Top 15 Prospects: Detroit Tigers

Despite graduating a few gems over the years, the Detroit Tigers organization is not known for focusing resource on developing in-house talent. The organization drafts rather conservatively (outside the couple of rounds, at least) and mostly uses its prospects as trade bait. With that said, this year’s Top 15 list has three players on the top of the list that could develop into above-average contributors in Detroit… if they’re not traded first.

1. Jacob Turner, RHP
BORN: May 21, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 1st round (9th overall), Missouri HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 1st

Turner’s name came up a lot this past off-season as team’s understandably coveted the right-hander in trade talks with Detroit. Standing 6’5” he has an impressive pitcher’s frame and should be durable as a big league starter once he fills out a bit more and gets stronger. He commands his fastball well, which can touch 94-95, and works down in the zone with it. His curveball and changeup both have the chance to develop into plus pitches, giving Turner the ceiling of a No. 2 starter. The right-hander may very well open 2012 in Detroit’s big league rotation after pitching much of ’11 in double-A and receiving three late-season starts in the Majors. Often likened to current Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello because they were both fast-moving, high draft picks, they’re really not that similar.

2. Nick Castellanos, 3B
BORN: March 4, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 supplemental 1st round, Florida HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd

Far and away Detroit’s best hitting prospect, Castellanos will likely eventually force Miguel Cabrera back to the designated hitter’s role (which is probably where he belongs anyway with Prince Fielder holding down first base). Castellanos, though, could be two to three years away from reaching the Majors after spending all of 2011 in low-A ball. Although young for the league, he hit .312 and posted a wRC+ of 129. His frame hints at future 20-25 home run potential but he knocked just seven balls over the fence in ’11. He showed good gap power with 36 doubles. If he can trim the strikeouts and improve his approach, he has the raw skills to hit for both power and average. In the dirt Castellanos shows good actions considering he’s fairly new to the position after playing shortstop in high school. He has solid arm strength and good range.

3. Drew Smyly, LHP
BORN: June 13, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2010 2nd round, University of Arkansas
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

The first of three solid southpaw prospects, Smyly was pushed aggressively through the system but, unlike a number of other prospects, was deserving of the move. He has both polish and an impressive four-pitch repertoire; he understands how to mix his pitches throw off hitters’ timings. Smyly doesn’t throw as hard as many of Detroit’s “typical pitching prospects” but he shows decent velocity in the 87-92 mph range and keeps the ball down in the zone. He has a solid pitcher’s frame but the southpaw has battled arm injuries in the past, leading to concerns about his ability to throw 180-200 innings on a consistent basis. He should open 2012 in double-A.

4. Casey Crosby, LHP
BORN: Sept, 17, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 5th round, Illinois HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

A personal favorite of mine since his signing, Crosby has battled back from Tommy John surgery after he injured his elbow shortly after signing and before even throwing a pro pitch. The southpaw is back in fine form now, although he lost some valuable development time. He had a decent year in 2011 while pitching in double-A – especially considering that he missed almost all of ’10 with more elbow issues. Detroit also rush him through A-ball and skipped him over high-A ball, which was an interesting decision given his missed time. Crosby has three promising pitches in a 90-95 mph fastball, curveball and changeup but he needs to improve his command of all three. His control has also suffered from his aggressive timetable and missed development. I’d hold him back in double-A to begin 2012 but Detroit will likely assign him to triple-A.

5. Andy Oliver, LHP
BORN: Dec. 3, 1987
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 2nd round, Oklahoma State University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 3rd

There are a number of different opinions on Oliver’s overall potential. Some see him as an innings-eater starter while others see him as a high-leverage reliever. The issues stem from A) His lack of consistent control, and B) His one reliable pitch, which is a 90-95 mph fastball. Either way, he’s going to have to command his fastball better and find at least one reliable secondary pitch, from either his slider or changeup, to go along with his heater – which also needs fine-tuning. Because it’s hard to find a southpaw that can throw 95 mph, Oliver will continue to be given the benefit of the doubt and Detroit doesn’t exactly have a lot of depth in the upper minors. He’ll head back to triple-A for a third stint.

6. Rob Brantly, C
BORN: July 14, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 3rd round, UC Riverside
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Known more as an offensive-minded catcher coming out of college in 2010, Brantly struggled at high-A ball after a mid-season promotion. After hitting .303 in low-A, his average dropped to .219. Brantly has good gap power and could eventually reach double-digit home run totals. He doesn’t strike out a ton but he also doesn’t walk much and is too aggressive for his own good. He moves around well behind the plate and does a nice job of controlling the running game but he’s raw in the finer aspects of the position. Brantly should return to high-A ball in 2012.

7. James McCann, C
BORN: June 13, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 2nd round, University of Arkansas
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

McCann has a reputation as a strong defensive catcher but serious questions remain about his ability to develop into an average hitting catcher. He has “slider bat speed” but, when he makes good contact, he shows gap power. There is hope that he can improve his abilities at the plate but, if not, he should still be a valuable second-string catcher. He and Rob Brantly, a left-handed hitting catcher, could make a solid combo if they both continue to develop. Behind the dish, the catcher shows good leadership, a strong arm and solid receiving skills. After tasting low-A ball at the end of ’11, McCann should head back there to begin the new season.

