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January 21, 2015

2015 Prospects

Detroit Tigers Top 10 Prospects

by Chris Mellen and BP Prospect Staff

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Last year's Tigers list

The Top Ten

  1. CF Derek Hill
  2. C James McCann
  3. OF Steven Moya
  4. RHP Buck Farmer
  5. LHP Kevin Ziomek
  6. LHP Kyle Lobstein
  7. RHP Spencer Turnbull
  8. C Grayson Greiner
  9. RHP Joe Jimenez
  10. SS Dixon Machado

1. Derek Hill
Position: CF
DOB: 12/31/1995
Height/Weight: 6’2” 195 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2014 draft, Elk Grove HS (Elk Grove, CA)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: .203/.244/.243 at short-season Connecticut (19 games), .212/.331/.333 at complex level GCL (28 games)
The Tools: 7 run; 7 potential glove; 5+ potential hit; 5 arm

What Happened in 2014: The organization tabbed the speedy outfielder from California in the first round, and then began his initiation to professional ball in the bottom rung of the chain.

Strengths: Excellent athlete; frame to physically mature into; feel for the barrel; loose hands; capable of driving offerings into both gaps; gets out of box extremely well; double-plus runner; potential to impact game on bases; gets good jumps off the bat; covers plenty of ground into both gaps; good fundamentals; impact glove; strong work ethic; good makeup reports.

Weaknesses: In the early stages of developing a professional approach; very aggressive hitter; needs to learn how to better dictate plate appearances; likes to expand strike zone; will chase spin; development of pitch recognition will take some time; contact-orientated stroke with little present lift; below-average power potential; bat could end up on the empty side; glove may ultimately carry profile.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer

Risk Factor/Injury History: Extreme; limited professional experience; progression of hit tool.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s always interest in players with plus-plus run grades, but Hill has a chance to be a near-average fantasy contributor even without the speed. Despite the extended ETA, Hill shouldn’t last beyond the top-25 picks in dynasty drafts this year—and if everything breaks right, he could look like the good version of a former Tigers’ center fielder, Austin Jackson.

The Year Ahead: The speed and defense are attractive aspects of Hill’s game, with both offering impact potential and a solid foundation for this prospect to begin building upon as a pro. It’s not a leap to project the 19-year-old as a double-plus defender in center based on the way he already handles the position, especially when it comes to his ability to read balls off the bat and cover plenty of ground into both gaps. There’s a strong floor here when considering the value of a true up-the-middle defender. The variability comes into play when evaluating the potential of the bat, with an overwhelming majority of the early-career focus centering on building both the approach and pitch recognition to enhance the strong feel for the barrel. It’s likely to be on the slow and steady side for Hill out of the gate. Look for more subtle clues during what should be an assignment in the Midwest League in 2015, and for success to be a gradual ramp of controlling plate appearances better, with increased contact as a result. The major-league prospects here are bright, with the chance a first-division player starts to come into focus as the offensive prowess develops with repetition and experience.

Major league ETA: Late 2018

2. James McCann
Position: C
DOB: 06/13/1990
Height/Weight: 6’2” 210 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2011 draft, University of Arkansas (Fayeteville, AR)
Previous Ranking: #3 (Org)
2014 Stats: .250/.250/.333 at major-league level (9 games), .295/.343/.427 at Triple-A Toledo (109 games)
The Tools: 6 arm; 5+ potential glove; 5 potential hit

What Happened in 2014: Always known for his defensive potential, McCann continued to build upon his offensive progress since arriving in the upper levels, where he carried the success of the season into a September call-up with the big club.

Strengths: Athletic behind the dish; sturdy and strong frame; shows solid receiving technique; firm glove hand; good game-calling skills; quick release; accurate to the bases; fires feet well when blocking; necessary intangibles for position; hands to control head of the bat; capable of driving offerings into the gaps; handles left-handed pitching well.

