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January 13, 2011

Future Shock

Detroit Tigers Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Previous Rankings: 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System In 20 Words Or Less: Jacob Turner is great, Nick Castellanos might be, and then... man does it get bad quickly.

Five-Star Prospects
1. Jacob Turner, RHP
Four-Star Prospects
2. Nick Castellanos, 3B
3. Andy Oliver, LHP
Three-Star Prospects
4. Chance Ruffin, RHP
5. Daniel Schlereth, LHP
6. Daniel Fields, OF
7. Drew Smyly, LHP
8. Casey Crosby, LHP
Two-Star Prospects
9. Francisco Martinez, 3B
10. Bruce Rondon, RHP
11. Danry Vasquez, OF

Nine More:
12. Brayan Villareal, RHP: Villareal has an intriguing combination of velocity and command, but his secondary stuff needs to improve.
13. Jose Ortega, RHP: This small reliever consistently pumps mid-90s heat, but he's more hittable than his stuff should allow for.
14. Cale Iorg, SS: He can't hit a lick, but he will have a big-league career on his glove alone. The next Adam Everett?
15. Avisail Garcia, OF: A big, toolsy outfielder, Garcia has plenty of potential, but it isn't so much in the 'now' category.
16. Andy Dirks, OF: He's more of a grinder than a tools guy, but he keeps hitting at every level.
17. Dixon Machado, SS: An outstanding defender with plus speed, but there are questions about how much he'll hit.
18. Charlie Furbush, LHP: This strikeout machine gets it done with polish and deception; he could fit as a fifth starter in the end.
19. Ryan Strieby, 1B/OF: When he's healthy, he mashes, but the problem is, he's never healthy.
20. Wade Gaynor, 3B: This 2009 third-rounder can hit, but is it enough to play every day?

1. Jacob Turner, RHP
DOB
: 5/21/91
Height/Weight: 6-5/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2009, Westminster Christian HS (MO)
2010 Stats: 3.67 ERA (54.0-53-9-51) at Low-A (11 G); 2.93 ERA (61.1-53-14-51) at High-A (13 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/changeup

Year in Review: The team's 2009 first-round pick was moved up to High-A before midseason, and was dominating the Florida State League by the end of the year.
The Good: Turner's fastball has well above-average velocity at 93-96 mph, and the pitch plays up from there due to some natural boring action and highly advanced control for a pitcher so young. He'll flash a plus classic over-the-top curveball, and has refined his changeup to the point where it projects to be at least an average pitch down the road. He has the size and athleticism that scouts look for in a power pitcher, and his arm action is sound.
The Bad: Turner still leans too heavily on his fastball and needs to gain more confidence in his secondary offerings while learning the intricacies of pitch sequencing. He'll still flatten out the curve on occasion, and he's working to refine the changeup.
Ephemera: Turner allowed 13 earned runs in his first three starts at High-A Lakeland, then just seven in his last 10 (for a 1.28 ERA).
Perfect World Projection: With just some small refinement to his game, there are no reasons that Turner can't be a star-level starter.
Fantasy Impact: ERA, strikeouts, and a low walk total for a power arm. What else could you want?
Path to the Big Leagues: While Turner handled his aggressive assignment in 2010, the Tigers aren't sure that he should go to Double-A before his 20th birthday. Still, he's ahead of the normal track and could be in the big leagues by the end of next year.
ETA: 2012

2. Nick Castellanos, 3B
DOB
: 3/4/92
Height/Weight: 6-4/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Supplemental first round, 2010, Archbishop McCarthy HS (FL)
2010 Stats: .333/.414/.417 at Rookie (7 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/glove

Year in Review: With no first-round pick last summer, the Tigers were thrilled to see Castellanos fall to them due to bonus demands, signing him for a whopping $3.45 million.
The Good: Many scouts saw Castellanos as the best pure high school hitter in the draft. Despite his tall frame and long arms, his trigger-free swing gets into the zone quickly, and stays there a long time. He should develop power as his body fills out, and although he's not a monster athlete, he is an average runner once he gets going. His arm is a tick above average.
The Bad: There are reasonable debates about Castellanos' ultimate power ceiling--while he'll certainly hit home runs based on his size and hitting ability, he'll need to add loft and backspin to his swing to become a true power threat. He's a merely average defender, and there is some fear that he'll end up getting forced to move to first base or left field.
Ephemera: No player drafted 44th overall in the draft has hit more the 100 major-league home runs, although Reds first baseman Joey Votto should change that in 2011. Second overall among players drafted in that slot is Chris Brown with 38.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a .300-plus hitter with at least average power.
Fantasy Impact: No position player in the system has anything close to Castellanos' potential, as he could provide everything but stolen bases.
Path to the Big Leagues: Castellanos is ready for a full-season assignment at Low-A West Michigan.
ETA: 2014

