Apr 24, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; A view of the Detroit Tigers logo on the on deck circle at Comerica Park. The Indians won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
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The Detroit Tigers missed the playoffs in 2016 and are trying to find a way to retool while owner Mike Ilitch is still alive. Do they have resources on the farm?
Our minor league top 10 series is coordinated by Benjamin Chase, one of our contributors at Call To The Pen.
He has poured over thousands of minor league games over the course of the year via milb.tv along with speaking with a number of team and independent scouts. These lists are based out of those conversations.
Each system will have prospects from 10 to 1, and then finish with one newcomer to the system that is worth keeping an eye on that is not in the top 10 at this time.
Conversations are certainly encouraged in the comments section on each system as we go along!
On his way out the door last July, Dombrowski made a few trades that impacted the Tigers significantly
Tigers System Review
Dave Dombrowski used the Tigers farm system as a GM should when he’s trying to win, as a method to trade for the pieces needed to fill his team. However, that left the Tigers system quite shallow.
On his way out the door last July, Dombrowski made a few trades that impacted the Tigers significantly in a positive direction in getting high-impact talent. A lot of that talent made its impact already in 2016, as the Tigers saw Michael Fulmer win the Rookie of the Year award, Daniel Norris made 13 tremendous starts for the major league club, and Matt Boyd made 18 fairly effective starts all after being acquired just a year ago.
The system has been left without much for depth, and it’s quite evident in the top 10 as the first two prospects are legit impact-type players, while after that there are three or four guys that would best be described as wild cards, and then predominantly organizational filler after that.
Birthdate: 7/8/92 (24 years old) Level(s) Played in 2016: high A, AA Stats in 2016: .276/.345/.466, 18 HR, 8 SB
Gerber comes from what is a tough situation for most draftees, being drafted as a college senior in the 15th round. Coming from Creighton, Gerber had a long road to overcome to catch the attention of his own organization, let alone national rankers.
He’s done exactly that as a guy who has no outstanding tool, but his combination of tools and game “feel” allow him to find success at every level thus far, even passing the AA test, a typical weeding out level in the minor leagues.
his combination of tools and game “feel” allow him to find success
Gerber’s got a very good feel at the plate in getting his barrel on the ball, which allows him to maximize his power output, which could sit at 10-15 home runs as a big leaguer if he’d get to that level.
Gerber’s also a solid athlete that can steal a base as needed and certainly is a very solid base runner.
Gerber doesn’t have an exceptional arm, but he’s succeeded as a right fielder by having extreme accuracy in his average to above-average arm, allowing it to play up very well.
Gerber has been on the fast track thus far, making AA in his second full season. He’ll likely be starting at AA or AAA to start 2017 with a chance to move to Detroit in a solid 4th outfielder role this year.
Jun 19, 2015; Omaha, NE, USA; TCU Horned Frogs pitcher Tyler Alexander (13) pitches against the LSU Tigers in the 2015 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Birthdate: 7/14/94 (22 years old) Level(s) Played in 2016: high A, AA Stats in 2016: 136 1/3 IP, 2.44 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 3.67 BB%, 19.27 K%
After drafting him out of high school, the Tigers came back after Alexander as a draft-eligible sophomore from Texas Christian to draft him in the 2nd round in 2015.
While Alexander doesn’t have any single pitch that will blow you away or rate as plus, he is average to above-average across the board with fringe-plus control that allows everything to play up, especially when he is able to sequence his pitches well.
(Alexander) is average to above-average across the board with fringe-plus control that allows everything to play up
The definition of a pitchability left-hander, Alexander has a fastball that sits in the upper 80s and touches 92, but he gets great sink and late arm-side run to generate a ton of ground balls and weak contact.
His looping curve and sweeping slider may not have the sharp breaks to generate a ton of strikeouts, but he can locate them tremendously well, and he gets them in the zone for called strikes frequently.
His change may be his best pitch as it mimics the fastball in both its sink and arm side run, and it’s the best swing-and-miss pitch that Alexander has, though at its low-80s velocity, using it too much gets to be a bad idea on his part.
Alexander has moved quickly through the Tigers system to this point, and he has the ability to keep moving fast to get to the bigs as a back-end starter, possibly as soon as 2017.
Birthdate: 5/11/96 (20 years old) Level(s) Played in 2016: low A Stats in 2016: .281/.315/.335, 0 HR, 14 SB
When I watch prospects, there are often guys that you watch and you simply want to cheer for because of the way they play the game. Azocar is one of those guys.
Azocar was signed in 2012 with extremely raw skills that the Tigers knew would take some time to polish into a pro, and he’s taken time to climb to full-season ball, but his time in the Midwest League this year showed his high-end speed and solid contact ability if not also his struggles still in raw pitch recognition that is still being developed.
Azocar is an elite defender and runner at this stage of his development
Azocar is one of those guys who you watch and know he just absolutely loves the game. He carries himself with an absolute passion for the game he plays, but at the same time, he has a level of humility to not beat himself up when he makes a silly error on the base paths or the field, however rare both situations may be.
Azocar is an elite defender and runner at this stage of his development. He’s not filled out into the power threat that the Tigers were hoping, but he has shown good bat control in the zone that should allow him to hit for good average, especially with his elite speed.
He’ll be a fun guy to keep watching in the Florida State League this season.
Aug 31, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones (40) hits a double in the fifth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Birthdate: 5/10/92 (24 years old) Level(s) Played in 2016: AA, AAA, MLB Stats in 2016: .257/.327/.407, 7 HR, 13 SB (minor league stats only)
Jones was the acquisition for Joakim Soria last summer, and the former 2013 3rd round selection was allowed to showcase his extreme athleticism.
Jones was a big time player from Louisiana State University that many considered the best athlete in his draft class, but he’s had a load of bumps along the way, including a suspension in 2015 for a “drug of abuse”.
(Jones has) found his way all the way to the majors…due to his impressive athleticism
His bumps along the way have really delayed his ability to put his raw tools into polished skills, but he’s found his way all the way to the majors in spite of that, due to his impressive athleticism.
Jones currently works best in projection as a super-utility type, the kind of player who could handle playing center or second base, or even fill in at shortstop every ten days just to keep everyone fresh, getting 400-500 plate appearances across a number of positions.
His defensive flexibility may give the Tigers the boldness to make a move to trade someone like Ian Kinsler or to leave center field up to Jones and Anthony Gose for 2017.
Birthdate: 12/30/95 (20 years old) Level(s) Played in 2016: low A Stats in 2016: .266/.312/.349, 1 HR, 35 SB
The Tigers selected Hill in the first round in 2014 out of high school and thought his bloodlines (his dad is a Dodgers scout) would allow him to be an advanced feel sort of player.
However, the Tigers ended up with a player who has been hurt quite a bit, and when he’s been on the field, he’s shown to be a very, very raw player.
Hill is a legit speedster and athlete
Hill is a legit speedster and athlete. He has 70-75 grade speed on the 20-80 scouting scale, though he’s not always shown great stolen base instincts, stealing at a high rate for sure, but seemingly not having a great instinct as to when to take off on a stolen base.
Hill also showed some swing and miss issues along the way that he’s still working to correct. His swing in general has been his issue along the way. While he has quick wrists that should lead to a solid ability to make contact and the speed to allow him to put up high BABIP numbers and, conversely, high batting averages, Hill has a very inconsistent swing path from swing to swing.
That inconsistency has been a big reason why he’s not shown the development in power that his physical development would indicate should have come at this point as Hill has added some solid musculature since his drafting, but it hasn’t translated to power due to the rough swing mechanics.
Hill still rates high for me just because the raw tools jump out when you watch him in a shallow system, but there’s a lot of work to do here.
Birthdate: 3/16/94 (22 years old) Level(s) Played in 2016: short season A Stats in 2016: 37 1/3 IP, 2.65 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 5.41 BB%, 22.97 K%
Funkhouser was considered one of the best prospects in the college pitching class of 2015 before fading at the end of the season, which caused him to fall to the Dodgers at #35 overall. He chose to return to Louisville and try his luck in the 2016 draft instead.
Except luck was the last thing that found him in 2016. He really struggled in most of 2016, though he did rebound late to get a significant above-slot bonus from the Tigers in the fourth round.
Funkhouser picked up with his struggling in 2016 was how to be effective pitching with lesser stuff
While he had dropped to sitting 89-92 with his fastball in his 2016 college season, he was back up to 92-94, touching 97 as a pro. One thing that Funkhouser picked up with his struggling in 2016 was how to be effective pitching with lesser stuff.
He was able to sequence exceptionally well with the New York-Penn League team, and guys I talked with said his stuff was moving tremendously well late, which made everything tough to square up.
Funkhouser pairs his fastball with a slider that has excellent late break, and his change mimics his fastball arm speed, though it still lacks movement and relies on location for effectiveness, something Funkhouser was able to do in the NYPL, but hadn’t really shown a lot previously.
Funkhouser’s high pedigree could allow him to be a big time steal for the Tigers if he can show his performance in the NYPL was something he can repeat as he moves up in the system in 2017.
Birthdate: 9/18/96 (20 years old) Level(s) Played in 2016: low A Stats in 2016: 97 IP, 3.15 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 7.41 BB%, 16.54 K%
The Tigers pegged the strong-armed Texan in the first round out of high school in the 2015 draft. He has rewarded their perceived “over draft” by performing ever since he got into the system.