Weaknesses: Glove-first profile; tends to make weaker contact against arm-side pitching; can be beat with good velocity; hands at times have trouble staying above the ball; hit tool most likely to play below average; power is below average.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average regular

Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; achieved major leagues; quality of contact.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: And we hope you enjoyed the portion of this list that is interesting for fantasy purposes (see Hill, Derek). McCann is best left for deep two-catcher leagues, as he’s unlikely to produce enough to be more than waiver-wire fodder in one-catcher formats. On the plus side, he’ll probably actually stay at the position.

The Year Ahead: McCann enters the year poised to leave Florida as a member of the 25-man roster and push for regular playing time alongside fellow catcher Alex Avila. The given here for the 24-year-old is the defense, which showed the makings of playing at a better-than-average level during his call-up in 2014. The California native has always demonstrated the knack for handling a pitching staff, along with flashing solid fundamentals and the ability to challenge the opposition’s running game. At the very least, the rookie should provide the team with steady performance behind the dish and little drop off in that department should he be pressed into or earn extended playing time during the upcoming season. The question mark for McCann has always been the stick, which over the last couple of seasons has shown progress in regards to chipping in at the bottom of a lineup. The power isn’t likely to be much of a factor, but there’s gap pop and the potential for .260s averages with continued adjustments fine tuning his strike zone. A major-league regular can very much emerge, with those prospects coming into focus as early as 2015.

Major league ETA: Debuted in 2014

3. Steven Moya
Position: OF
DOB: 09/08/1991
Height/Weight: 6’6” 230 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: International Free Agent, 2008, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: #8 (Org)
2014 Stats: .375/.375/.375 at major-league level (11 games), .276/.306/.555 at Double-A Erie (133 games)
The Tools: 6 potential power; 5 potential glove; 5 arm

What Happened in 2014: Moya entered the upper levels of the system, where he was previously known more for his batting practice displays than game-action translation, but turned some heads in dropping 35 bombs on Eastern League arms before a brief call to The Show.

Strengths: Very large man; muscular body; good athlete for size; elite raw power; capable of driving offerings out to all fields; creates big lift and loft; punishes mistakes; 20-25 home-run potential; arm strength for corner spot; dedicated to defensive craft.

Weaknesses: Long swing; big leverage leads to holes; plenty of swing and miss; issues with pitch recognition; can struggle with good arm-side stuff; hit tool will play well below average; game power can fall down as result; glove needs work to get to average; power is only carrying tool.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: High 4; platoon player/below-average regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; 133 games at Double-A; hit-tool utility.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The power makes Moya an interesting gamble, but considering how close he is to a regular role, he remains a huge risk in dynasty leagues. There’s always a chance he could hit .250 with 25-30 homers at the major-league level, but if you can sell him based on his gaudy 2014 home-run total, I would do that immediately.

The Year Ahead: Moya took a tangible step forward this past year in regards to translating his well above-average raw power into game action, with the result an onslaught of home runs during his tour in the Eastern League, and most importantly, a higher quality of contact consistently put into play. There’s still plenty of swing and miss in his game, though, along with an approach that is still relatively crude and lacks the patience to lure opposing arms into giving in the deeper the sequence goes. If last summer’s outburst is to be a long-term reality, Moya will need to further hone his secondary skills at the plate to combat what’s more of a strength-fueled swing than one enhanced by bat speed. Triple-A will be the next stop for the Puerto Rican outfielder, where the step up in competition will serve as a litmus test for whether he can prove the holes in his swing are not going to be outright exploited, especially by high-quality arm-side pitching that presently tends to give him fits. Things will fall well short here if the hit-tool utility spoils the continued translation of power, and this view sees something more of a bench player profile, but he’s still young and despite the proximity to the majors, can see further growth.

