The West Michigan Whitecaps, Low-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, are 50-45 this year. As is true with the entire Tigers farm system, there is a lack of real high-ceiling talent on this team. However, there are some guys that could carve out Major League Careers of some sort. I have seen this team play a lot so far this season and have observed the following:
(note: recent draft picks like Christin Stewart, Trey Teakell and Kade Scivicque were not included because I simply haven’t seen them enough to write anything educated about them. I’ve also only seen one inning of Adam Ravenelle if your wondering why he wasn’t included)
Derek Hill, Centerfielder: The Tigers 1st round pick back in the 2014 Draft. He is hitting .238/.305/.314 this year. While his stat line this year may not look too impressive, I have been very impressed by what I’ve seen out of Hill this year. This guy has the mixture of good tools and good make-up to be a starting centerfielder in the Major Leagues for a long, long time. He is currently on the DL for the third time this year and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried about his ability to stay healthy at this point.
One of the first things that stands out when watching Hill play is his speed. I have had him with elite home to first times many times times this year. I would grade Hill’s speed as an 8 currently with 7+ potential. The next thing that stands out about Hill’s game is his glove in center. I have seen him make some absolutely remarkable plays this year. The range is good and he takes some good routes, although they could be a little better. For me Hill is a 6+/7 defender.
Hill’s arm looks to be about Major League average and it shouldn’t keep him from playing center long term. As you can probably see from his stat line, the bat is where Hill needs some work. The hands in his swing look good, but everything else is out in front. This limits his ability to hit the ball with much leverage at all. I think it’s very possible the Tigers try to completely overhaul his swing and if they do that I think this guy could very easily develop a average hit tool. Also because of his current swing mechanics and his frame (6’2" 195), Hill currently has very limited power. However with some added strength and the mechanical changes in his swing, I can see Hill hitting 12-15 home runs at the Major League level one day.
Hill’s ceiling is a first-division regular (starter on a good team) and he could even make a couple all-star teams. That assumes his bat comes around.
Joe Jimenez, Relief Pitcher: Signed as an undrafted free agent back in 2013. He has a 1.55 ERA, a 2.24 FIP a 13.66 K/9 and a 2.86 BB/9 in 29 innings out the Whitecaps bullpen this year. Jimenez is probably most known by prospect followers for his recent Futures Game appearance.
Joe Jimenez has been extremely impressive in my viewings this year. He throws from a ¾ arm slot and his mechanics look very clean. The delivery features good deception and a little bit of effort.
I’ve had him 95-97 t98 with his fastball on my radar gun (the stadium gun at West Michigan has had him up to 100, but that gun is notoriously hot). The fastball also features good life, but he struggles with his command on it and consistently misses up in the zone with it. I graded it as a 7 pitch currently with 7+ potential if the command and consistency are improved.
His other pitch is a slider and it sits 79-81 on my radar gun. This pitch has pretty good movement and it’s used as a swing and miss pitch. However, he struggles with control on this pitch and rarely finds the strike zone. I graded this pitch a current 5 with plus (6) potential. My one complaint about Jimenez this year is his lack of off-speed pitch usage, I want to see him use the slider more frequently and I also want to see him start experimenting with a change-up to keep hitters off balance.
For me, Jimenez’ ceiling is a second-division closer and his floor is a good set-up man.
Spencer Turnbull, Starting Pitcher: The Tigers Second Round Pick in the 2014 Draft. Turnbull has posted a very impressive 2.95 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 7.60 K/9 and a 4.65 BB/9 this year.
Due to my work schedule and some just flat out bad luck, I’ve only been able to see one of Turnbull’s starts this year. Turnbull is pretty well-built and has the body to make it as a starter. He throws from a ¾ arm slot and hides the ball well with pretty good deception.
In the start I saw his fastball worked 92-94 t96 with some really good life, but the velo started diminishing a little when he got to around 70 pitches. He also seemed to keep the fastball down well and didn’t really have a problem htting his spots. This is without a doubt his best pitch right now and I’d grade it as a current 6+ with 7 potential.
Next, is the slider. It sat in the high 70’s with quite a bit of movement in the outing I saw. He did struggle with the command on this pitch a little. I’d currently grade this pitch as a 5 with 6 potential. Lastly is his changeup. The change-up was thrown in the high 80’s and didn’t do a whole lot in term of movement. I grade it as a 4 pitch currently with 4+ potential.
Turnbull has fourth or fifth starter potential, but personally I think he ends up as reliever long-term. He could probably carve out a career as a nice set-up guy.
Gabe Speier, Relief Pitcher: He was acquired from Boston as part Yoenis Cespedes/Rick Porcello trade last December. He’s left handed and has been impressive this year with a 3.00 ERA, a 2.62 FIP, a 7.25 K/9 and a 2.25 BB/9 in 36 innings this year.