8. Brenny Paulino, RHP
BORN: Feb. 21, 1993
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

The Tigers organization always manages to find low-profile Latin prospects and develop them into something intriguing. Such is the case with Paulino, who was signed for a low six-figure amount in 2009. He is still quite raw and you have to dream a little on him given that he stands 6’4” but weights just 170 lbs. In other words, there may be more velocity to come from this right-hander who already sits 91-95 mph with his heater. He also features two below average secondary pitches: a curveball and a changeup. Paulino also needs to learn to leverage his height to his advantage to get more of a downward plane on his pitches. He oddly received two late-season starts in high-A ball (after spending the remainder of the year in Rookie ball) and was bombed. He should open 2012 in low-A ball or back in extended spring training.

9. Aaron Westlake, 1B/OF
BORN: Dec. 22, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 3rd round, Vanderbilt University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

The Toronto Blue Jays made a run at Westlake when they selected him in the 22nd round after a down year as a junior in 2010 but he returned to Vanderbilt for his senior year and significantly improved his stock. He became more aggressive at the plate but still has work to do in that area. Westlake has left-handed power to all fields and the ball jumps off his bat. Defensively, he’s spent time bouncing around the field a bit (including playing catcher) but will play first base in pro ball. He could develop into at least an average defender, thanks to soft hands and good actions. He’ll likely begin the 2012 season in high-A ball and could reach double-A in short order.

10. Danry Vasquez, OF
BORN: Jan. 8, 1994
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2010 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Vasquez was signed out Venezuela for $1.2 million in 2010 and was considered a toolsy but (very) raw athlete. Just 17 years old during the ’11 season, he showed significant improvements as the year progressed. He hit a hollow .272 and needs to get stronger, as well as learn to pull the ball with authority – even if it’s just gap power. He also needs to improve his approach at the plate and see more pitches ; his 3.1% walk rate will not cut it at higher levels. Vasquez has the physique to develop into a left-handed power hitter and he showed the ability to hit southpaws. Defensively, he’s still raw but could develop into an average right fielder in time. He should return to short-season ball in 2012 after a stint in extended spring training.

The Next Five

11. Alex Burgos, LHP: Burgos has posted excellent numbers so far in his career. He’s also been difficult to hit and allowed just 63 hits in 94.2 innings at low-A in 2011. His BABIP-allowed, though, was an unsustainably-low .242. He’s also done a nice job of keeping the ball in the park and has displayed average control. The former fifth round draft pick is especially tough on left-handed hitters and held them to a .152 battin average. Burgos doesn’t have a reliable off-speed pitch but he has two solid breaking balls in a curveball and cutter. His fastball sits in the 87-89 mph range.

12. Kyle Ryan, LHP: Young left-hander Ryan has an enviable pitcher’s frame and solid projection. He showed his durability by pitching 137 innings in low-A in 2011, up from 54.0 in his debut. He has above-average control for his age (1.97 BB/9) but his strikeout rate was below-average at 6.50 K/9). With more experience and improved command, Ryan should see his strikeout rate increase. His repertoire includes a fastball, slider, and changeup.

13. Brandon Loy, SS: A plus defender at shortstop, questions remain on Loy’s bat. His ceiling currently sits at big league utility player. He does possess “small ball” skills at the plate, which helps him compensate for his below average offensive skills in terms of contact, power and consistency. If he can find a way to hit .240 to .250 with decent on-base skills than he might spend a few seasons as a starter on a second-division club. Detroit rushes too many of its college hitters so I hope they start him in low-A ball.

14. Bruce Rondon, RHP: Rondon has a power fastball but he rarely knows where it’s going. He can reach triple-digits on the radar gun and sits in the mid-90s and he’s working to develop a slider. Rondon has a bad habit of losing his arm slot and struggles with his delivery. He’s put on too much weight and needs to rededicate himself to getting in shape, which should help him loosen up on the mound and regain some motion. He’ll move up to high-A ball but could potentially end the year in double-A if he can show even average control.

15. Avisail Garcia, OF: I always temper my enthusiasm for players like Garcia. First the positives: He’s been young for every league he’s played at and he’s loaded with tools, including speed and plus defense. And now the negatives: He is overly aggressive at the plate and lacks a plan. He hacks at everything, which led to a 3.5% walk rate in high-A ball. As a player whose best offensive tool is his speed, he needs to embrace the importance of getting on base.

SLEEPER ALERT: Tyler Collins, OF: Collins had a bit of an inconsistent amateur career after high school and bounced around a couple schools, which may have hurt his draft value a bit. Found in the sixth round, he had an impressive pro debut in short-season ball by hitting .313 with surprising pop, although it’s likely to grade out as gap power as he advances up the ladder. He does a nice job of making contact and limiting the strikeouts. Collins, a left-handed hitter, needs some work against southpaws and might end up as a fourth outfielder.

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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10 years ago

Thanks for all the work you’ve put into this series Marc, I’ve enjoyed it.

Here’s hoping Daniel Fields bounces back and works his way back on this list next year.

Bruce Fields
10 years ago
Reply to  Eric

You leave my son out of this you son of a bitch.

10 years ago
Reply to  Bruce Fields

Is this serious?

10 years ago
Reply to  Bruce Fields

No, someone is OBVIOUSLY using Bruce Fields name. He has never been known to be online on any of these sites.