Major league ETA: Debuted in 2014

4. Buck Farmer
Position: RHP
DOB: 02/20/1991
Height/Weight: 6’4” 225 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 5th round, 2013 draft, Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)
Previous Ranking: NR
2014 Stats: 11.57 ERA (9.1 IP, 12 H, 11 K, 5 BB) at major-league level, 9.82 ERA (7.1 IP. 11 H, 2 K, 4 BB) at Triple-A Toledo, 3.00 ERA (12 IP, 10 H, 11 K, 4 BB) at Double-A Erie, 2.60 ERA (103.2 IP, 91 H, 116 K, 24 BB) at Low-A West Michigan
The Tools: 6 FB; 5+ potential SL; 5 potential CH

What Happened in 2014: The former fifth-round pick rocketed through three levels of the system, including a dominating stint in the Midwest League, before getting a four-game taste of the majors at the end of the year.

Strengths: Filled-out frame; sturdy lower half; durable arm; fastball comfortably operates 90-94; shows sinking action in lower-velocity band; ability to spot east/west; throws with life to glove side; snaps slider with loose wrist; flashes late bite and tilt in mid-80s; bat-missing potential; feel for turning over changeup; shows sinking, arm-side fading action; can round into weak-contact-inducing offering; not afraid to pound zone with fastball.

Weaknesses: Fastball can play down at times; tends to flatten out when above the thighs; must selectively elevate; more strike-throwing ability than command; slider will get slurvy and loose in low 80s; runs into stretches of wrapping wrist; inconsistent identity; change on the firm side; more deception and arm angle than consistent quality action; secondary stuff lacks knockout potential.

Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 4 starter

Realistic Role: Low-5; no. 5 starter/long relief

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; achieved major leagues; mature arsenal; emergence of consistent third offering.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Another deep-league-only option, Farmer doesn’t have the type of secondary offerings to be a big factor in the strikeout category. And for a pitcher who is unlikely to offer ratios that are anything to write home about (think 4.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP), he really needs those strikeouts to be mixed league relevant.

The Year Ahead: This right-hander’s bread and butter is a plus fastball that when at his best is consistently spotted in the lower tier of the strike zone, where it shows solid sinking action and difficulty in being elevated. Farmer’s strike-throwing ability with the offering also stands out as the 24-year-old likes to come out early in sequences with it to get ahead in the count before going to his secondary arsenal to start changing the looks on opposing batters. It was a quick ascent through the system last year for the Georgia Tech product, with solid progress shown that the arm is trending towards a potential back-of-the-rotation piece at peak. This season will likely see Farmer get a chance to continue the momentum in the upper levels of the system, before a longer look in the rotation is potentially in the cards at some point during the summer. One key development point to watch for will be improved crispness of his secondary stuff. The righty’s slider can be on the inconsistent side, while the changeup does lag a bit behind the other two pitches. Advancement here will go a long way to solidifying the prospect as a definitive starter at the major-league level, or whether things will end up playing better in a bullpen role. Regardless, this is a big-league arm, and one who can start proving to be a mainstay as early as 2015.

Major league ETA: Debuted in 2014

5. Kevin Ziomek
Position: LHP
DOB: 03/21/1992
Height/Weight: 6’3” 200 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2013 draft, Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)
Previous Ranking: NR
2014 Stats: 2.27 ERA (123 IP, 89 H, 152 K, 53 BB) at Low-A West Michigan
The Tools: 5+ potential FB; 5+ potential SL; 5 potential CH

What Happened in 2014: The left-hander put together a solid season in A-Ball where he showed improving command over the course of the year and an overall arsenal that is beginning to trend forward.

Strengths: Good athlete; long arms and limbs; deceptive release; fastball operates 89-93 with occasional arm-side run; can stay above heater to throw downhill and create angle on hitters; slider flashes tilt and late bite; shows wipeout break in mid-80s; turns over changeup with loose wrist; throws with good arm speed and slot in sync with fastball; stuff tends to jump on hitters; hard worker.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t presently repeat well; some jerk in delivery; command plays down; fastball grabs a lot of white; tends to straighten out in higher-velocity band; slider is on the loose side; tends to sweep rather than dart; will need to tighten and create more hard snap to play average to better; change comes and goes; seems to lack trust and confidence using it fully in sequences.

Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 4 starter

Realistic Role: Low 5; no. 5 starter/long relief

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; yet to reach upper levels; command progression.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The only thing worse in a dynasty context than a pitcher with back-of-the-rotation potential is one that has back-of-the-rotation potential and is years away from the majors. The deception is great, but the stuff is unlikely to be good enough to warrant ownership in mixed leagues.

