2014 Top 10 Prospects: Detroit Tigers

The Tigers get knocked for having a bad system but trades and some decent drafting has helped infuse some young talent into the organization. With that said, the depth still has a ways to go.


#1 Nick Castellanos | 60/MLB (OF)

21 18 0.0 % 5.6 % .278 .278 .278 .247 48 -1.2 -0.8 -0.2

The Year in Review: Castellanos spent the majority of the year in Triple-A and produced an OPS just shy of .800. He slugged 56 extra base hits in 134 games. He received his first big league promotion late in the year and hit .278 but didn’t walk (and struck out just once) in 18 at-bats.

The Scouting Report: Castellanos is a natural hitter and a threat to hit .300 every season. He utilizes the whole field, has a solid eye and good bat speed. He possesses more gap pop than true home run strength but could eventually produce 15-20 home run totals in the Majors. Defensively, Castellanos will move back to his natural position of third base in 2014 after dabbling in the outfield for the past couple of seasons. He’s always been projected as a fringe-average to average defender at third base due to modest range to go along with average actions and arm strength.

The Year Ahead: After a year and a half of playing the outfield, Castellanos will be faced with the tough task of picking back up his infielder’s glove and playing competent defense for a playoff contender. Considering that he was only fringe-average to average with the glove to begin with, it will be no easy task.

The Career Outlook: Even if his defense home is a little up-in-the-air, Castellanos should hit well enough to play everyday and still be a valuable contributor.


#2 Robbie Ray | 60/AA (P)

21 27 27 142.0 116 13 10.14 3.93 3.36 3.66

The Year in Review: After a dismal 2012 that saw him post a 6.56 ERA, Ray returned to A-ball for a third straight year but the light suddenly clicked on. He struck out 100 batters with just 60 hits allowed in 84.0 innings to earn a promotion to Double-A. There, he added another 60 Ks in 58.0 innings. He was traded from Washington to Detroit in a late-2013 (questionable) deal that saw established starter Doug Fister head to the Nationals.

The Scouting Report: Ray doesn’t have a huge ceiling and projects as more of a mid-rotation starter but he should eat a lot of innings. A lot of the pitcher’s future will depend on the development of his secondary stuff. Ray flashes a wide range of velocity and touches the mid-90s. His changeup has a chance to be average or better, but his curveball is inconsistent. Like most young pitchers, he needs to polish his command and control.

The Year Ahead: After making just 11 starts at the level last year, Ray will likely return to Double-A to open the 2014 season. A lack of premium talent in the upper levels of the system in Detroit could help him quickly reach Triple-A.

The Career Outlook: If Ray can’t develop a plus secondary offering, he may be headed for a high-leverage relief role. If he can develop an average changeup and curveball, then he could eventually become a No. 3 or 4 starter.


#3 Jake Thompson | 60/A- (P)

23 27 26 148.2 149 13 6.11 3.57 4.18 4.23

The Year in Review: Thompson moved up to full-season ball in 2013 but the Tigers remained conservative with his development and kept him in extended spring training until late May. Once in A-ball, he compiled 83.1 innings and struck out 93 batters. He did a nice job of keeping the ball in the park and allowed just four homers.

The Scouting Report: A big, strong Texas hurler, Thompson has an excellent pitcher’s frame and should chew up lots of innings — although the organization has yet to release the training wheels. His fastball sits in the low-90s and he backs it up with a potentially-plus breaking ball and an average changeup. He needs to utilize his height better to create a ground-ball-inducing plane. Thompson shows the potential for at least average command and control.

The Year Ahead: The young hurler will likely graduate to High-A ball while playing a true full season for the first time. Unless injuries strike, he should break the 100-inning mark for the first time.

The Career Outlook: Thompson has one of the best ceilings in the system and could eventually develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter.


#4 Jonathon Crawford | 60/A- (P)

21 8 8 19.0 15 0 9.95 4.26 1.89 2.57

The Year in Review: The 20th overall pick in the 2013 draft out of the University of Florida, Crawford performed well in pro ball. He induced ground-ball outs at a high rate and also struck out 21 batters in 19.0 innings. He did not allow a home run.

The Scouting Report: Crawford has three pitches but his changeup is below average and both his command and control are inconsistent, which suggests his future could lie in the bullpen. His fastball works in the 93-96 mph range and he also utilizes a plus slider that acts as a nasty strikeout pitch. The development of the changeup is important to help him combat tough left-handed hitters.

The Year Ahead: If he gets move to the ‘pen, Crawford could move very quickly and even reach the Majors in 2014. If he sticks as a starter, though, his development will likely be slower. He’ll begin in year in High-A ball, most likely as a starter.

