Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: Detroit Tigers

Other clubs: Braves, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Indians, OriolesRedsRed Sox, Rockies, White Sox.

To say the Tigers have had a “type” is an understatement. They have consistently brought in hard-throwing pitchers with either command or secondary-pitch questions, and most of them have ended up as relievers by the time they make it to the big leagues. As Kiley pointed out in last year’s rankings, it’s hard to fault the Tigers’ process, as they continue to develop enough talent to reinforce their big league team via trades, and Mike Ilitch has had no problem spending money to fill in the gaps with free agents.

When 2015 didn’t go according to plan, they were able to replenish their stock by trading from the underachieving parent club. And to their credit, they have started to target a more diverse group of players in the draft and internationally. There is still a lack of impact talent in this group, but a lot of depth and interesting prospects that will contribute to a winning club.

I would draw attention to the rankings that differ from other lists, but honestly, most of the grades are so similar you could shuffle them around and we would be saying the same thing. For just a few from the top end, I buy into Christin Stewart‘s power potential despite him being a recent draftee who didn’t used to have much pop. I would bet I also have more faith in Mike Gerber’s steady skill set than most. Otherwise, some guys are lower, some are higher… I can’t argue with anyone who disagrees on these guys because there aren’t big differences between a lot of them, especially on the pitching side.

Here’s the primer for the series and my scouting thoughts in general. The grades I put on players heavily weight the functionality of each tool in game situations, rather than just pure tool grades. Here is a table to understand the position player grades:

Scouting Grades in Context: Hitters
Grade Tool Is Called Batting Average HR ISO Baserunning Runs Fielding Runs
80 80 0.320 40 0.300 12 30
75 0.310 35-40 0.275 10 25
70 Plus Plus 0.300 30-35 0.250 8 20
65 0.290 27-30 0.225 6 15
60 Plus 0.280 23-27 0.200 4 10
55 Above Average 0.270 19-22 0.175 2 5
50 Average 0.260 15-18 0.150 0 0
45 Below Average 0.250 12-15 0.125 -2 -5
40 0.240 8-12 0.100 -4 -10
35 0.230 5-8 0.075 -6 -15
30 0.220 3-5 0.050 -8 -20

As well as one to understand what the overall grades approximate:

Scouting Grades in Context: Overall
Grade Hitter Starting Pitcher Relief Pitcher WAR
80 Top 1-2 #1 Starter —- 7
75 Top 2-3 #1 —- 6
70 Top 5 #1/2 —- 5
65 All-Star #2/3 —- 4
60 Plus #3 High Closer 3
55 Above Avg #3/4 Mid Closer 2.5
50 Avg Regular #4 Low CL/High SU 2
45 Platoon/Util #5 Low Setup 1.5
40 Bench Swing/Spot SP Middle RP 1
35 Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up 0
30 *Organizational *Organizational *Organizational -1

One other difference in the way I’ll be communicating scouting grades to you is the presence of three numbers on each tool instead of just two. The first number is the current grade. The second number is the likely future grade; or, if you prefer percentiles, call this the 50th percentile projection. The third number is the ceiling grade, or 90th percentile projection, to help demonstrate the volatility and raw potential of a tool. I feel this gives readers a better sense of the possible outcomes a player could achieve, and more information to understand my thoughts on the likelihood of reaching those levels.

In the biographical information, level refers to where they finished the year, unless they were sent down for injury rehab or other extraneous reasons. Ages are listed as of April 1, 2016. You can also find each player’s previous rank from Kiley’s list last year. Below, Dave Cameron shares his thoughts on the general state of the organization. Returning for his popular cameo, Carson Cistulli picks his favorite fringe prospect toward the end of the list. Next up will be the Houston Astros.

Organizational Overview
The Tigers’ aging roster has had writers speculating about when their window to contend will close for years, and after a 74-win season a year ago, it’s fair to consider whether or not the organization is trying to push a boulder back up the hill. The core of this roster is old, and the lack of depth put an inordinate strain on the star players to perform at a high level, which showed itself in the team’s disappointing 2015 season. But with some significant additions this winter, the 2016 version of the Tigers should be less reliant on their previous core, and the team may have bought themselves another year or two to try and win before a necessary rebuild becomes inevitable. At some point, the boulder is going to run this team over, but there might be one last push to try and get it back up the hill before the Tigers get flattened.

50+ FV Prospects

Video courtesy of Minor League Baseball
1. Michael Fulmer, RHP
Current Level/Age: AA/23.0, 6’3/200, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 44th overall (Supp 1st round) in 2011 out of Oklahoma HS by NYM for $937,500 bonus, traded to DET in July 2015
Previous Rank: 12 (NYM)

Fulmer really gained some helium in 2015 with his shutdown performances between the Mets’ and Tigers’ Double-A affiliates. You have to love watching him pitch, aggressively attacking hitters with his four-pitch mix. He found the strike zone more than ever last year, enough to keep him in the conversation for a starting role on the big league squad.

His fastball has 65-grade potential with mid-90s velocity, small but deceptive life and the best command out of his four pitches. His slider is his out pitch, featuring hard downward break out of the zone to get hitters fishing. His curve is a nice change of pace that is similar to the slider but thrown at lower speeds. He has a changeup that has always been his worst offering, but this year it started showing more promise with some swing-and-miss potential, though I haven’t heard anyone say they think it will be consistently average yet.

I’m a little torn on his role projection. His stuff at peak potential would put him comfortably in a number-three slot in the rotation, but his aggressive delivery and history of elbow and knee issues may put him in a safer spot out of the bullpen. Also, while his control stepped up this year, his command gains were mostly limited to his fastball. His offspeed stuff tends to be thrown to get hitters to chase, but he hasn’t faced anyone yet that will force him to spot them on the edges of the zone.

That combination of questions gives him a higher potential in the bullpen, which I do believe is long-term closer level. Then again, it may just be up to the Tigers. Do they want an effective pitcher in the back end to middle of their rotation who may visit the disabled list periodically? Or do they want a guy with stud reliever potential where he conceivably would be less of a risk to lose time to injury? I’d like to see him in the bullpen, but I couldn’t fault anyone for leaving him as a starter until he proves he should not be there.

Fastball: 60/65/70 Slider: 50/55/60 Curveball: 45/50/50 Changeup: 45/45+/55 Command: 45/45+/50
Overall: 45+/50/60

Video courtesy of Baseball America
2. Christin Stewart, OF
Current Level/Age: A/22.3, 6’0/205, L/R
Acquired: Drafted 34th overall (1st round) in 2015 out of Univ of Tennessee by DET for $1.795 million bonus
Previous Rank: NA

You couldn’t have asked for a much better start to Stewart’s professional career, playing most of his draft year in A ball after two short stops at the Rookie and Low-A levels. He showed that his power spike at Tennessee was for real, and maintained good walk rates and a manageable strikeout rate. He doesn’t project to be a great defender. Stewart runs surprisingly well for his build, but his routes and footwork are rough at present, if still good enough to fit in left field.

Despite his power numbers, Stewart doesn’t have a ton of lift to his swing. Prior to his draft year, Stewart didn’t have the raw strength to still hit balls out, but as he matured, the balls that used to be hard line drives in the gaps starting carrying more. Because his value is tied to his bat, he will have every incentive to shoot for more fly balls to fully utilize his quick bat and impressive strength. He has enough good things going on at the plate that a 30-homer season isn’t beyond his reach.

Stewart isn’t just a power hitter, either. He makes a lot of contact considering how big his swing is, which should help him keep his strikeout rate from getting out of hand as he taps into his power more. He has less feel for barreling the ball on a regular basis, and he can be too quick to speed up his bat at the start of his swing, making it look long.

He has a good approach at the plate, so his hit tool is only limited by how often he will square the ball up against better pitchers. I still think he’s close to a lock for an average hit tool overall. As he continues to show more power, his approach will help him lay off bad pitches, keeping his on-base rate high even if his quality of contact sometimes goes through rough stretches.

Overall, Stewart is a potential premium bat that may reach the big leagues quickly if he makes expected improvements.. Most of the industry seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach with his offensive projection since his power output is only a year old, but there are too many positives here not to buy in. With some minor adjustments to his swing and/or mindset, he’s a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter.

Hit: 45/50/55+ Power: 50/55/65 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 40/40/45 Throw: 45/45/45
Overall: 40/50/60

3. Mike Gerber, OF
Current Level/Age: A/23.8, 6’2/175, L/R
Acquired: Drafted 460th overall (15th round) in 2014 out of Creighton by DET
Previous Rank: NA

Gerber is a fun prospect to pin down. He has hit for a high average and decent power with respectable walk numbers. In each offensive category he shows reasons to think he has room to grow, yet also provides signs that those skills may play down against higher competition. Defensively, he fits in as a right fielder with slightly less arm strength or a left fielder with slightly more range than the typical fits.

His plate discipline profile has been the product of patience at the plate rather than a discerning eye, as he will chase balls down out of the zone and won’t be more than average in contact rate. He has been able to drive balls to all fields, though his power likely settles in around the above-average range while maxing out at plus if his approach sharpens. He has a solid swing with great hands that keep his swing through the ball. The only complaint I would have is how it can be too much of a one-piece move, without a lot of torque, particularly in his lower half at times.

I think Gerber has a strong shot at average tools across the board in the big leagues, with the hit and power tools both sitting above average. Continued emphasis on his approach so it works against big league pitchers may bump his hit tool, like his power, into the plus range.

Hit: 45/55/55-60 Power: 45/50+/55+ Run: 50/50/50 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 50/50/55
Overall: 40/50/60

Video courtesy of J. Chipman
4. Kevin Ziomek, LHP
Current Level/Age: High-A/24.0, 6’3/200, R/L
Acquired: Drafted 58th overall (2nd round) in 2013 out of Vanderbilt by DET for $956,600 bonus
Previous Rank: 5

Ziomek tore through the Florida State League in 2015, throwing just over 154 innings with a 143:34 strikeout-to-walk ratio and only three home runs allowed. He has always been a pitchability first, stuff second prospect, but he’s also armed with a fastball that consistently comes in at 89-93 mph. One contact called his stuff “sneaky” — suggesting Ziomek is more than a finesse pitcher — with plenty of stuff to be a starter in the big leagues if the opportunity arises.

He spots his fastball well to both sides of the plate, and his velocity and deception allow him to throw it by hitters with good location. He has a changeup that could be a plus pitch with more refinement, and has two breaking balls that he uses to give hitters a different look. His slider has the least upside, featuring horizontal break without a ton of bite, though he can spot it well and will back-door righties with it successfully. His curveball is a slower offering that some scouts don’t seem to like, but it has average to above movement and is notable for his ability to drop it in the zone or bury it for a whiff on command.

His potential maxes out in the middle of a big league rotation, though I think he’s a safer bet as a number-four starter. He could also be a valuable relief option if the big league team has a greater need there. Continuing to hone his command and working on the finer points of pitch sequencing and reading hitters are the developmental steps on which he needs to focus to jump the last two levels and see a big league mound.

Fastball: 50/55/55 Slider: 40/45/45 Curveball: 45/50/55 Changeup: 50/55/60 Command: 50/55/60
Overall: 45/50/55+

5. Beau Burrows, RHP
Current Level/Age: R/19.5, 6’2/200, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 22nd overall (1st round) in 2015 out of Texas HS by DET for $2.154 million bonus
Previous Rank: NA

Burrows already looks like a solid pickup for the Tigers after breezing through the Gulf Coast League last season, and has a chance to move through the system quickly despite being a recent high school pick. Despite being pegged as a young pitcher without much physical projection, he added a couple ticks to his average fastball to now sit comfortably 92-94 with friendly scouts seeing a 97 thrown in. He’s a tremendous competitor whom the Tigers are excited about letting loose in their system.

He has a curveball and changeup that he neglected as an amateur, neither of which show a ton of potential, but both should be serviceable as he climbs the ladder. Some contacts see more assured potential in his curve, but to me it has only looked above-average down below the strike zone. Anything above knee-high and the shape disappears. A team source said he didn’t need to use it much in high school, but he can really spin it in bullpen work.

As an amateur, Burrows threw from nearly straight over the top, starting with a closed stride and going into a sometimes extreme spine tilt to find his slot. In his pro debut, he appeared to be experimenting with a more prototypical three-quarters slot with his original form mixed in. Besides the occasional pitch delivery where he gets a little too closed and a little too tilted, Burrows shows good balance and the prospect of repeatability. Coupled with his control and close to average fastball command, his overall command should develop enough to keep him in the rotation. He will need to find some consistency with his secondary offerings, which would get him to his ceiling as a three or four starter.

Fastball: 55/60/65 Curveball: 45/50+/55 Changeup: 40/40+/45 Command: 40+/50/55
Overall: 40/50/55

45+ FV Prospects

6. Steven Moya, OF, VIDEO

Moya hits bombs. He has a great swing capable of putting the ball out of any park in the league. It’s no secret that he also has tremendous contact issues that may keep him out of a big league lineup entirely. Beyond that, Moya is an interesting prospect elsewhere on the diamond, with a present average run tool and a plus arm that will keep him viable in either corner outfield spot.

I am conflicted about his future hitting prospects. His immense size plays a part in the optimism I have for his development. Large-frame hitters tend to take a few years to really figure out how to control their bodies and improve the finer qualities of their games. Moya may just need another couple years to grow into his physique before settling into the batter’s box against major league pitching.

On the other hand, I can’t help shake the feeling it’s a pitch-recognition and flight-tracking issue for Moya, which isn’t something you can grow into. Bottom line, I feel like Moya will be a streaky bat with huge power numbers, but will also provide enough value in the field to be at least a fringe-average regular. With even a modest improvement in his patience, he’s an All-Star. I’m not giving up on his ceiling, but it may be a lower probability than I’m willing to accept right now.

Hit: 35/40/45 Power: 60/65/70 Run: 50/45/50 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 60/60/65
Overall: 40/45+/60

7. Derek Hill, OF, VIDEO

The Tigers’ first-round pick in 2014 has had some trouble finding his footing in the professional ranks, ending his season early with non-threatening leg issues. One of the most athletic guys in the minor leagues, he possesses a tremendous amount of present value in the defense and base-running categories. Hill hasn’t yet shown the skills at the plate to translate his athleticism into real production with the bat, and I question how much he will be able to in the future.

He has shown some ability to make contact in the low minors, though he doesn’t have a way to consistenly create hard contact. His swing is all hands with no force behind them, pushing his barrel through the zone on a downward path that projects for hard ground balls and weakly hit fly balls. Seeing an increase in his power would require a lot of work getting more out of his body and an improved swing plane. Though he has held up a decent walk rate so far, I don’t see him being enough of a threat with the bat for pitchers to feel they have to work around him.

Hill will be riding his base-running and fielding talents into a big league job. While even a small uptick in his offensive profile bumps him into plus regular status, he has a long way to go at this point. The Tigers have to hope his raw athleticism will help him figure things out, but for now it’s tough to see him being more than a fringe starting option or fourth outfielder.