3. Andy Oliver, LHP
DOB
: 12/3/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2009, Oklahoma State University
2010 Stats: 3.61 ERA (77.1-74-25-70) at Double-A (14 G); 3.23 ERA (53.0-43-25-49) at Triple-A (9 G); 7.36 ERA (22.0-26-13-18) at MLB (5 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/change

Year in Review: An over-slot second-round pick, Oliver reached the big leagues out of necessity in his full-season debut, but he also made progress is refining his secondary offerings.
The Good: Oliver is a classic power pitcher, one made all the better simply by being left-handed. His fastball is rare for a southpaw, sitting at 93-95 mph and touching 97. He has refined his power breaking ball into a solid low-80s slider, and like many Detroit pitching prospects he has a classic power pitcher's frame.
The Bad: Oliver has survived for years on his velocity, and is still refining his off-speed offerings. While one scout described his changeup as improving “by leaps and bounds,” it is still a below-average pitch. He isn't wild, but his command and control remain slightly below average.
Ephemera: Oliver was a 17th-round pick in 2006 by the Twins, and remains the only player ever drafted out of Vermillion High, a school in a small Cleveland suburb of the same name.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a good third starter, and maybe even more if he can refine his overall game.
Fantasy Impact: Good strikeout totals, but walks will always hurt him.
Path to the Big Leagues: Barring a shocking development this spring, Oliver will begin the year at Triple-A Toledo, and likely re-appear in the big leagues at some point during the year.
ETA: 2011

4. Chance Ruffin, RHP
DOB
: 9/8/88
Height/Weight: 6-0/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Supplemental first round, 2010, University of Texas
2010 Stats: Did Not Play
Best/Worst Tool: Breaking ball/changeup

Year in Review: The son of former big-leaguer Bruce Ruffin, he moved from the rotation to the bullpen for the Longhorns and saw his draft stock rise significantly.
The Good: Ruffin is a highly polished product who is nearly big league-ready already. His low-90s fastball plays up due to command and fantastic movement, but his out pitch is a breaking ball that some scouts classify as two distinct offerings, as he adds and subtracts velocity to morph the pitch from a wipeout slider to a slower, slurvy pitch with less hum on it but more downward break. He's an intense competitor with the mindset to pitch under pressure.
The Bad: As good as Ruffin is, he has a relief profile that falls short of closing, as teams generally look for big-time velocity in that role, and he beats hitters on movement more than gas. There are some thoughts that lean towards seeing if he can start, but his profile there would be back-end rotation material.
Ephemera: While Ruffin can say he was a first-round pick where his father Bruce went in the second round (1985), because of compensation rules and expansion, his dad was the 34th overall pick back then, while Chance was 48th.
Perfect World Projection: He's a late-inning reliever, but his stuff falls short of what is normally expected from the guy pitching the ninth inning.
Fantasy Impact: It's more like that of a set-up man than a closer, so it could be limited.
Path to the Big Leagues: Ruffin had little problem getting advanced hitters out in the Arizona Fall League, and he could move quickly as a reliever. He'll make his pro debut with an upper-level team, and has an outside shot to reach the majors during his first pro year.
ETA: 2012

5. Daniel Schlereth, LHP
DOB
: 5/9/86
Height/Weight: 6-0/210
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2008, University of Arizona
2010 Stats: 2.37 ERA (49.1-40-34-60) at Triple-A (38 G); 2.89 ERA (18.2-20-10-19) at MLB (18 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/command

Year in Review: Expected to spend most of the year in big-league bullpen, the power lefty struggled with command and instead spent most of the year at Triple-A.
The Good: Schlereth still has impressive stuff for a lefty, with a low-90s fastball that gets up to 96 mph and a plus power curveball that generates plenty of silly-looking swings when he can throw it for strikes. The son of former NFL player Mark Schlereth, he brings a football mentality to the mound and has the makeup for late-innings work.
The Bad: Scouts are concerned by the combination of Schlereth's medical history (including a Tommy John surgery) and a slight dip in velocity in 2010. While he has two plus pitches, neither is plus-plus, so he still needs to improve his below-average command and control.
Ephemera: While is a very small sample size, Schlereth had an extreme split in the majors by allowing batters to hit .414/.500/.724 with the bases empty, but just .178/.269/.178 with runners on.
Perfect World Projection: A late-inning lefty.
Fantasy Impact: Like Ruffin, he might be good, but not good enough to rack up saves.
Path to the Big Leagues: If Schlereth can avoid the walks, he's in the big leagues quickly.
ETA: 2011

6. Daniel Fields, OF
DOB
: 1/23/91
Height/Weight: 6-1/201
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: Sixth round, 2009, Detroit Jesuit HS (MI)
2010 Stats: .240/.343/.371 at High-A (109 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Speed/arm