The Career Outlook: Crawford’s potential as a starter may be too tough for the Tigers to ignore, especially in an organization that is seriously lacking in impact talent.


#5 Corey Knebel | 55/A- (P)

21 40 0 39.2 21 1 11.80 2.95 1.59 1.89

The Year in Review: Selected 39th overall in the 2013 draft out of the University of Texas, Knebel took to pro ball like a fish to water. He posted a 0.87 ERA with 41 strikeouts and just 14 hits allowed in 31.0 innings in Low-A ball. After the regular season ended, the right-handed reliever held his own in the Arizona Fall League with another 11 strikeouts in 8.2 innings.

The Scouting Report: Knebel is a nasty individual to face. He has mid-to-upper-90s velocity on his sinking heater and possesses a plus curveball. He also throws an occasional changeup. His delivery isn’t the prettiest but it creates deception and helps him post high strikeout rates. Knebel has solid control and decent command.

The Year Ahead: The young hurler will likely likely open the year in High-A ball. If he stays in the ‘pen, he could see Triple-A by the end of the year. If he gets moved into the starting rotation, though, he could spend much of the season in A-ball.

The Career Outlook: Knebel’s combination of sink and velocity paired with a plus breaking ball could help him develop into an excellent closer. Because he dabbles with three offerings, the organization may try and turn Knebel into a starter but the delivery suggests that move would be unwise.


#6 James McCann | 50/AA (C)

23 486 122 30 8 30 85 3 .277 .328 .404 .331

The Year in Review: McCann spent the year in Double-A and produced some gap pop while hitting .277. He walked just 30 times, which bit into his on-base percentage but the increased pop was nice to see. He continued to perform well behind the plate while acting as a leader in the field.

The Scouting Report: McCann’s strength is his defense and he’s a natural leader whose primary focus is helping his pitchers succeed. He calls a great game, has a solid arm and good receiving skills. Any offensive contributions come secondary for McCann. He’s overly aggressive at the plate, which hurts him, but he hit the ball with more authority in 2013. He should be a fringe-average-hitting catching.

The Year Ahead: The young catcher from California should move up to Triple-A in 2014 and is the Tigers’ catcher of the future. Eventually, Detroit will tire of incumbent Alex Avila’s inconsistent play and diminished offensive value and McCann will be waiting in the wings.

The Career Outlook: McCann isn’t going to be a star but he should develop into a solid big league catcher.


#7 Devon Travis | 55/A+ (2B)

22 656 194 31 18 60 78 25 .337 .404 .498 .411

The Year in Review: A former 13th round selection out of Florida State University, Travis saw his value increase significantly in 2013. Starting out in Low-A ball, he hit .352 with a .916 OPS in 77 games. He then moved up to High-A ball and hit .350 with a .962 OPS. His 16 home runs were a surprise and he walked 53 times compared to just 64 strikeouts.

The Scouting Report: Travis shares some similarities to Houston’s Jose Altuve as a smaller second baseman with surprising pop for his size. Although he hit double-digit homers in 2013, the Tigers prospect will possess more gap pop in the Majors. His short swing and willingness to spray the ball around helps him hit for average. His patient approach allows him to get on-base a lot and he doesn’t strike out much. He also has good speed and is a smart base runner. Defensively, he could be above-average at second base with good range and solid actions.

The Year Ahead: Travis should open 2014 in Double-A and, if he continues to develop on this path, he could see Triple-A in the second half. The young second baseman could be ready for the Majors in 2014 but newly-acquired veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler is signed through 2017.

The Career Outlook: The 2014 season should help determine if last year was the result of an advanced college product beating up on younger/ less experienced pitchers or if he truly has the chops to be a solid big league starter.


#8 Daniel Fields | 55/AA (OF)

22 515 130 27 10 45 130 24 .284 .356 .435 .358

The Year in Review: Fields finally got the hang of Double-A in his second go-around in the league. He hit .284 with a .791 OPS but his struggles against left-handers (.684 vs .840 OPS against RHP) took a bite out of his overall results. He stole 24 bases in 31 attempts

The Scouting Report: A curious decision to rush Fields’ development early in his career almost permanently derailed his MLB dreams. The young hitter rebounded well in 2013. He flashes average or better power to go along with 15 stolen base potential. Fields continues to strike out way too much to hit for a consistent average in the Majors and his struggles against southpaws could force him into a platoon role. Defensively, he’s played a lot of centre field but is probably more of a corner outfielder in the Majors due to his solid — but not exceptional — range.

