Detroit Tigers Prospects: Top Tier

This is an article providing detail on the top tiered Detroit Tigers prospects. It is meant as an introductory to fans that don’t follow the farm system, and focuses on the potential WAR they could ultimately contribute as Major Leaguers.

One staple of the David Chadd era as Tigers scouting director has been big, hard-throwing pitchers. It’s no secret in the industry that Chadd uses every chance he can — and almost every dollar — to get guys like Scott Green, Casey Crosby, Jacob Turner, guys with big traditional pitching frames with already-present big league velocity. In many cases, like with Rick Porcello or Andrew Miller, it was Chadd paying top dollar for talent when other teams were scared off by bonus demands. So, in one sense, the guy loves big pitchers.

But, as he proved this year, the trend isn’t refined to hurlers, though he hasn’t had an elite offensive prospect in his system since Cameron Maybin. Chadd believes that first rounders are a bargain at any price, so if he has to break a record to get forty-fourth overall pick Nick Castellanos signed for top five money, he’ll do it if the talent is there. In 2009, he didn’t have a hitter in the first round that appealed like Castellanos, but the team went big dollars on sixth rounder Daniel Fields. And because of it, for the first time since a time I can’t remember, the Tigers have two must-follow offensive prospects. Trust that Chadd has the top-end pitchers, too, and you see an organization healthy at the top.

Generally speaking, I don’t think Fields is given the credit as a top prospect, and perhaps I’m stepping out on a ledge thinking of him in this way. But ridiculously handed the task of playing in the Florida State League in his age 19 season, Fields put together a defensible .329 wOBA, highlighted by a 12.6% walk rate. As promised since his high school days, consistent contact was his bugaboo, with 31.7% of at-bats ending in a whiff. The problem was even worse against left-handed pitchers, who induced 32 strikeouts in 73 at-bats.

Naysayers will point to the high strikeout rate – they’ll also say his bad stolen base rate (8-for-17) signals an eventual move from center – and will say that even if he’s not hitting home runs yet, at least he should be hitting more doubles. While cynicism is a useful tool in prospect evaluation, I’m not sure how much it informs a 19-year-old making his professional debut in a pitching-friendly environment. I’m quite confident that Fields will either develop above-average power, or be an asset in center field (depending on the maturation of his body). Should a development of muscle and slight decrease in speed leave him moving to right field, I think he’ll be a positive defender there. And, lastly, while his strikeout rate needs to effect the way we project him to hit for average going forward, he is the type of player that profiles to post good BABIP’s.

In 2010, the most likely scenario is that Fields stays in Lakeland, which is nice from a development standpoint: his ETA is unchanged since draft day, but he’ll be feeling at home given familiarity around Tigertown, Florida. You have to think that every offseason is huge for a player this raw, but even moreso for a kid that comes from a baseball family. While I think Fields’ true breakout might not come until the Eastern League in 2012, his talent, his potential, and his baseball intellect make for an exciting combination. His current abilities project to about 3 WAR in the big leagues, but any development of power can take that north in a hurry. There just aren’t many minor leaguers that allow you to dream on 5 WAR seasons, and Fields is one of them.

Nick Castellanos has given me less of a track record — a .371 wOBA in seven GCL games! — to project him, but he draws the highest praise. I learned a pair of things this draft from seeing Castellanos on video, and seeing some problems with his swing: 1) I am really not a scout, 2) scouting short video clips isn’t good for credibility. There are few in the game that don’t believe Castellanos is going to hit and hit right out of the gate. His middle infield athleticism should play at the hot corner, and it all leads up to the type of resume that a cornerstone player possesses. We need to see some regular playing time before stepping out on a ledge and projecting some kind of WAR number, but trust that the Tigers are already thinking at the high end of that scale.

Given the high-end spending that David Chadd believes in, there seems to be a player like that in every draft for the Tigers. Before Castellanos took down a record bonus, 2009 first pick Jacob Turner was the largest bonus baby in the organization’s history. And given the opportunity to make his pro debut this season, we get an idea why. Turner was nothing short of spectacular in his debut, spread out almost evenly between the Midwest and Florida State Leagues, where he posted FIPs of 2.83 and 3.20, respectively. His BB/9 was sub-2 in both places, and Turner’s stuff was fantastic. He was good against left-handed hitters this year, speaking to the improvement in his change-up.

While there’s no questioning Turner’s great control, I would like to see better indications in his command. He is credited with possessing great sink, but his groundball numbers don’t support his reputation like they should. This is likely an indication that he elevates the ball too often — and while his velocity and movement still work to prevent home runs, they don’t aid in enough groundballs. The foundation is there for him to be among the league leaders one day; he’s just not there yet.

What is really encouraging is the way that Turner finished the season in Lakeland. In his final five starts, he pitched a total of 25.1 innings, and allowed just 13 hits, 4 walks, and 1 hit batsman to reach base. Only two of those baserunners scored, only one of which was earned. And for a guy whose strikeout numbers weren’t as high as his stuff might suggest, he struck out 26 hitters during that stretch. Turner’s control will have him reach the big leagues quickly (for a high school pick), and his stuff will allow him to succeed there. None of the factors that are factored into WAR (BB/9, K/9, HR/9) seem like problems for Turner, and I’m confident he’ll one day be among the top 30 FIP pitchers in baseball — profiling as a true “ace”.

It’s in those esteemed words that Andrew Oliver has to follow up, and I’ll save the drama: he’s no ace. He’s a darn good pitcher, and earns scouting points for being left-handed, especially given the stuff that comes with it. Oliver averaged 93.8 mph on his fastball in 22 not-so-good big league innings, which hopefully whet Tigers fans appetites rather than the other way around. They were, however, given a glimpse at the weaknesses that Oliver must improve upon: walk rate and home run rate.

Against left-handed hitters, Oliver is a beast. He allowed just one home run in the minor leagues to a lefty, versus 12 to right-handed hitters. His command is much better against them, too: just six walks allowed in 106 plate appearances at his Double-A stint. Against LHH’s, Oliver has much more faith elevating his fastball and burying his slider than against right-handers, who rarely have problems with belt-high fastballs from lefties. His development of his change-up, used just 7.9% of the time in Detroit, will be key to his development there.

But because his fastball command is questionable, and there’s no reason to think the home run problem will go from weakness to strength (just regressing to the mean a bit), Oliver currently profiles as a guy who will look better to scouts — and perhaps in the ERA column — than his FIP will ever suggest. Oliver is a mid-rotation guy by definition, so it’s nice that he’ll not be needed for anything else besides flanking Turner and Justin Verlander.

Detroit Tigers Must-Follow Prospects (listed alphabetically): Nick Castellanos, Daniel Fields, Andy Oliver, Jacob Turner.

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The Nicker
13 years ago

You’re saying the Tigers have the third-worst farm system in the league?

You must be kidding.

13 years ago
Reply to  The Nicker

Where at all in the article did he say that? The fact of the matter is, the Tigers have a handful of nice top prospects…but other than that, the system is shallow.