The Year Ahead: After a successful first full season as a pro, Ziomek is set to take the next step up the ranks of the system and prove that his stuff is quickly becoming to be too advanced for the low minors. The big theme from this past season was improving command for the left-hander, especially in regards to throwing higher-quality strikes with his fastball. The size and diversity of the arsenal put the on-paper potential in line with a starter’s role, with further progress harnessing the stuff going a long way to achieving it. Though there’s a bit of jerk in the delivery that leads to some inconsistencies with his arm slot, Ziomek’s a good enough athlete and loose when throwing that it’s reasonable to believe more command growth can come over the course of the next season or two. The clues point to the lefty being able to transition quickly to High-A this season, with a taste of the Eastern League well within the sights before year end, and a projection as back-end starter further solidifying in the process.

Major league ETA: Late 2016

6. Kyle Lobstein
Position: LHP
DOB: 08/12/1989
Height/Weight: 6’3” 200 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2008 draft, Coconino HS (Flagstaff, AZ)
Previous Ranking: Factor on the Farm
2014 Stats: 4.35 ERA (39.1 IP, 35 H, 27 K, 14 BB) at major-league level, 4.07 ERA (146 IP, 174 H, 127 K, 42 BB) at Triple-A Toledo
The Tools: 5+ CH; 5 FB; 5 CB

What Happened in 2014: Lobstein once again handled a meaty workload in the minors, where the left-hander changed speeds and spotted his arsenal to keep International League hitters at bay, and then held his own during six starts in the stretch run.

Strengths: Body to withstand rigors of the position; capable of logging strong workloads; repeats arm slot well; fastball works 89-91 with occasional tail; throws strikes; moves offering around zone; turns over changeup with quality action; fading action in low 80s; throws from same angle as fastball; deceptive pitch; uses curveball to change eye levels; flashes depth and downward bite in mid-70s; understands how to execute craft.

Weaknesses: Fastball is pedestrian; lacks ability to throw past batters; prone to contact; command can be on the loose side; small margin of error with offering; lacks impact secondary pitch; curve can play too soft and lack sharp bite; hitters able to wait back to make contact; pressure on change to consistently play up; heavy overall reliance on inducing weak contact.

Overall Future Potential: Low 5; no. 5 starter/swing man

Realistic Role: High 4; long relief/sixth-inning reliever

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; 83 appearances in upper levels; mature arsenal.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Lobstein is a valuable asset for the Tigers to have, but if he’s on your dynasty roster, you either play in a deep AL-only format or a Kyle-only format.

The Year Ahead: There isn’t much that jumps off the page for Lobstein in terms of shiny tools or impact stuff, but the left-hander shows feel for his overall arsenal and a mindset in line with how he needs to execute to be successful. It’s all about changing speeds, looks, and eye levels for the 25-year-old. Though the ceiling is on the limited side, he’s durable and possesses enough depth in the repertoire to where things can work as a fifth starter, especially if he can harness a bit more fastball command. Expect the lefty to continue to be stretched out this season in Triple-A, where he’ll serve as depth for the big club should they need to reach down for an injury replacement or want to make a change due to poor performance. The likely long-run scenario for Lobstein points to a role as a lefty out of the bullpen who hangs around for an extended major-league career, but he should get looks in the rotation until he proves otherwise or the transition just makes sense.

Major league ETA: Debuted in 2014

7. Spencer Turnbull
Position: RHP
DOB: 09/18/1992
Height/Weight: 6’3” 215 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2014 draft, University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: 4.45 ERA (28.1 IP, 31 H, 19 K, 14 BB) at short-season Connecticut
The Tools: 6+ potential FB; 5+ potential SL; 5 potential CH

What Happened in 2014: The organization tabbed Alabama’s Friday night starter in the second round, and then began his introduction to life in the pro rotation in the New York-Penn League.