The Year Ahead: Fields will move up Triple-A in 2014 and, if he continues to improve, he may be one of the first outfielders promoted to the Majors in the event of an injury.

The Career Outlook: The young prospect has to be commended for staying with it and not giving up or getting too frustrated with his lack of development. With that said, he has a lot of work to do against lefties to become a future regular.


#9 Tyler Collins | 50/AA (OF)

23 619 131 30 23 66 140 6 .243 .331 .427 .346

The Year in Review: Collins made some obvious adjustments to his approach in 2013 and slugged 21 home runs after previously topping out at eight. He walked 51 times in Double-A but his on-base percentage was just .323 because his batting average was low at .240. He struck out 122 times in 129 games. After the season ended, he reported to the Arizona Fall League where he produced a .738 OPS in 20 games.

The Scouting Report: In the past, Collins had hit for a much higher batting average but with below-average power for a corner outfielder. He consciously changed his approach in 2013 to produce more pop but both his average and on-base percentage took significant hits. Collins needs to find a happy medium but he’ll probably never hit well enough to be an everyday outfielder — especially given his inconsistent results against southpaw hurlers.

The Year Ahead: He’ll have to find a happy medium to his approach in 2014 while playing at Triple-A. He could see his first big league action in the coming year.

The Career Outlook: With some more polish, Collins could develop into a solid platoon outfielder and bat off the bench.


#10 Steve Moya | 50/A+ (OF)

21 388 93 19 12 18 106 6 .255 .296 .433 .333

The Year in Review: Injuries cut into Moya’s season and he appeared in just 93 games. He struck out 106 times in 365 at-bats. He displayed a very aggressive approach with just 18 walks but also flashed his raw power with 19 doubles and 12 homers.

The Scouting Report: Standing 6-7, Moya has long arms, which creates an equally long swing and makes it hard for him to make consistent contact. That results in high strikeout rates. The Puerto Rico native’s aggressive approach — which leads to low on-base percentages — doesn’t help either. When he makes contact, though, he can hit the ball a long way and has 20+ home run potential. He has a very strong arm and profiles well in right field.

The Year Ahead: After two years in short-season ball and three more in A-ball, Moya will likely be challenged with a promotion to Double-A but his aggressive approach may lead to a lot of struggles against more advanced pitching.

The Career Outlook: If he can add the necessary polish, Moya has a chance to be a big league slugger. However, he may also top out as a quad-A slugger and find more success in Japan than the Majors.

The Next Five:

11. Endrys Briceno, RHP: The young Venezuelan stands 6-5 but has room to add weight/muscle to his thin frame so his velocity could continue to spike upward. His lack of consistent secondary stuff hurts him as a starter so the bullpen may be in his future. With good velocity in the mid-90s, his fastball also has excellent downward movement; he’s a pitch-to-contact guy right now that induces a lot of ground-ball outs. He needs to polish both his command and his control.

12. Eugenio Suarez, SS: Suarez projects to develop into a solid utility player capable of playing second base and shortstop — and possibly third base. His approach at the plate is inconsistent — as are his results. The Venezuela natives strikes out too much for someone with below-average power. His above-average play in the infield could allow him to perform as a second-division starter — at least for a few seasons.

13. Casey Crosby, LHP: Consistent injury problems have forced Crosby to the ‘pen. That might not be such a bad thing for the southpaw, though. He has a “closer’s mentality” and is extremely competitive. He also has the pure stuff for a high-leverage role with a fastball that can hit 94-96 mph, as well as an above-average curveball.

14. Drew VerHagen, RHP: VerHagen has a strong frame and the height/plane to induce high ground-ball rates but his development has been stunted by the lack of consistent secondary offerings. With a sinking fastball in the low-90s, he may end up as an eighth-inning reliever but he could also develop into a back-of-the-rotation innings-eater if he can polish his curveball and changeup into average offerings.

15. Buck Farmer, RHP: A senior sign out of Georgia Tech, Farmer could be a quick mover through the system but has the ceiling of a No. 4 start capable of providing a ton of innings. He has a low-90s fastball, promising slider and average changeup. His control is solid and his command is improving but he needs to be more consistent within the strike zone.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Marcus Tullius Cicero
10 years ago

Regarding Jake Thompson, I’m a bit confused. You say he could break the 100-inning barrier for the first time in 2014, but his stat line from 2013 shows 140+ IP. Also, if he struck out 93 in 83.1 IP in A-ball, yet had an overall K/9 for the season of 6.11 in 148.2 IP, then he must have struck out a total of 7 batters in 63.1 IP at all other levels. Which sounds a bit strange.

10 years ago

You should have been linked to this Jake Thompson: