The Tigers had to play catch-up to the Cleveland Indians for most of the season, but as the season turned to the stretch run, they took off like Seabiscuit toward the finish line, leaving the rest of the AL Central in their dust. To accomplish another Central Division title, the Tigers used a mostly veteran roster, and besides a few relievers and a small appearance from Casper Wells who was later traded to Seattle, the Tigers really didn’t introduce any prospects to the majors for a lengthy period of time.
The most significant thing to happen to the farm system came when they traded four prospects to Seattle for Doug Fister, in a trade that certainly played a significant role in their second-half surge. The Tigers, however, paid a price as they lost Wells, closer-to-be Chance Ruffin, Charlie Furbush, and another hitting prospect in Francisco Martinez. While none of those were “star” prospects, they were all solid prospects that could see the majors at some point, with Martinez the one with the highest potential.
As for those remaining within the Tigers farm system, it was mostly a disappointing season. Top prospects Jacob Turner and Nick Castellanos performed well, and Turner even made a few major-league appearances late in the season. Otherwise, Drew Smyly and Casey Crosby were part of the few who held or improved their stock. And without a first-round pick, the Tigers weren’t really able to add much talent, though they did make a few solid selections that bolstered the farm system.
While the Tigers will probably remain the class of the Central next season, the hold could be tenuous, and other than Turner and Smyly, there doesn’t seem to be much help that will be immediately available. But with a large payroll, you don’t always need a great farm system, and the Tigers have always been willing to spend in the draft, though it’d be nice for the farm system if they kept their first-round picks.
Jacob Turner SP
Age/Level (as of 4/2012): 20/MLB
Turner is still young and has developing left to do, but he’s seriously talented and has already made his major-league debut. With a fastball in the low-to-mid-90s with sink, a hammer curve, and an improving change-up, Turner has everything he needs to be a successful pitcher, but one wonders if he isn’t being rushed. While has good stuff and plenty of projection (big frame, lean), he still needs to work on his change, consistency with his secondary pitches, and command. He certainly has the frame, smooth and athletic mechanics, and work ethic to make that happen, and you can make the argument that he can still learn those things in the majors. I’d just like to see him in AAA for most of 2012, but it would be hard to argue he’s not one of the five best Tigers pitchers, I’m guessing.
Nick Castellanos 3B
Projection: 3-5 WAR
Castellanos struck out a bit more than expected and only hit 7 home runs, but the young third baseman shouldn’t suffer too much from that as he really bounced back after a rough start. He still has an excellent swing that should produce high averages, and he did hit 36 doubles, which should start to turn into home runs down the road. Defensively, he leaves a bit to be desired as there remain concerns about him needing to move to an outfield corner, but he has a good arm and may just need reps at the hot corner as he isn’t physically limited. Castellanos is a good-looking prospect that could really breakout this season, and as one of the few hitting prospects the Tigers have, they’d really like him to.
Drew Smyly SP
Smyly is certainly very reminiscent of the typical college lefty with a 88-92 mph fastball (more in the upper-80s), a solid cutter, and an average curve and change. He has average control, but like many crafty lefties, scouts want to see his stuff play at higher levels. Smyly passed his first test in about 40 innings of AA duty, but he’ll have to prove more as he heads to AAA next season. It’s just the nature of the beast, but I believe he can be a fine major-league starter.
Casey Crosby SP
Projection: 3/4, Relief Ace
It’s a real shame Crosby hasn’t really been able to stay healthy in his career. As a prototypical power arm, he has a mid-90s fastball that can touch 98, and he adds an above-average curve and a change that flashes average. Crosby, however, has been unable to really pitch a full season until getting in 130 innings this season, and it has hindered the development of his change as well as his control, which is below-average. If he can stay healthy, he can really become a productive major-league starter (and he still has time at 23 for most of 2012), but if he gets injured again, he’s headed to the bullpen where he might not be able to stay healthy anyway.
Andrew Oliver SP
Projection: 5, Middle Reliever
When one generally thinks about Tigers pitching, one thinks about power arms. Oliver certainly fits that mold as he throws in the mid-90s, but he has little else to offer. His slider flattens out way too often, and his change is below-average at best. All of this is a shame because he has a great pitcher’s frame and can hold his velocity deep into games. But a pitcher cannot live on fastballs alone, and if those secondary pitches don’t improve in a hurry, he’s a one-trick pony. And relievers even have trouble with only one pitch.
James McCann C
Age/Level: 21/Low- or High-A
Projection: 1-3 WAR
Without a first round pick, McCann was the Tigers’ first pick of 2011 and in the second round. He’s not terribly good at anything, but he’s not really bad at anything, either. McCann is an average hitter who probably won’t hit more than 12 or so home runs, and he’s not a standout defensive catcher to compensate for what will probably be a lack of offensive production. While that sounds mostly bad, he does enough things well that he’ll likely play in the majors but in back-up role. But let’s see him hit pro pitching before we hastily push him to that.
Eugenio Suarez SS
Projection: 1-3 WAR
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but this Venezuelan shortstop has a good glove. Suarez should stay at short, and the biggest question now is if he will hit. While he does show a penchant for striking out, he also shows some budding ability with his secondary skills, as he’s drawn walks and hit for some power. On the bases, he even shows some speed, but he’ll have to refine his baserunning skills and jumps. Playing shortstop and having the secondary skills, Suarez becomes an interesting prospect, though one still far away from the majors.
Aaron Westlake 1B
Age/Level: 23/ High-A
Projection: 1-3 WAR
Westlake is a year older than most college players who are drafted, and in addition to the obstacles faced by being a first base-only prospect, that makes things difficult for him. His bat, however, may not need a lot of time in the minors with above-average power and a solid approach, and he’s even a decent defender. The problem is, as with all first base prospects, is that he needs to be nearly perfect with the bat to be a legit major-league player. We’ll just have to wait-and-see on that, but it’s a tough road ahead.
Jay Voss SP
Acquired for Nate Robertson, Voss has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen, but he seemed to find his stride out of the rotation in 2011. With an average fastball, slider, and change, Voss has your typical lefty repertoire, and he also has average command. His mechanics are a little whippy, which is just another way of saying he uses a lot of arm and not as much lower body, but he’s a big guy and should be able to handle a starter’s workload. Voss, in the end, is likely just a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Tyler Gibson OF
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Players drafted in the 15th round don’t usually make Top 10 lists the off-season after which they were drafted, but they do when they are second-round talents that drop due to questions about his willingness to sign due to a scholarship commitment. Detroit waited and used over $500K to sign the power-hitting lefty. Gibson will probably have to move to an outfield corner eventually, but there’s an outside chance that he could move to third. Either way, his calling card will be his bat, and it remains to be seen if it will be enough.
Big Question – Bats?
At the major-league level, the Tigers have hitters like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, but the offensive side of the ledger is beginning to thin out. Unfortunately for the Tigers, there really aren’t any prospects that are close to major-league ready to take any spots. Castellanos and Co. are all still in A-ball, and even if recent college draftees McCann and Westlake prove to be adept at hitting, the Tigers will still likely have to wait until late 2013 or (more likely) 2014 for any MLB production. Until then, they’ll hope that the big payroll and the money saved from Magglio Ordonez and Brandon Inge help bring some in through free-agency.