Strengths: Sturdy frame; strong lower half; above-average arm strength; fastball comfortably works 92-95; late life to offering; tough to square in lower tier; can reach for more when needs it (97); potential for heater to play up in shorter stints; snaps slider with tilt and late bite; can miss bats; change flashes parachuting action; average potential with repetition; likes to come after hitters.

Weaknesses: Slider on the inconsistent side; will get slurvy and spin when drops arm slot; needs some work staying above ball when delivering; change presently plays distant third in arsenal; at times similar to taking something off of fastball; may ultimately only get to fringe average; still learning importance of pitching east/west; heater will work too elevated.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; no.3/4 starter

Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (7th/8th inning)

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; limited pro resume; emergence of third pitch.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Finally, a player on this list with at least some potential in mixed leagues. Turnbull isn't likely to be taken in the top-50 in drafts this offseason (and was only a fringy consideration for my list), but could miss bats eventually. He's a name to tuck away in the back of your head for leagues with large farm systems.

The Year Ahead: The Tigers eased Turnbull into pro ball during his time in short-season after signing, but the liveliness of his fastball and his mentality to come right after hitters definitely stood out. Look for the 22-year-old to begin this year in the Midwest League, where we should get a much better read on how the righty is stacking up in a starting role. The long pole for the arm is the development of his changeup, which presently lags behind his heater and slider. It makes sense for the organization to stretch him out as much as possible to see if continued repetition can push it to a more viable offering in sequences. Though the slide piece can be on the inconsistent side, it offers Turnbull a potential above-average weapon with some further tightening to pair with a fastball that can work in the mid-90s and touch higher when he’s reaching back. The most likely scenario sees this righty profiling as a late-innings reliever due to the gap with the change, but he should pass into the upper levels in a starting role where the true test of his stuff will come.

Major league ETA: Late 2017

8. Grayson Greiner
Position: C
DOB: 10/11/1992
Height/Weight: 6’6” 215 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 3rd round, 2014 draft, University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: .322/.394/.444 at Low-A West Michigan (26 games)
The Tools: 6 arm; 6 potential glove; 5 potential power

What Happened in 2014: The organization accelerated the former Gamecock into A-Ball after signing, where he got off to a hot start in his first 26 games as a pro before a pitch off the left wrist put him on the operating table to repair a broken hamate bone.

Strengths: Large frame; physical player; above-average arm strength; throws come out of hand with power; potential to control the run game; firm glove hand; quick feet for size; soft hands; can move laterally to swallow up offerings; big target; easy swing; ability to square stuff up on a line; above-average raw; high baseball IQ; engaged in nuances of craft.

Weaknesses: Long arms create length in swing; concerns on ability to handle good velocity; hit tool likely to play below to fringe average; limited zones for doing damage; release can be slow at times; ball control needs work; still learning how to fully use body to advantage when blocking.

Overall Future Potential: 5; major-league regular

Realistic Role: High 4; backup catcher/below-average regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; limited pro experience; hit-tool utility.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Defense-first catchers don't do a whole lot for us, but he has a chance to hit for enough power to be deep-league relevant in a year or two. That's about all we can hope for with this profile in dynasty leagues.

The Year Ahead: Greiner’s main value stems from his defensive ability, which has a bona fide chance to offer both a plus glove behind the dish and plus arm to control the running game. Despite his 6-foot-6 frame, the 22-year-old moves well laterally and flashes quick feet to go along with a firm glove hand that serves him well when receiving. It’s a defensive game that ultimately can carry him to the majors with further refinement in regards to the nuances of the position. The wild card is the bat. Though the stick has made progress each season as an amateur, long arms that cause early extension and the overall limited nature of the bat speed lead to pause when projecting the hit tool to play higher than fringe average as a pro at peak. There is some raw power that can manifest into game action if Greiner can work into favorable hitting conditions consistently, but it’s likely a modest potential payout with the bat. Look for the backstop to return to the Midwest League to start 2015, where it does bear watching if there are any lingering effects of the hamate injury suffered last August. The clues suggest he isn’t in for a ton of resistance at the level, but it’s a good first extended opportunity to begin polishing off some of the rough edges.

Major league ETA: 2018

9. Joe Jimenez
Position: RHP
DOB: 01/17/1995
Height/Weight: 6’3” 220 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Nondraft Free Agent, 2013, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Gurabo, PR)
Previous Ranking: NR
2014 Stats: 2.70 ERA (26.2 IP, 22 H, 41 K, 6 BB) at short-season Connecticut
The Tools: 7 potential FB; 6 potential SL; 5 potential CH

What Happened in 2014: The Puerto Rico native took the New York-Penn League by storm, where he fanned an impressive 41 batters in 26 2/3 innings and showed the makings of a budding late-innings power arm.

Strengths: Strong body; filled into frame, especially in trunk; near-elite arm strength; fastball comfortably sits 94-96 with some arm-side run; can reach for more when needs it (97-98); has hit triple digits; snaps slider with loose wrist; flashes tight rotation and hard bite; wipeout potential; will sprinkle in changeup; shows some feel for creating fade.

Weaknesses: Delivery can be rigid; will need to loosen up some to enhance command; arm can be late; body maxed out; gets deliberate with changeup; tends to slow body and arm down; will spike slider out in front; likes to work up with heater; presently a thrower.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; late-innings reliever (second-tier closer/setup)

Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; short-season resume; large gap between present and future.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: You know the caveats of relief prospects in dynasty leagues—especially ones who haven't even reached full-season ball. He's not worth owning at this point, no matter what relief categories your league counts.

The Year Ahead: An intriguing arm with a high-octane fastball and hard slider, Jimenez has all of the ingredients of a potential late-innings piece who can miss bats and bring the power element to the back of a bullpen. Of course, the developmental road is still a long one for the 20-year-old, mainly driven by a need to squeeze out more fastball command and work in all four quadrants of the strike zone more consistently, but the right-hander proved to be far too much for the competition to handle this past season. An assignment in A-Ball awaits the Puerto Rican this year, where things can very much play the same in terms of shutdown results. The telltale signs of success will reside with showing progress with the aforementioned needs, along with getting more consistency in changing the shape of his slider, to both bury it and pick up strikes, thus altering the look of sequences. This is a good looking arm, and despite being limited in terms of versatility to the pen can offer nice value down the line.

Major league ETA: 2018

10. Dixon Machado
Position: SS
DOB: 02/22/1992
Height/Weight: 6’1” 170 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International Free Agent, 2008, Venezuela
Previous Ranking: NR
2014 Stats: .305/.391/.442 at Double-A Erie (90 games), .252/.348/.333 at High-A Lakeland (41 games)
The Tools: 7 arm; 6 potential glove; 5+ run

What Happened in 2014: After a stint in the Florida State League, the defensive-minded player caught fire during a promotion to Double-A, and showed that, at the very least, a future in the majors is very much in the cards.

Strengths: Instinctive defender; smooth actions; plus range; excellent reads and first step; positions glove well; makes it look easy; plenty of arm for left side of infield; true weapon at his disposal; sound approach in the box; picks up ball out of hand quickly; willing to go deep into counts; gets out of box well; will take extra base; won’t run into outs.

Weaknesses: Contact is weak and soft; ball lacks thump off the bat; hit tool is below average at best; strength isn’t part of game; minimal power potential; typically overmatched by good velocity; will get casual in the field; can struggle with routine plays from time to time; glove-only profile.

Overall Future Potential: High 4; utility player/second-division player

Realistic Role: 4; below-average player/up-and-down guy

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; upper-level experience; glove-first player.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: If you've enjoyed owning Jose Iglesias, you're going to love Machado. But if you’re not a masochist, you're better off leaving him on the waiver wire. There's no fantasy future here.

