This morning we move forward with the system reviews, examining the Detroit Tigers. Remember, this is the PRE-SEASON list. This is not a new list. These are pre-season rankings and grades. This is a general review of 2014, not a detailed preview for 2015.
1) Nick Castellanos, 3B, Grade B+: Borderline A-. Hit .266/.312/.404 with 10 homers, 31 doubles, 34 walks, 130 strikeouts in 500 at-bats in the majors. Average hitter with weak defense if you believe WAR, young enough to improve a great deal at age 22.
2) Jake Thompson, RHP, Grade B-: Traded to Texas Rangers in Joakim Soria deal, had a great year (10-5, 3.12, 130/47 K/BB in 130 innings), age 20. I like him a lot.
3) Jonathon Crawford, RHP, Grade B-: 2.85 ERA with 85/50 K/BB in 123 innings for Low-A West Michigan, 93 hits, 1.36 GO/AO. Pretty ERA and few hits, but non-dominant strikeout rate for a guy with plus stuff. Age 22.
4) Devon Travis, 2B, Grade B-: Hit .298/.358/.460 with 10 homers, 16 steals, 37 walks, 60 strikeouts in 396 at-bats for Double-A Erie, overcoming early injury issues and finishing very strong. Age 23, this was a solid year that makes it more likely that his breakout ’13 was not a fluke.
5) Corey Knebel, RHP, Grade B-: Traded to Texas Rangers, pitched in Double-A and Triple-A this year with combined 2.18 ERA, 63/22 K/BB in 45 innings, 23 hits. Also got nine innings in Detroit with 11/3 K/BB and seven runs allowed. Age 22, finished year on disabled list.
6) Robbie Ray, LHP, Grade B-: 19 starts for Triple-A Toledo, posted 4.22 ERA with 75/44 K/BB in 100 innings, 106 hits. In the majors, 7.16 ERA with 19/10 K/BB in 28 innings, 40 hits. Age 22, not a great year but still in mix as back-end starter or bullpen option going forward.
7) Bruce Rondon, RHP, Grade B-: Tommy John surgery.
8) Eugenio Suarez, INF, Grade B-: 80 games with the Tigers, hitting .247/.320/.343 with 21 walks, 66 strikeouts in 239 at-bats. Age 23, he’s been unspectacular but useful and is young enough to improve considerably.
9) Tyler Collins, OF, Grade C+: Made opening day roster but spent most of season with Toledo, hitting .263/.335/.423 with 18 homers, 49 walks, 116 strikeouts in 468 at-bats. 6-for-20 with a homer in the majors. Age 24, has a shot at being a useful role player.
10) Daniel Fields, OF, Grade C+: Hit .219/.273/.343 with six homers, 15 walks, 76 strikeouts in 274 at-bats for Toledo in injury-plagued season. Age 23.
11) James McCann, C, Grade C+: Hit .295/.343/.427 with seven homers, 25 walks, 90 strikeouts in 417 at-bats for Toledo. Defensive specialist showed some decent line drive hitting skills this year and is ready for major league trial. Age 24.
12) Hernan Perez, INF, Grade C+: Age 23, hit .287/.331/.404 with 32 doubles, six homers, 21 steals, 36 walks, 65 strikeouts in 547 at-bats for Toledo. Solid season, and another role player who is ready to show what he can do in the majors.
13) Drew VerHagen, RHP, Grade C+: 19 starts for Toledo, 3.67 ERA with 63/25 K/BB in 110 innings, 117 hits, 1.50 GO/AO. Made one major league start in July then went on disabled list for rest of season with a back injury. Age 23, looks ready for a trial next year if healthy.
14) Jeff Thompson, RHP, Grade C+: Age 22, made three starts for Low-A West Michigan then went on disabled list in early May and never came off. Status unclear at this time.
15) Kyle Lobstein, LHP, Grade C+: 4.07 ERA in 25 starts for Toledo, 127/42 K/BB in 146 innings, 174 hits. 28 innings in the majors with 18/11 K/BB, 3.58 ERA. Age 25, strike-throwing fifth-starter type.
16) Joe Jimenez, RHP, Grade C+: Good summer for Connecticut in the New York-Penn League, 2.70 ERA in 27 innings, 41/6 K/BB, 22 hits. Outstanding domination ratios, age 19, very promising relief prospect.
17) Javier Betancourt, SS, Grade C+: Age 19, hit .269/.307/.344 with six homers, 26 walks, 81 strikeouts in 558 at-bats for West Michigan. Credible full-season debut for his age.
18) Endrys Briceno, RHP, Grade C: Made just three starts for High-A Lakeland in April before going down with Tommy John surgery. Age 22.
19) Buck Farmer, RHP, Grade C: Pitched at four levels, Low-A through the majors. Combined for 3.07 ERA, 129/32 K/BB in 123 minor league innings, 112 hits. Pitched 8.1 major league innings with 10/3 K/BB but 12 runs allowed. Age 23, very rapid progress for 2013 draftee out of Georgia Tech.
20) Domingo Leyba, INF, Grade C: Age 19, strong North American debut, hit .264/.303/.375 in 144 at-bats for Connecticut but then .397/.431/.483 in 116 at-bats for West Michigan. Led DSL in OPS in 2013 so his career is off to a good start, stock moving up.
While the Tigers farm system is consistently rated below average or poor in terms of present talent, this is not a result of incompetence on the part of scouts or the player development personnel. The front office has used a "win now" strategy for years, flipping prospects for established veterans (this year is was Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel) while occasionally slotting in a home-grown talent for regular duty (this year it was Nick Castellanos). The draft and development side of the organization has shown the ability to produce a steady stream of players that interest other teams. While lack of recent first round picks has been a handicap, the system has been able to find some nice bargains both in the draft (Devon Travis) and in Latin America.
Looking ahead at 2015, the top position player in the system is either Travis or 2014 first-rounder Derek Hill, who impresses scouts with his tools despite his weak performance in short-season ball (.208/.296/.295). Leyba, Betancourt, and Hernan Perez provide middle infield depth. Outfielder Steven Moya, who was named to the ’14 Futures Game, has enormous power and hit 35 homers in Double-A, but also has serious holes in his swing (161 strikeouts, 23 walks in 515 at-bats).
Pitching is a system strength. In addition to Jonathon Crawford and Buck Farmer, 2013 college pitchers Kevin Ziomek and Austin Kubitza had excellent seasons in Low-A and have the polish to advance very rapidly. Drew VerHagen can help soon if his back is OK, and additional relief arms of promise include Melvin Mercedes, Angel Nesbitt, and Jose Valdez.
The Tigers system ranked 28th pre-season. They would still be in the 20s somewhere entering 2015 although perhaps a few slots higher than 28.