Hit: 25/40/45 Power: 25/30/35 Run: 70/70/70 Field: 60/65/70 Throw: 55/55/60
Overall: 30/45/60

8. Joe Jimenez, RHP, VIDEO

Jimenez followed up on a strong 2014 with an even better 2015 season for A-level West Michigan. He’s a big, strong pitcher who oozes power with his fastball and slider, and the Tigers are hopeful they have a a back-end closer type in the future. He has developing command that is presently below average, but an athletic delivery and easy velocity that helps keep both pitches in the zone regularly.

He has yet to be challenged by minor league competition, and with his 95+ velocity and hard slider, he may not face any until he’s a step away from the big leagues. As a young minor league reliever, the road to stardom is poorly paved, but Jimenez has a chance to be the best reliever coming out of this system.

Fastball: 60/65/70 Slider: 50/55/60 Command: 40/45/50
Overall: 40/45/55+

9. Dixon Machado, SS, VIDEO

Machado is an excellent defensive shortstop who could challenge some of the top fielders at the position if he can land a full-time gig. He has a plus arm and range with a fantastic first step in every direction, and his soft hands help him corral anything he can get to. He’s had a few years of playing through injuries that masked his physical gains and impact on the bases. Healthy across both 2014 and 2015, he has shown he can bang line drives around the field with a solid approach and contact skills. He won’t get himself out often, and if he can reach his upside as a 45 bat, his defense will provide more than enough value for him to start for a big league team.

Hit: 40/40/45 Power: 30/30/35 Run: 55/55/60 Field: 60/65/70 Throw: 60/60/60
Overall: 40/45/55

10. Wynton Bernard, OF, VIDEO

Bernard’s back story is incredible. He was a late draft pick for the Padres, played sparingly over two seasons and was released. The Tigers picked him up, and he’s hit like crazy in their system, creating the possibility that they have a real prospect on their hands. The guy makes a lot of contact, and really has a knack for getting the barrel to the ball. He won’t be much of a power threat, but his feel to hit, base-running ability and outfield defense all figure to be average or better.

He’ll turn 26 in September and has enough present skill to help a club off the bench, but I can see him doing enough to be at least a platoon guy — possibly a regular, if his hit tool translates. Already a success given how he came to be a Tiger, Bernard could be a part of the big league club this season.

Hit: 45/50/55 Power: 30/30/35 Run: 65/65/70 Field: 55/55/60 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 40/45/55

11. Jairo Labourt, LHP, VIDEO

Labourt was a part of the David Price trade with the Blue Jays, giving the Tigers’ system another hard-throwing pitcher with starter upside but a probable future relief. He has a power arm with a strong fastball-slider combo that could put him in the big league bullpen this year if they decided to make the switch. His command isn’t quite there as a starter, but there’s a big enough jump in effectiveness when he goes max effort that it wouldn’t matter in short appearances out of the pen.

He throws his fastball in the low-90s, but a stop and go delivery with all the speed coming from his arm makes it look quicker to hitters. It has some nice run and a little sink, although despite the movement, he hasn’t been much of a ground-ball pitcher. He throws his slider with the same intensity, showing sharp but slight two-plane break that is a swing-and-miss pitch when located or at full effort. His arm slows down a lot on his changeup, and it’s likely to remain a below-average pitch because of giving it away so early.

I don’t see him sticking in the rotation due to his command, two-pitch arsenal and lack of ease to his arm action. His fastball and slider are good enough that he could start out there, but he will need to show he can locate them to smaller targets on a consistent basis. Either way, he projects as a 45 arm for me, with a closer job in reach out of the bullpen if he continues to improve.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Slider: 50/55+/60 Changeup: 35/40/40 Command: 40/40/45
Overall: 40/45/55

12. Jeff Ferrell, RHP, VIDEO

Ferrell pitched in the rotation all through the minors with some success until last season. He made one start in Double-A before having some mild arm fatigue/injury that kept him out for a month. The Tigers eased him back in with bullpen appearances, and Ferrell looked great in the role and really took to it, working into the late innings in Double-A and Triple-A until spending time in the big leagues to close out the year. He has an athletic delivery and great arm speed on his secondary pitches. Despite the poor stat line with the Tigers, his command looks like it could sit around average.

