticut in the New York-Penn League and hit 0.313/.360/.534 with 10 2B, 8 HR, 6 SB, 10 BB and 17 SO in 178 PA. It was a strong debut season and showcased his skillset. Good power, good speed and the ability to make solid contact (including a 24% line-drive rate) give Collins a better than average chance to move up prospect rankings after this season. The sample size is small but I’m a fan and look forward to what he can do in a full season.
Outfielder #3 – Tyler Gibson (18): The Tigers other 2011 Tyler (say that 10 times fast!) was selected in the 15th round and signed for $525,000. Because he signed late, he only appeared in 4 GCL games this season which makes him an unknown quantity. We do know the Tigers thought enough of him to pay him a well-over-slot bonus to keep him from attending Georgia Tech and we know that he has plus power potential with decent speed. That was enough to land him at this spot due to limited number of viable OF options in this system.
Starting Pitcher #1 – RHP Jacob Turner (20): As I mentioned in the intro, Turner is one of the best pitching prospects in all of the minors and seems destined to hold down a spot at the front of a major league rotation. My only concern here is that the Tigers will continue to push him too aggressively and in doing so will prevent him from maximizing his potential. Nathaniel ranked Turner at #6 in his Top-100 and I encourage you to check it out as I agree lock, stock and barrel with his assessment. The only thing missing from Nathaniel’s profile is a mention that Turner was born in Missouri which makes him extra awesome in this writer’s mind.
Starting Pitcher #2 – LHP Drew Smyly (22): When the Tigers took Smyly in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft I don’t think they expected him to perform like he did in his first professional season. It was, in a word, stunning. He started off in the FSL and had a 2.58 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and a 77-21 SO-to-BB in 80.1 IP before being promoted to Erie. Double-A proved to be even less of a challenge as he tore through the league. In 45.2 IP he finished with a 1.18 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 6.3 H/9 and struck out 53 while walking just 15. Between the two levels he allowed just two HR in 126.0 innings of work. Smyly doesn’t have the standout stuff of a big time prospect like Turner, but he has a very advanced feel for pitching and excellent command of his secondary pitches. All told he has a 5 pitch mix (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup and cutter) and is often cast as being a future #3 starter. I personally think he has a chance to exceed that projection as I love and value guys who “just know how to pitch” more than others.
Starting Pitcher #3 – RHP Brenny Paulino (18): If you were expecting Crosby or Oliver in this spot you’re just going to have to wait. I opted to go with Paulino because he’s much younger, has already shown an improvement in his walk rate in his brief professional career and I regard him as a better bet to stick in the rotation long-term. Paulino can already throw his fastball in the mid-90s and there’s a good chance he will be able to add a couple ticks to that as he continues to fill out and mature. His fastball, in addition to the velocity has a lot of natural life which makes it even more of a weapon. Also in the pitch mix are a changeup and a curveball but, as you’d expect from an 18 year old who has the kind of fastball that he does, both his secondary pitches need quite a bit of work. I think he will be able to improve both pitches quickly as he works on and throws them more frequently. My only concern is that the Tigers will continue to push him too aggressively and artificially limit his ceiling in the process. Case in point; the 2 starts the team had him make in the FSL at the end of the season after spending the year in the GCL were completely unnecessary.
Starting Pitcher #4 – LHP Casey Crosby (23): To this point I haven’t been a big fan of Crosby but much of that can be tied to his checkered injury past that has limited his innings and his development. On a positive note he remained healthy in 2011 and threw a career high 131.2 innings with Erie as a result. The results, 4.10 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 5.3 BB/9 and 8.3 SO/9, weren’t impressive but he did make 25 starts and held his own at the level despite a limited resume that included just 104.2 IP in the Midwest League and another 17 in rookie ball prior to 2011. Looking forward, and health permitting, I anticipate we will see a rapid improvement in his control and mechanics. All he needs is to log innings and I think the rest will take care of itself.