Speier throws from a ¾ arm slot with a very good-looking delivery and good mechanics. The delivery and mechanics are very fluid and athletic. He repeats his delivery very well. There is limited deception in the delivery. The arm-action is fast and looks easy.
Speier works 90-92 t93 with his four-seam fastball. His two-seamer is in 87-88 range and has a ton arm side run. His fastball command is currently pretty bad. I’d grade his fastball as a present 5+ pitch with 6 potential. His curveball is thrown in the high 70’s and features some really good 1-7 movement. He misses up in the zone with his curveball often and that leads to some hard contact. I’d grade his curveball as a current 5 pitch with 6 potential.
His change-up is thrown mostly around 82-83 and features good deception both because of the velo difference between this and the fastball and his ability to maintain his arm speed. However, the change-up lacks movement and he struggles to hit his spots with it. I’d grade it as a 4 pitch with 4+ potential.
I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Speier this year and I think he could become a nice seventh inning guy.
Johan Belisario, Relief Pitcher: He was signed as a international free agent out of Venezuela in 2009. He has 2.31 ERA, a 3.19 FIP, a 8.31 K/9 and a 3.92 BB/9 in 39 innings this year.
Belisario is a really small guy, listed at 5-11, 155. He throws from a more over the top arm slot. His delivery features very limited deception as hitters can see the ball most of the way.
Belisario’s fastball works 90-92 with a little run. He struggles a little bit with his command right now. The command currently looks to be a little bit of an issue. The fastball is currently a 5 pitch with 5+ potential. The pitch that really makes Belisario stand out for me is his curveball. It’s been around 73-77 all year and it features a good amount of movement. Once again the command could be better as he often misses up in the zone and this often leads to hard contact. The curveball is currently a 5 pitch with plus potential.
Belisario is another guy I can see being a set up guy at the Major League level.
Zach Shepherd, Third Baseman: Shepherd was signed by the Tigers as a International Free Agent out of Australia. He has a .268/.353/.362 slash line through 298 At Bats in the Midwest League this year.
Shepherd has a good-looking swing that features good bat speed and a little leg kick. For me, the hit tool has 5 potential. His power is limited to mostly gap power, but there is some physical projection remaining, so he should add a little homerun power as he ages. The big knock on Shepherd is his glove. He looks really bad defensively at third, so bad that I think he profiles as more of a corner outfielder long term. His arm looks to be about average.
As I said above, this is a guy that profiles more as a corner outfielder long term. He likely ends up as a fourth outfielder that will provide a team with a good bat off the bench.
Quick Notes on a Few Prospects Not Mentioned Above:
Artie Lewicki, Starting Pitcher: The Tigers 8th round pick last summer. He currently has a 4.25 ERA, a 3.56 FIP, a 6.80 K/9 and a 2.76 BB/9 in 42 1/3 innings in the Midwest League this year. Lewicki throws a fastball, that’s usually in the 89-92 range, a curveball in the high 70’s with very limited control, a change-up that’s 83-86 and has some movement but lacks fade, and a slider that’s 83-84 with very limited movement. I think that this guy realistically ends up as a spot starter type.
Ross Kivett, Outfielder: Kivett was the Tigers 6th round draft pick last June. This year he has a .294/.348/.396 slash line through 361 At Bats. He has seen time in Center, Left and Right so far this year, but he looks like more of a corner guy to me, because it doesn’t really look like he has enough range to play center. Kivett’s glove is an easy plus and that will be the tool that carries him.
Joey Pankake, Second Base: Pankake was the Tigers 7th round pick last year. He has a .233/.318/.307 clash line this year. I’ve liked what I’ve seen with the bat, but he doesn’t really have a position defensively right now. He was drafted as a third baseman, was used as a shortstop last year in the New York Penn League, and has been used primarily at second this year.
Franklin Navarro, Catcher: He was signed as an international Free Agent out of Venezuela a couple years ago. He hit .189/.222/.213 in the Midwest League this year, but was recently sent back to Connecticut in the New York Penn League. This guy is a classic example of why scouting the stat lines is a bad idea. This guy has shown some pretty impressive ability with the bat this year despite what the numbers say. This guy has some tools, but they’re taking a while to develop.
Mike Gerber, Outfielder: The Tigers 15th round pick last year. He has hit .318/.380/.470 in 349 at bats so far this year. He has a good-looking swing, that is short and compact. His power is gap power and there isn’t much physical projection remaining. I've seen him mostly as a DH this year. He's obviously a much more valuable prospect if he is a guy with a position other than DH, so I really want to see him be used more in the outfield.