He has plus fastball and plus-plus changeup potential, with a breaking ball that could approach average as he continues adjusting to his new role. I saw Ferrell in the Arizona Fall League and came away more impressed than after watching most of the name-brand guys. Expect some kind of adjustment period, but Ferrell could work his way into a pivotal part of the bullpen in 2016.

Fastball: 55/55/60 Curveball: 40/40/45 Changeup: 55/60/65+ Command: 45/50/50
Overall: 40/45/50+

13. Domonic Ficociello, 1B, VIDEO

Glance at his stats, and Ficociello doesn’t seem like much of a prospect. High averages with little power from a first baseman = not the greatest profile. The thing is, he still has room for another 20-25 pounds on his frame. He’s already proven he can hit for average and hit line drives and gappers around the field. He has a great swing path for fly balls, but just hasn’t had the strength to hit them over the fence consistently. He runs better than you might think and has great hands and feet at first base, prompting one Tigers source to tell me he may end up playing multiple positions. His future may still depend on his power coming around, but there are a bunch of pretty good tools here.

Hit: 40/50/55 Power: 35/40/50 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 40/45/50+

14. Spencer Turnbull, RHP, VIDEO

Turnbull is a hard-throwing former second-round pick for the Tigers in 2014, capable of dialing it up to the upper-90s but throwing regularly up to 95. He has a clean arm action despite stiff actions throughout the rest of his body, leading to below-average command and just average projection on his offspeed stuff with inconsistent movement and effectiveness.

His fastball has appreciable sink at the lower range of his velocity, giving him a solid ground ball-inducing pitch to keep him moving through the system. His overall athleticism on the mound doesn’t leave much for projecting improvements to his secondary offerings, but I like the package enough to see a seventh-inning guy in the future.

Fastball: 55/60/65 Slider: 45/50/55 Changeup: 35/40/45 Command: 40/45/45+
Overall: 40/45/50

40+ FV Prospects

15. Drew Smith, RHP, VIDEO

You could have guessed a hard-throwing college reliever would breeze through the lower minors, but Smith made it interesting. Between Rookie, Low-A and A-ball he only gave up one run in 31 total innings. Add to that 38 strikeouts and only five walks. He dials his heater up to the high-90s and keeps it around the strike zone. His only secondary pitch is a hard curveball, which doesn’t have the same location and will show inconsistent break. For now, it’s tough to peg his ultimate role, but his fastball and control make him a likely big leaguer.

Fastball: 60/60/65 Curveball: 45/45+/50 Command: 40/40/45
Overall: 40/40-45/50

16. JaCoby Jones, 3B/SS, VIDEO

Jones was a nice upside pickup by the Tigers when they sent Joakim Soria to the Pirates last year. Jones offers a ton of athleticism and power, though he has contact issues and doesn’t project to stay at shortstop. Third base or the outfield seems like a better fit for his future, but he may still see time at short to continue challenging his defensive skills.

At the plate, Jones has easy power with a solid swing plane that allows him to drive balls out of the park to all fields in batting practice. He pushes his hands out in front slightly, which cuts off the amount of time the bat can stay in the zone. Combined with some approach and contact problems, and that he’s seen them exposed more at each level, it’s tough seeing him as more than a 45 bat in the big leagues.

Jones will be suspended for the first 39 games of the season in 2016 after testing positive for a drug of abuse. Regardless of the causes, that’s valuable development time lost for a player who needs as many at-bats as possible to work out his issues. Still, netting a bat with starter upside for a couple-month reliever rental, the Tigers made a solid move bringing Jones into the fold.

Hit: 40/40+/45 Power: 45/50/55+ Run: 55/55/55 Field: 45/45/50 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 35/40-45/50

17. Austin Kubitza, RHP, VIDEO

Kubitza may have the best sinking fastball in the system, using it to induce tons of ground balls as his best weapon on the mound. Though he has worked as a starter, the lack of true command and some concerns over his arm action put him squarely in the bullpen for me. The plan is still to keep him in the rotation as long as possible, but his knack for keeping the ball on the ground will be best leveraged in a bullpen role.

Kubitza has a lot of funk to his arm action and a stiff delivery all around. His arm looks like it extends straight up in the air before he releases the ball, and stays locked out the rest of he way through his motion. Though he doesn’t throw crazy hard, sitting in the high-80s to low-90s, it’s difficult to project that kind of arm action holding up over a full big league season without losing something along the way. His slider can look above-average or better at times, while his changeup has some fade but comes with too much of a difference in arm speed to project.

As long as he continues staying healthy, he will be a big league pitcher. Last year’s poor run average in Double-A masked his respectable peripherals, and the ground ball specialty will translate nicely over the next two levels. Still, there isn’t a ton of upside, though his floor as a situational reliever is relatively assured.

Fastball: 50/55/55 Slider: 50/50/55 Changeup: 35/40/40 Command: 45/45/45
Overall: 40/40-45/45

18. Montreal Robertson, RHP, VIDEO

Robertson has taken well to a bullpen role after starting for a couple years, and now is on track to at least be a middle-relief option for the Tigers. He was added to the 40-man roster this offseason after a solid performance in the Arizona Fall League. Some scouts have seen him as high as 96-97, but in the AFL I saw him 91-94 with great run and sink on the fastball. His slider and splitter are both inconsistent but should come close to average pitches. His fastball is dirty, and will keep him viable against big league hitters even if his offspeed doesn’t develop further.

Fastball: 55/60/65 Slider: 40/45/45 Splitter: 40/45/50 Command: 40/40+/45
Overall: 40/40+/45

19. Zach Shepherd, 3B, VIDEO

Shepherd is an Australian kid who had a respectable 2015 season as a 19-year-old in A-ball. He looks good at third base with a solid-average arm and good hands. Not showing much consistent power yet, he shows the ability to lift the ball and has enough projection in strength to see him developing power in the future. Tigers officials are confident in his future hitting ability, and also praised him for being a very hard-working player with a quiet confidence about him. His strikeout rate was high last year, but with a reputation for having an advanced approach at the plate, it may have been just a matter of seeing that competition level for the first time.

Hit: 25/45/50 Power: 30/45/55 Run: 40/40/45 Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 50/50/55
Overall: 30/40/55

20. Grayson Greiner, C, VIDEO

Greiner had a rough year offensively in 2015, but Tigers officials were enthused by how great he was defensively despite his struggles at the plate. Pitchers loved throwing to him for his soft hands and very strong, accurate arm. His bat is limited by two things: some pitch-recognition issues for one, and a swing that goes in and out of the zone quickly. Any pitch on which he’s fooled results in his upper body diving forward to keep his bat on the ball, which isn’t a projectable way to handle changes of speed.

He does show a smooth swing in batting practice with easy above-average raw power to the pull side, and internal sources believe his bat will come around nicely. With his strikeouts and approach struggles in 2015, a backup job is what lies ahead if he hits like he should. If he can really make some adjustments and take his BP ease into game situations, he’s an above-average big league catcher.

Hit: 30/35/45 Power: 30/40/50 Run: 30/30/30 Field: 55/60/60 Throw: 60/65/70
Overall: 30/40/55

21. Paul Voelker, RHP, VIDEO

Voelker seems like a safe bet to be a major league reliever, though he profiles best in the middle innings, with a seventh- or eighth-inning role a reach but not an impossibility. He’s mostly reliant on his fastball-slider combo, lacking feel for his changeup. I do admire his commitment to throwing it with the same arm speed as his fastball, but he will have a hard time getting it above its current below-average ceiling. Team sources like his confidence on the mound and power stuff.