Starting Pitcher #5 – LHP Alex Burgos (21): 2011 was his first full pro season after being selected in the 5th round of the 2010 draft, and it was certainly successful. Burgos spent the entire year with West Michigan and finished with a 2.19 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 6.0 H/9, 3.1 BB/9 and 8.5 SO/9 in 94.2 IP. He lacks premium velocity on his fastball – which maxes out around 90 – but his curveball and his changeup are already above average pitches in his arsenal. Long term, he’s a finesse, back-of-the-rotation type of guy.
Relief Pitcher #1 – LHP Austin Wood (25): Wood was a part of one of the more memorable college games ever played. Pitching for Texas in the NCAA regionals, he came out of the bullpen in the 7th inning and wound up pitching 13 shutout innings. Texas went on to beat Boston College in 25 innings. While Austin didn’t win the game his effort, and the 169 pitches he threw in the game, will be remembered for years to come. The Tigers used their 5th round pick on him in the 2009 draft but had to wait until 2011 to see what he could do in pro ball. The reason? Wood was limited to 6.0 innings in 2009 and just 1.0 inning in 2010 due to shoulder problems that wound up requiring surgery. He appeared in 50 games for Erie this past season and finished with a 3.16 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and a 61-28 SO-to-BB in 62.2 IP. Wood features a high-80s fastball, slider and changeup and uses a near sidearm arm slot in his delivery. He gets this spot in deference of his memorable outing and for fighting back from his shoulder problems on top of having a solid season statistically.
Relief Pitcher #2 – LHP Kenny Faulk (24): Detroit’s 16th round pick in the 2009 draft, Faulk finished 2011 with a 2.56 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9 and 11.4 SO/9 in 52.2 IP in Lakeland. It was his 3rd straight season with an ERA under 3.00 and he significantly dropped his walk rate from the 4.6-4.7 range of 2009 and 2010. Faulk has been old for the level every step of the way but he keeps getting results and that’s noteworthy, especially for a reliever in this system.
Best of the Rest
- #1) LHP Andy Oliver (24): 4.71 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 9.1 H/9, 4.9 BB/9 and 8.8 SO/9 in 147.0 IP for Toledo. I have a good number of reservations about Oliver which is why I slotted him outside the starting 5 above. Despite the fact that there are 5 SPs I think have more of a chance to have sustained success at the major league level doesn’t mean I have written off Oliver’s chance to reach his ceiling. With the strength and depth of the starting pitching at the top of this system, and the lack of comparable position prospects, Oliver is still in the Top-10 for me. He’s got a big fastball that sits in the mid-90s but his secondary pitches (slider and changeup) are both below average. To make matters worse, he struggles to throw strikes with his fastball and can get knocked around. Oliver has had brief shots in the majors each of the last two seasons and both times the hitters emphatically stated he’s not ready for the show. I’m starting to wonder if he ever will be and I’m not sure if a move to the bullpen will help matters much. The potential is there anyway.
- #2) LHP Brian Flynn (21): 3.46 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 7.7 H/9, 3.1 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 in 67.2 IP with West Michigan. The team’s 2011 7th round selection, Flynn is a massive lefty standing 6’8″ and weighing 240 lbs with a fastball that can hit 95 mph. Secondary pitches are lagging behind but his size and strong debut season make him someone to keep an eye on in 2012.
- #3) LHP Kyle Ryan (20): 3.15 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 9.5 H/9, 2.0 BB/9 and 6.5 SO/9 in 137.0 IP with West Michigan. He’s been hittable but handled the transition from the GCL to the Midwest League and improved in most areas outside of his SO rate. Another tall pitcher (6’5″ and 180 lbs) Ryan has good control and has fared well since the Tigers selected him with their 12th round pick in 2010.
- #4) 1B Dean Green (22): The 11th round pick in the 2011 draft, Green hit 0.341/.395/.520, 19 2B, 7 HR, 18 BB and 35 SO in 65 games with Connecticut. At 6’4″ and 255 lbs, he’s a big boy who can mash. For a power guy he kept the SO in check during his debut season.
