The Top-Five Tigers Prospects by Projected WAR by Carson Cistulli March 16, 2015 Earlier today, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Detroit Tigers. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Detroit’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Tigers’ system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value. Below are the top-five prospects in the Detroit system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time. Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par. 5. Chad Green, RHP (Profile) IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR 150 5.2 3.5 1.2 5.02 0.1 Green actually produced a higher strikeout rate last year at Class-A West Michigan (by over two strikeouts per nine innings, actually) than he did during his junior campaign at the University of Louisville, the only collegiate season in which he worked as a full-time starter. McDaniel notes that Green has exhibited greater fastball velocity as a professional, so it’s quite possible that the statistical improvements are tied proportionally to improvements in arm speed. It’s possible that they’re tied to his level of competition, as well: Green spent all of 2014 in the Midwest League, where he was about a year older than the average pitcher. Steamer estimates that Green is almost precisely replacement level at the moment — the best that can be said of any of Detroit’s rookie-eligible starters right now. 4. Hernan Perez, 2B (Profile) PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR 550 .250 .281 .345 73 0.4 Perez is listed here — and also projected by Steamer — as a second basemen because that’s the position at which he’s recorded the majority of his ca. 180 major-league defensive innings. As a minor leaguer, however, he’s received a roughly equal number of starts at both second and shortstop. McDaniel suggests that he’s adequate at shortstop, so it’s probably reasonable (if one is so interested) to add 0.3 wins or so to Perez’s WAR projection. There’s little sign of power, so his overall ceiling is rather low. Perez is forecast to produce a strikeout rate about one standard deviation better than league average, however. That capacity for contact combined with the defensive value, though, conspires to create a useful utility role. 3. Bruce Rondon, RHP (Profile) IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR 50 10.2 3.6 0.7 3.23 0.5 There isn’t lots of what one might call “subtlety” to Rondon’s approach — nor perhaps ought there to be for a pitcher who’s exhibited the ability to sit at nearly 100 mph with his fastball. The strategy was an effective one for Rondon during his debut for the Tigers in 2013. He parlayed the fastball plus a hard slider into strikeout and walk rates of 24.6% and 9.0%, respectively — plus an 81 xFIP- and 0.4 WAR — over just 28.2 innings. The velocity is also probably essential to his success, however, and that’s the concern as the right-hander returns from a Tommy John procedure that ruined his entire 2014 season. The early returns from spring training are positive in this regard: Rondon hit 100 mph in his debut down in Lakeland. 2. Tyler Collins, OF (Profile) PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR 550 .238 .292 .390 90 0.6 Collins appeared at center field in eight games last year for Triple-A Toledo and those eight appearances represent all but one of his minor-league total at the position. Which, the point of that is to say that he’s almost certainly relegated to a corner-outfield spot in the majors. And the point of that is to say he’ll be required to compensate duly on the offensive side of things for what he lacks on the defensive side in order to become a major-league regular. His projection for 2015 suggests that he probably doesn’t possess quite the requisite batting skills to earn a starting spot. As McDaniel notes, however, Collins could prove useful in a platoon role — in which capacity he’d almost certainly profile as at least a league-average hitter. 1. James McCann, C (Profile) PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR 415 .240 .277 .344 72 0.9 The defensive value assessed to McCann by Steamer is basically all a product of the catcher positional adjustment (with actually a small negative fielding value based on his very limited major-league sample from 2014). McDaniel’s report, however, suggests that McCann’s value as a player has generally been tied to his defensive skills. ZiPS actually projects him as a +6-run defender, placing McCann among the top 10% of all catchers by that measure and that system. Adding a similar value to McCann’s prorated Steamer projection would render him roughly a 1.5-win player. That’s not ideal for a starting spot. It’s sufficient, though, for a backup role — and probably an improvement over the club’s other candidate for that same thing, Bryan Holaday.