In my opinion, his slider will be his best pitch over his fastball. Both have plus ceilings, but even though he sits in the mid-90s and throws strikes, his fastball lacks the movement or pinpoint command to make it stand out even in short stints. His slider is presently average due to inconsistency alone, but it has sharp, two-plane break that has a better chance of reaching its ceiling as a result. His command likely maxes out just below average, but it’s good enough to get him in the big league door.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Slider: 50/55+/60 Changeup: 30/35/35 Command: 40/45/45
Overall: 35/40/45

Quick Hits

RHP Endrys Briceno (VIDEO) came back from Tommy John surgery in the middle of last season. He’s a hard-working guy with a projectable body who could be a bullpen piece if he can learn to command pitches and add some physicality. RHP Artie Lewicki (VIDEO) had a great season despite missing time due to a strained pectoral. He may have starter potential if he can stay healthy for once and show his command is good enough to protect his moderate stuff. LHP Gregory Soto is still very far away from the bigs in the command department, but he’s left-handed, throws hard and has the makings of an above-average breaking ball.

RHP Edgar De La Rosa (VIDEO) is a big, power righty coming off an arm injury last year who is converting to the bullpen in 2016, where the Tigers hope his off speed stuff improves and gets him to the big leagues. RHP Adam Ravenelle (VIDEO) throws in the low to mid-90s and flashes an above-average slider, but his command issues aren’t likely to go away with stiff actions and a delivery that just kinda spins around his front leg. LHP Joe Mantiply (VIDEO) has just decent stuff but keeps getting minor league hitters out, and might be able to do the same out of the pen in the big leagues.

RHP Jose Valdez (VIDEO) can be dominant at times with plus-plus velocity and slider break, but he’s wildly inconsistent with both his stuff and command. RHP Angel Nesbitt (VIDEO) struggled with command in the minors before getting a call up to help in the big league pen. Similar to Valdez, he has good velocity with very inconsistent secondary stuff. LHP Josh Turley (VIDEO) has a six-pitch (including a knuckleball) mix of average or below offerings that he throws for strikes, one of them being a hard knuckleball, who may end up performing better than the sum of his parts would indicate. Also, he throws a knuckleball.

C Arvicent Perez (VIDEO) has been hot and very cold with the bat, but can really catch and throw. 3B/SS Steven Fuentes (VIDEO) has a dynamic skill set, but really struggles making contact. OF Julio Martinez offers tools everywhere in his game, and will get his full-season ball test this year or next.

Cistulli’s Guy
Warwick Saupold, RHP

On August 6th of last year, the Australian-born Saupold set the Erie SeaWolves franchise record for career strikeouts with 275. That’s the sort of distinction which, while superficially impressive, actually does not point to great success in a prospect’s future. In theory, a pitcher who’s equipped to dominate Double-A batters is also the sort who’ll be promoted to Triple-A or the majors before he’s capable of setting records in the Eastern League.

Saupold isn’t a top prospect, but there are some positive indicators here. Like, he possesses average fastball velocity as a starter. And like, he features a three-pitch mix. And finally like, two of the best starts of his professional career are also the last two of his 2015 season, shortly after having received a promotion to Triple-A Toledo.

Pitching on both September 2nd and 7th, Saupold produced a 15:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 38 batters over 11.0 innings. Perhaps that’s an indication of having taken a leap forward. Perhaps it’s an anomaly. In either case, what follows is indisputably footage from his last start of the year, in which Saupold throws a 91 mph fastball past Yandy Diaz, author of just an 11.4% strikeout rate as a minor leaguer.

Dan is Fangraphs Lead Prospect Analyst, living in New York City. He played baseball for four years at Franklin & Marshall College before attending medical school. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @DWFarnsworth.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

Aw yeah, thanks for the excellent work, Dan!
Where would Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, and Shane Green fall on this list, were they eligible?