Detroit Tigers Prospects: System Depth

This is an article providing detail on the prospects in the Detroit farm system that were not ranked among the top 10 by Marc Hulet.

We are seeing some consistency with the organizations at the back end of Marc Hulet’s farm system rankings: prospect depth is a problem for this group. However, the reason it’s clear that Detroit is the best organization we’ve written up yet — and, in my opinion, perhaps better than a few in front of it — is that I see three players that had good arguments for the top 10, and a couple others that are solid prospects.

While David Chadd’s early-round strategy leaves his team strong in the top tier, the team needs influences (like Eddie Bane) to help change the reliever-heavy strategy that Chadd has employed in the middle rounds. There are a lot of pitchers in this system that did well enough at big-time college programs, but just seem like longshots to ever contribute beyond a fifth starter role in a big league rotation. Depth in the middle relief department is nice, but it should play a smaller part in roster construction than it seems to in Detroit.

I have six players in my notes that, while possessing different handedness, repertoires and velocities, have very similar pedigrees and projections. They attended these colleges, and pitched on Saturdays or Sundays in the rotation: Nebraska, LSU, Georgia, Old Dominion, UNC, Kentucky. Those are on the who’s who list of the nation’s best, and while these pitchers did well at those institutions, their upsides are non-existent, with one exception, and he’s been hurt. I still have hope for huge bodied (6-7, 240) Scott Green, but he just can’t stay on the mound. We have 57.2 innings in 2.5 years, and before that, he only pitched 117 innings in three seasons at Kentucky. This season he was coming off labrum surgery, so he’s obviously a longshot to return to form, but he was the one of the group with big league stuff.

The one with big league numbers, without question, is Charlie Furbush. 183 strikeouts spread over three levels this season — though his initial assignment to Lakeland was a bit of a joke. Furbush is a big, bad-bodied lefty, whose stuff is just enough that maybe he’ll work the back end of the rotation. He has good command at just shy of 90 mph, his breaking ball has always been a tick north of average, and he changes speeds well. I have to think home runs will be an issue and that his strikeout rates will come even south of their Toledo number (6.84 — low of his career), but there are worse stadiums and divisions to survive as a back-end big league starter.

Quickly running through the other college guys, I think Thad Weber is a pretty decent arm with some nice middle relief potential. He commands the strike zone well around 90 mph, and runs out a pretty good change-up. Brooks Brown was once the biggest prospect of the group, but he’s been horrible in the AFL, and offers little more than a sinker at this point. Anthony Shawler was homer-happy in Erie this season, but that’s a park that lends itself to jumps in the HR/9 column, and the rest of his peripherals look good. Perhaps Luke Putkonen doesn’t warrant conclusion on this list, after a 5.1 K/9 in the FSL this year, but he’s 6-foot-6 with two seasons under his belt with sub-3.2 ERA’s. I’m not closing the door. For what it’s worth, I worry that this year’s second round pick, Drew Smyly, will end up in the same boat at these guys.

I am, however, losing sight on what I promised: three prospects that, if they didn’t belong in Marc Hulet’s top 10, are certainly right on the edge. The first is Casey Crosby, who is obviously no longer a top guy, but whose 2009 season was so good that his injuries might buy him another year on lists. Southpaws of the 6-5 build don’t grow on trees — even fewer post good groundball and strikeout numbers — so if Crosby can put together a string of good health, I have a feeling he’ll shoot back up lists. I also believe in pitcher Brayan Villarreal, who struck out 9.47 batters per nine at High- and Double-A this season. Villarreal’s fastball is above every other offering, and his size hurts him in the eyes of scouts, but the foundation of fastball command and life is there. Never bet against pitchers with that combination.

The system’s big sleeper, in my opinion, is third baseman Francisco Martinez. This is certainly an organization that could stand to do better in the International Scouting department, so a guy like Martinez is going to jump out. Tasked with the same ridiculous assignment as Daniel Fields — jumping the Midwest League to stay by the Spring Training site in Lakeland — Martinez posted a defensible .271/.330/.353 batting line. We saw some tangible improvements this year, as he is walking more and striking out less. He’s a good athlete that should be able to hold down third base, and the Tigers believe power is going to come. Ranking him in the top ten would be aggressive, but calling him the system’s best offensive sleeper isn’t.

I have to look really hard for other offensive talents in this organization, and ultimately, it’s a lot like the college pitchers from before. You have Bryan Holaday, the TCU four-year catcher, who I believe to be a good future back-up. Pitchers loved him in Fort Worth, he can hit a fastball out of the park, and he’s going to draw some walks. He doesn’t get a starter profile, but I think he’s a big leaguer. Maybe the team will have more luck with Rob Brantly, chosen three rounds before Holaday this season, as a future catcher. Brantly was a traditional California collegiate hitter: he takes his walks, rarely strikes out, and doesn’t have a lot of power. His defense will have to make up for what his bat lacks.

This morning, I praised David Chadd, whose strategy to sign the best player available with his first pick (and usually one seven-figure commodity later in the draft) is certainly admirable. But the next step is to find some upside to go with the mediocre college players that fill this system, be it through more aggressive high school selections or more consistent signings on the international front. The Tigers are going to have their fair share of stars go through Motown, but it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to develop the depth necessary to keep those stars convinced they’ll win in Detroit.

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13 years ago

Good stuff. I completely agree on the idea of a greater need for high ceiling players taken after the first couple rounds. It also seems as though they’ve gotten a little more involved in Latin America recently, which will be interesting to follow as some of those guys reach the states.

Also, you touched on it with Martinez, but they need to stop pushing every single player with any talent they have to the extent they’ve pushed guys like Porcello, Oliver, Fields and Martinez. They’re trying to combat the lack of impact players in the system by pressing fast forward on the development of the only guys they have, and we’ve already seen what forcing Porcello to the bigs without any sort of breaking ball has done. I worry they’re about to do the same with Oliver this year.