Detroit Tigers Top 20 Prospects for 2015
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS
Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don’t intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Steven Moya, OF, Grade B-/Borderline B. Age 23, hit .275/.306/.555 with 35 homers, 23 walks, 161 strikoeuts, 16 steals in 515 at-bats in Double-A. Enormous power from 6-6, 230 frame, but a good athlete too, throws and runs well. High ceiling, but very high strikeout rate and low walk rate dovetails reports about over-aggressive approach. How much will that hold him back? Very high risk, but high reward too.
2) Buck Farmer, RHP, Grade B-/Borderline B. Age 23, Georgia Tech product pitched at three levels (plus the majors) going combined 12-6, 3.07 with 129/32 K/BB in 123 innings. Excellent pitchability off three-pitch mix, fastball velocity improved to 96 at times and he’s always been able to change speeds effectively. Should be a workhorse.
3) Derek Hill, OF, Grade B-: Age 19, 2014 first-round pick hit very poorly in debut with .208/.296/.295 mark in 47 games in short-season ball. Weak hitting reportedly caused by a back injury. Draws notice for excellent defense and across-the-board tools. Too early to know how those tools will actually play on offense.
4) Austin Kubitza, RHP, Grade B-: Age 23, Rice product from fourth round in 2013 but his arm hasn’t exploded yet. Wicked sinker, 3.72 GO/AO with 2.34 ERA, 140/43 K/BB in 131 innings in Low-A, just 98 hits. Inning-eating ground ball machine if not struck down by the Rice pitcher curse.
5) Tyler Collins, OF, Grade C+: Age 24, hit .263/.335/.423 with 18 homers, 49 walks, 116 strikeouts in 468 at-bats in Triple-A, .250/.280/.375 in 24 at-bats in the majors. Solid power from left side, but batting average/OBP could be troublesome. Could become Matt Joyce Part Two.
6) Kevin Ziomek, LHP, Grade C+: Age 22, former Vanderbilt lefty posted 2.27 ERA, 152/53 K/BB in 123 innings in Low-A. Like Kubitza, he is an experienced college pitcher who was too good for the Midwest League. Upper-80s fastball, workable slider and change-up and will mix in a few curves. Stuff not spectacular but could be a fine number four starter.
7) Drew VerHagen, RHP, Grade C+: Age 24, posted 3.67 ERA with 63/25 K/BB in 110 innings, 117 hits for Toledo. Made one major league start then hurt his back. Low-90s sinker, curveball and change-up have improved, another potential inning-eater or a long relief type, not overpowering despite 6-6 frame.
8) James McCann, C, Grade C+: Age 24, defensive specialist has gradually improved with the bat, hit .295/.343/.427 with 25 walks, 90 strikeouts, 34 doubles in Triple-A. Very good defensively, controls running game well, blocks, receives, leads. More improvement with the bat could make him a regular but more probably he’s a quality backup for the next decade.
9) Grayson Greiner, C, Grade C+: Age 22, drafted this year from South Carolina, third round, hit .322/.394/.444 in debut in Midwest League. 6-6 frame makes it hard for him to control running game due to slow release but his glove is otherwise highly-regarded, strong receiver and leader. Bat has improved over the last two years and his debut in full-season ball was impressive.
10) Hernan Perez, INF, Grade C+: Age 23, hit .287/.331/.404 with 21 steals for Toledo. :Lacks power but has some speed, very solid defensive player up the middle, could be fine reserve infielder although additional offensive growth could move him beyond that.
11) Javier Betancourt, INF, Grade C+: Age 19, hit .269/.307/.344 in Low-A, not great but he was young for the level. Skilled defender up the middle, contact-oriented bat has more potential than the raw stats show, not a power guy but could improve OBP/average to acceptable levels.
12) Chad Green, RHP, Grade C+: Age 23, 11th round pick in 2013 out of Louisville, posted 3.11 ERA with 125/28 K/BB in 130 innings in Low-A. Another college pitcher in the strong West Michigan rotation, nice low-90s fastball but secondary pitches draw mediocre reviews despite consistent statistical success. It will be interesting to see what happens here, if his stats start slipping at higher levels or if he remains effective.