The Year Ahead: Machado can pick it with the best of them at shortstop, often making spectacular plays look routine, while turning heads in the process with the ease in which he pulls it all off. This is a highly instinctive player in the field. The glove is very much the draw here and it’s one that can propel the soon-to-be 23-year-old to a fairly long career in some capacity. Further progress with the bat will go a long way to solidifying those thoughts into a reality. We should not expect the prospect to suddenly morph into something he’s not with the stick, but the approach and ability to pick up offerings quickly give him a fighting chance to at least push things past automatic-out status if he can continue to build upon the momentum of last season. This year will be a good test for Machado to prove he can make the necessary adjustments to handle the upper levels in a full season of action, with a debut in Detroit very much in reach to potentially boost the bench at some point in the summer. That’s likely how things are going to play at potential peak in the long run, but defense is always an asset for teams looking to go deep into October.

Major league ETA: 2015

Prospects on the Rise (by Jordan Gorosh):

1. RHP Anthony Castro: It’s no secret: the Tigers love Venezuelans. Castro hails from Caracas, and he enjoyed some success in his debut stateside. It would not be a surprise if Castro threw close to triple-digit innings in full-season ball this year as his arsenal is certainly advanced. The mechanical profile still needs some refinement, but his arm action is relatively clean. He features a fastball that has good life and some arm-side run in the 90-93 range, with some ability to command the offering. His slider in the 79-82 velocity band features sharp bite, showing the ability to miss bats as he moves up the chain. In addition, he has a feel for a change up in the mid-80s, which could also be solid average down the line. Clearly, there is a big risk profile in a teenage, complex-league arm. However, this is a pitcher who could firmly place himself on next year’s top ten with a strong 2015 campaign.

2. 2B Javier Betancourt: Betancourt’s plus-plus makeup coupled with high baseball IQ and advanced approach at the plate makes him an easy prospect to captivate attention on the diamond. Baseball runs in his blood, considering Edgardo Alfonso is his uncle. In the second baseman’s first year of full-season ball, he came out hot in the first half, but struggled after the All-Star break. The hit tool is the carrying tool, as the rest of Betancourt’s profile projects as average or a tick below. With soft hands, excellent positioning, and a major-league average arm, Betancourt profiles as a solid defender. Yet, he’ll have to hit his way up the chain to reach his ceiling of a grinder-type second-division keystone.

3. 3B Zach Shepherd: Signed in 2012 for $325,000, the equivalent of fifth-round money in the Rule 4 draft, the Australian-born Shepherd opened up a few eyes via his bat in short-season ball this summer. He has natural feel for the barrel and the potential for big-league average pop, making hard contact with regularity. While the 6-foot-2, 180 pound teenager has played infield since coming stateside, there is the distinct possibility that he’ll have to transition to a corner outfield spot. With that being the case, Shepherd profiles as a bat-first tweener, although one who has steadily improved in every aspect of his game since turning pro. He’ll likely stay in extended spring training for the beginning of the season, then get a taste of the New York Penn league—still an advanced assignment for someone in their age-19 season.

Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2015) (by Jordan Gorosh):

1. RHP Drew VerHagen: Narrowly missing the top ten, VerHagen took three steps forward and two steps back in development in 2014. While the right-hander put up solid stats in AAA, and even filled in nicely for a spot start with the big club, his secondary offerings have not refined as evaluators hoped. A mountain of a man, standing at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, there’s no question that the Vanderbilt product could chew through 200 innings a year. However, he only has one pitch that grades out above a 5 at this point in time—his sinker—with the breaking ball and changeup lagging behind. In order to fulfill that promise of taking the ball every fifth day, VerHagen will have to generate more swings and misses, the five per nine he’s currently sporting will not be enough.

2. RHP Angel Nesbitt: Yet another Venezuelan pitcher; big surprise. Nesbitt has flown through the minor-league ranks, appearing in four levels in two seasons. Last summer was his coming out party, however, as the squatly-built right-hander vastly improved over the previous year’s performance. He added some arm-side wiggle to his mid-90s fastball, made a stride forward in command, and his short slider tightened. Nesbitt was added to the 40-man roster this winter, and with the dearth of bullpen options, should see some action with the big club as soon as a right-handed reliever falters. The stuff isn’t overly loud or bat-missing, but if the command continues to improve, he profiles as a seventh-inning reliever at the highest level.