Burrows has a prototypical Tiger arm with a big time fastball. He sits in the mid-90s with his fastball deep into games, but has touched 97-98 in short bursts.
Burrows has a prototypical Tiger arm with a big time fastball
Burrows basically goes big or goes home at all times on the mound. His curve is a hard curve with a sharp break that can flash at a plus plus level, but has also shown in some games at an average or below average level when it flattens out some and comes in looking like a hanging slider.
He’s got a solid change that he’s developed feel for, but he also gets inconsistent with it when he overthrows it, losing the late life that it can have.
Burrows will have to make the transition from a thrower to a pitcher to make the next step in his progression, but if he can do that successfully, there’s enough there to be a future #2/#3 type at his top end.
Jul 10, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; World pitcher Joe Jimenez throws a pitch in the second inning during the All Star Game futures baseball game at PetCo Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Birthdate: 1/17/95 (21 years old) Level(s) Played in 2016: high A, AA, AAA Stats in 2016: 53 2/3 IP, 1.51 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 8.37 BB%, 38.42 K%
Jimenez won’t be on this list next year, but he’s also that type of pitcher that’s really hard to gauge, primarily due to his current and future role.
Jimenez is a closer. As a closer, he’s quite possibly the best one in all of the minor leagues, as far as legit prospects go. He saved 30 games last season with big time numbers at three different levels, not getting phased by advancing to upper level hitters in the least.
Jimenez will get a season this year working under Francisco Rodriguez, most likely, and the Tigers are hoping that he’s not the next in a long line of future closers who end up bombing out (stay away from Guitar Hero, Joe).
The Tigers have flirted with moving some big pieces from the current major league team. They could very possibly throw Jimenez into the fire by moving K-Rod in the offseason and inserting Jimenez as the closer to start 2017.
Jimenez has a fastball that can run to triple digits with ease and a slider that rates as a plus pitch as well along with above-average control of both pitches. That control playing up has really allowed Jimenez to take the step from “a reliever throwing well” to a legit prospect that could even see top 100 lists.
Nov 5, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; East outfielder Christin Stewart of the Detroit Tigers during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Stewart followed up his 30 home runs in the regular season in two fairly pitching-heavy environments with a solid performance in the Arizona Fall League, launching a home run in the Fall Stars game in the league.
Many have talked about the Tigers possibly moving Justin Upton or J.D. Martinez this offseason, and really, Stewart is showing that this is a legit possibility without major ramifications to the Tigers. They also have Steven Moya who they could pair with Stewart in an outfield corner to provide a load of power, even if not great defense.
Stewart really has a prototypical skill set with the ability to be a guy who hits .270-.290 with his contact ability along with big time power and the ability to take 75+ walks a season as well.
He’s not a great athlete, but he does run better than he is given credit for once on the bases, not as a base stealer, but as a base runner, which is also a big asset to a team as well.
Birthdate: 1/28/98 (18 years old) Level(s) Played in 2016: rookie Stats in 2016: 29 1/3 IP, 3.99 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 5.74 BB%, 37.7 K%
As a sign of the struggles of the Tigers system, their selection at #9 overall in this past June’s draft has easily become their top prospect.
While that could be looked at as an indictment, Manning is a legit #1 in a number of organizations around the game. He was an elite athlete whose father was an NBA player and he played basketball along with baseball all through high school.
Some teams back away from a guy like that due to his less refined baseball skills as he wasn’t playing travel baseball year-round, but Manning ended up turning quite a few heads in pre-draft due to his loud fastball that can flirt with triple digits with an easy delivery due to his high athleticism.
Manning has excellent spin on a curve, though he tends to get a touch off in his feel of the pitch, which costs him depth on the pitch. It does flash plus potential for sure, though, and when he’s on top of it, it has a tough loop to square up from his 6’6 frame.
His feel for his change is a work in progress, but he controls the pitch well, and his athleticism will be what carries him as he gains that baseball refinement needed along the way.
Birthdate: 4/27/95 (21 years old) Level(s) Played in 2016: short season A Stats in 2016: .276/.338/.393, 2 HR
If you’ve gotten this far in my rankings, you’ll realize that I’m a big fan of cold weather players, and not only is Athmann a cold weather high school player, but also played in cold weather college. There are two positions that the lack of reps helps, pitching and catching.
Of course, on top of that, Althmann got hurt his first two seasons at Minnesota, which meant that the stress on his body is significantly lower than regular wear and tear.
Athmann has high end defensive talent behind the plate with a very accurate arm and exceptional framing and pitcher handling skills.
Athmann took a big step forward as a hitter in his final season at Minnesota, and he showed that upside in his brief time with the NYPL. He’s got solid power and a decent eye at the plate that could pair well with his excellent defense along as he can keep on the field.