13) Steven Fuentes, 3B, Grade C+: Age 20, well-kept secret, hit .295/.356/.475 in 200 at-bats in New York-Penn League. From Venezuela, very rough on defense but the bat looks promising. Could leap up the list next year if he brings this to full-season ball and tightens up the glovework. Major sleeper.
14) Joe Jimenez, RHP, Grade C+: Age 19, unusual non-drafted free agent from Puerto Rico, posted 2.70 ERA with 41/6 K/BB in 27 innings in New York-Penn League. High-strikeout, low-walk reliever with mid-90s heat, great track record thus far. Always tough to rank relief prospects but he should make some noise in full-season ball and rank higher next year.
15) Kyle Lobstein, LHP, Grade C+: Age 25, 4.07 ERA with 127/42 K/BB in 146 innings for Toledo, 4.35 ERA with 27/14 K/BB in 39 innings for the Tigers. What you see is what you get: fifth starter with finesse arsenal, could improve some but not an ace type.
16) Adam Ravenelle, RHP, Grade C+: Age 22, out of Vanderbilt in the fourth round last year, pitched just eight pro innings. Can hit 97, good slider, small workload in college so unclear what his role will be. Fresh arm, good stuff.
17) Angel Nesbitt, RHP, Grade C+: Age 24, posted 1.49 ERA with 72/23 K/BB in 67 innings between High-A and Double-A, 20 saves. Prototype hard-throwing relief prospect from Venezuela, another mid-90s fastball, has made strides with slider and change-up. Should get a trial soon if command holds up.
18) Jose Valdez, RHP, Grade C+: Age 24, posted 4.11 ERA with 66/26 K/BB in 57 innings in Double-A, 18 saves. Guess what: yet another hard-thrower with mid-90s heat, sometimes more, good slider, command issues. Like Nesbitt, should get a trial soon.
19) Dixon Machado, SS, Grade C+: Age 22, from Venezuela, slick fielder, hit .305/.391/.442 in 292 at-bats in Double-A. Had never hit anything like that before: career slash is just .237/.319/.302 and keep in mind that incorporates what he did last year! I definitely want to see that again before I totally believe. Good defender though.
20) Kyle Ryan, LHP, Grade C+: Age 23, posted 3.95 ERA with 98/37 K/BB in 160 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, pitched 10 solid innings for Tigers, should be in mix for 2015 job. Bullpen option or a fifth starter for some teams.
OTHERS: Wynton Bernard, OF; Endrys Briceno, RHP; Edgar De La Rosa, RHP; Calvin Drummond, RHP; Daniel Fields, OF; Mike Gerber, OF, Grade C+; Austin Green, C; Connor Harrell, OF; Josh Laxer, RHP; Artie Lewicki, RHP; Melvin Mercedes, RHP; Joey Pankake, 3B; Zac Reinginer, RHP; Gabe Speier, LHP; Josh Turley, LHP; Spencer Turnbull, RHP; Paul Voelker, RHP; Shane Zeile, C
The Tigers farm system is thin, especially after winter trades cost them prospects Domingo Leyba, Robbie Ray, and Devon Travis. All three of those guys would have ranked in the top 10, with Travis probably ranking first overall. This is typical for the Tigers, of course: they love flipping prospects for veterans or general major league upgrades. And it has worked well for them as their run of post-season appearances shows.
The system is obviously weak on impact prospects, but there is some depth in C+ types. Offense features Steven Moya at the top, who could become a 30-homer slugging star, a mediocre role player, or a Triple-A washout. Derek Hill’s debut was a disappointment no matter how much you want to blame his back injury. As usual the Tigers have several interesting infielders who could be sound utility men at least and perhaps more. There always seems to be a market for those guys when it is time to make a trade. There’s also some depth in catching and again, that’s something to like trade chit-wise.
Pitching is deeper than hitting. The rotation at West Michigan last year was manned mostly by polished college arms. Ziomek, Kubitza, and Green could all be advanced more quickly in 2015. Farmer and VerHagen are already looking for big league trials. As usual the Tigers also have several hard-throwing relief types including products of their consistently productive Latin American program. And yes, hard-throwing relievers are always valuable on the trade market.
The Tigers system doesn’t look too hot on paper yet they always have some prospects to trade, don’t they? That means something is being done right. Detroit’s scouts do the job they are asked to do and the farm system is competently run, even if the yearly winter lists don't excite us prospect fanatics.