3. LHP Kyle Ryan: Ryan comes at you with a deceptive delivery—all arms and legs, with arm action reminiscent of Madison Bumgarner. Don’t let the funkiness fool you, his mechanics are repeatable, and his command has improved every year in pro ball. He didn’t add the extra tick of velocity that the Tigers hoped for when he was drafted, but has combated that with a new offering for 2014, his cutter, a pitch that helped him achieve the major-league level. In fact, he started an integral game for the Tigers in September, helping them secure a playoff spot. His arsenal is built on finesse, deception, and command, leaving small margin for error. However, he wouldn’t be the first tall left-hander to utilize the cutter on his way to big-league success. In the end, his profile is likely that of a long man or a LOOGY, but he has a chance to impact the big club in 2015 and beyond.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/89 or later)

  1. Nick Castellanos
  2. Jose Iglesias
  3. Derek Hill
  4. Bruce Rondon
  5. Anthony Gose
  6. James McCann
  7. Steven Moya
  8. Hernan Perez
  9. Buck Farmer
  10. Kevin Ziomek

For a team that is perennially in the bottom tier of the 25 and under rankings, the Tigers continue to acquire important assets via trade. Working theory: Dave Dombrowski is a magician. He made Drew Smyly, Willy Adames, Corey Knebel, and Jake Thompson disappear this summer. Then he turned Jonathan Crawford and Eugenio Suarez into Alfredo Simon last month. For his next trick, he'll turn a first-round pick into a relief prospect.

Nick Castellanos’ rookie campaign went about as expected. There were some developmental hurdles to overcome, but he showed first-division talent with upside for more. The hit tool still grades as plus, or even a half-tick above, as he has an innate ability to barrel up balls. However, his defense will have to take a big step forward, as the third-sacker graded out among the worst at his position. Conversely, Jose Iglesias, who missed all of 2014 due to shin splints, plays some of the most captivating defense baseball. If the bat can continue to be playable in a depressed offensive environment, Iglesias will continue to be a very valuable commodity. Derek Hill, the most recent first-round pick, has at least a 50 percent chance of being moved during this year’s pennant race. Just kidding. But in all seriousness, with smooth actions and stellar athleticism, Hill has the potential to be an all-around force if the hit tool manifests.

Flame-throwing Bruce Rondon missed 2014 with Tommy John surgery. He has unconventional mechanics and comes at hitters from a relatively low slot—especially for someone who throws 100 mph. It’s not like Rondon touched triple digits just a handful of times, his average four-seamer was thrown 100.36 mph according to Brooks Baseball. It remains to be seen if the velocity will return in full form, but if the last two months of 2013 are any indication, he has a wipe-out, back-of-the-bullpen arsenal. Recently acquired for Devon Travis, Anthony Gose looks to get the lion’s share of playing time in center field. The speedy left-hander will be the strong-side platoon with Rajai Davis as the weak end, and should provide value with his glove, arm, and base running. Whether or not the bat plays at a formidable level and he can adjust to the adjustments will ultimately determine his future.

Hernan Perez is only 23, but already out of options. In order to become more versatile, Perez has been working on playing outfield during the winter, all but ensuring a spot on the 25-man roster. He was moved off of shortstop in the minors for Suarez, but took plenty of reps there in Triple-A during the 2014 campaign. Although his shortstop defense is below average, he offers the ability to play a myriad of positions with above-average athleticism and baseball quickness. Even though it’s not an everyday profile due to an aggressive approach and lack of power, Perez could carve out a nice career playing all over the diamond.

Overall, this isn’t a system flush with high-upside young talent. Yet, with a few breaks, some of these players will complement the veteran-laden group looking to win a 2015 World Series. –Jordan Gorosh

A Parting Thought: This is a very thin system, with a steep drop off after Hill at the top in terms of high-end talent, and not much in the pipeline outside of more role player or back of the roster profiles.

Chris Mellen is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Chris's other articles. You can contact Chris by clicking here

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