- #5) LHP Adam Wilk (24): 3.24 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 9.2 H/9, 1.2 BB/9, 6.7 SO/9 in 102.2 IP with Toledo. It’s not often you come across a starting pitcher at any level that gave up more HR (15) than BB (14) in a single season but that’s exactly what Wilk did in 2011. A product of the 2009 draft (11th round), he has moved quickly through the system and has a career 2.62 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 3 minor league seasons.
- #6) 3B Jason King (22): The Tigers drafted King in the 4th round of the past draft and sent him to the NYPL where he hit 0.251/.341/.415 with 6 2B, 6 HR and 20 BB to go with 39 SO. The K-State alum offers up plus power from both sides of the plate and is a good athlete, but there are questions about his ability to stick at 3B and a move to an OF corner might be in his future.
- #7) LHP Jay Voss (24): 3.56 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 7.8 H/9, 2.7 BB/9 and 7.9 SO in 149.0 IP between Lakeland and Erie. Originally drafted by the Marlins in the 8th round of the 2007 draft, Voss came to Detroit in exchange for Nate Robertson just before the start of the 2010 season. The Tigers converted him to a starter this past season and the early returns are promising.
- #8) OF Avisail Garcia (20): Hit 0.264/.297/.389, 16 2B, 6 3B, 11 HR and 14 SB in 515 PA with the Lakeland Tigers (A+). Garcia gets some love on prospect lists and he’s got plenty of tools to be held in high regard. He falls into the BotR group in my evaluation because of his terrible discipline at the plate which resulted in a disgusting 132-18 SO-to-BB rate in 129 games last season. In 4 minor league seasons he’s now drawn just 61 walks while striking out 356 times in 401 games and it’s getting worse as he advances. Barring a major overhaul of his approach, Double-A pitchers are going to eat him alive.
- #9) OF Jamie Johnson (24): Hit 0.275/.376/.378, 33 2B, 4 HR, 14 SB, 84 BB and 92 SO in 632 PA with the Erie SeaWolves. I tried to convince myself that assigning Johnson to the #3 OF spot above – in place of Tyler Gibson – was the right thing to do. After all, I love the SO-to-BB rate and he held his own in Double-A. That fact in itself is noteworthy since most the other position players on this list are a ways away from life in the Eastern League. Johnson is a good all-around athlete and player with plus speed, good range in CF and a strong arm. The more I think about it, I kind of want to move him up but he is 24 and his power is limited to hitting doubles.
- #10) LHP Duane Below (26): 3.13 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.7 H/9, 2.9 BB/9 and 6.5 SO/9 in 115.0 IP (18 GS) for the Toledo MudHens. 4.34 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 8.7 H/9, 3.4 BB/9 and 4.3 SO/9 in 29.0 IP (14 G/2 GS). Below is your traditional left-handed swingman candidate with a fastball that sits right around 90 mph, a high-80s cutter, curveball and changeup. He throws his fastball just over 50% of the time and mixes his other three pitches fairly evenly. Obviously there’s not a lot of upside here, but he is ready to help out the Tigers immediately. Whether that’s as an insurance arm in Triple-A, as a part of the major league bullpen, or as a starter remains to be seen. My guess is that he will wear all 3 of those hats during the 2012 season and for much of his career.
The complete list of S2S 2012 Team Prospect Rankings can be found here.
For more on the Tigers, check out Motor City Bengals.
Tags: Aaron Westlake Adam Wilk Alex Burgos Andy Oliver Austin Wood Avisail Garcia Brandon Douglas Brenny Paulino Brian Flynn Casey Crosby Danry Vasquez Dean Green Detroit Tigers Drew Smyly Duane Below Eugenio Suarez Jacob Turner Jamie Johnson Jason King Jay Voss Kenny Faulk Kyle Ryan Nick Castellanos Rob Brantly Tyler Collins Tyler Gibson