Year in Review: A raw athletic player, Fields earned a surprise assignment to High-A as a teenager, but he impressed scouts simply by not looking overmatched.
The Good: Fields has the most well-rounded set of tools in the organization. He's a 60-65 runner on the scouting scale, and his eight home runs ranked third on the Lakeland team; some scouts project average power in the future based on his muscular build. His father is a former player and hitting coach, so he grew up around the ballpark, and now has the composure and an understanding for the game beyond his years. Scouts were impressed by his approach at the plate against more advanced hurlers.
The Bad: Fields is still translating his tools into skills. His swing needs to be tightened up and smoothed out, and good breaking balls often leave him tied up. Moved to the outfield as a pro, he still needs to improve his jumps and routes, and his arm is below average.
Ephemera: While Detroit Jesuit has produced far more football than baseball players, it also graduated sportscaster Gus Johnson and novelist Elmore Leonard.
Perfect World Projection: He has the tools to be a 20/20 player, but to act like that's a sure thing at this point would be foolish.
Fantasy Impact: If he realizes his potential, it's sizeable.
Path to the Big Leagues: Fields will return to High-A in 2011, and will still be young for the level.
ETA: 2014

7. Drew Smyly, LHP
DOB: 6/13/89
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2010, University of Arkansas
2010 Stats: Did Not Play
Best/Worst Tool: Command/changeup

Year in Review: The top starter at Arkansas took advantage of scouts flocking to the school by having a breakout year, which got him picked in the second round.
The Good: In a system that favors pure power, Smyly is the rare finesse pitcher. He pounds the strike zone with a deep arsenal, starting with an average-velocity fastball and mid- to upper-80s cutter with good horizontal movement. He mixes in an average curveball and changeup, and throws any of these pitches at any point in the count.
The Bad: Scouts want to see Smyly improve his off-speed stuff to fit better with his profile as a strike-thrower and battler. He can overthrow both the curve and change, causing them to flatten out. He also has a history of elbow issues, but he has stayed healthy the last two years.
Ephemera: Smyly was an All-Star performer at Central High in Little Rock, and while the school hasn't produced a drafted player since 1972, it did graduate Hall of Famers Bill Dickey and Brooks Robinson.
Perfect World Projection: A fourth starter.
Fantasy Impact: It's minimal, as one of those regular starters who doesn't hurt his team more than he helps.
Path to the Big Leagues: Smyly is advanced enough to begin his pro career at High-A Lakeland, and he could move up quickly.
ETA: 2013

8. Casey Crosby, LHP
DOB
: 9/17/88
Height/Weight: 6-5/200
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2007, Kaneland HS (IL)
2010 Stats: 8.76 ERA (12.1-21-4-10) at Rookie (3 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/changeup

Year in Review: Once closer to being one of the best prospects in the system, Crosby was waylaid by elbow issues that turned 2010 into a lost season.
The Good: When healthy, Crosby has top prospect-level stuff. His fastball sits at 92-95 mph, has touched as high as 98, and his slow, looping curveball features heavy breaking movement. He has some feel for a changeup, and has impressed scouts with his poise.
The Bad: Crosby's health is a huge concern, as he had Tommy John surgery before his pro debut, and while numerous x-rays and MRIs found no structural damage in 2010, by late-season he was still unable to throw without discomfort. He needs to improve his changeup and command, but by only pitching 30 games since being drafted in 2007, he's far behind the developmental curve.
Ephemera: While Crosby was hammered in a trio of Gulf Coast League outings during his rehab stint, he did have a ground-ball ratio of 11-to-1 by recording just two fly-ball outs and 22 of the ground-ball variety.
Perfect World Projection: If he's healthy, he's an upper-echelon starter.
Fantasy Impact: It's not worth talking about until he proves that he can pitch.
Path to the Big Leagues: Crosby will return to High-A if he's healthy, but unfortunately, that's still an if.
ETA: 2013

9. Francisco Martinez, 3B
DOB
: 9/1/90
Height/Weight: 6-1/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2007, Venezuela
2010 Stats: .271/.330/.353 at High-A (89 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/glove

Year in Review: Like Fields, Martinez was pushed to High-A as a teenager, and generated solid scouting reports by simply not failing in the face of that challenge.
The Good: Martinez has impressive bat speed and raw hitting ability, making consistent contact and using all fields. He improved his approach throughout the year, drawing just five walks in his first 125 at-bats, but 23 from there on out (in 215 ABs). He's a good athlete who is a 50-55 runner on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, and his arm is a plus weapon at third base
The Bad: While there is some projection in his bat, Martinez has displayed little power as a pro, and scouts question his ability to end up becoming enough of a power guy to profile well at third base. He has the tools to be a good third baseman, but he remains sloppy defensively.
Ephemera: Martinez hit everywhere from second to ninth in the Lakeland lineup, without more than 22 games (seventh) in any slot.
Perfect World Projection: He's a solid everyday third baseman.
Fantasy Impact: Though 10-15 stolen bases is rare for a third baseman, do you really want him if he isn't hitting home runs?
Path to the Big Leagues: Like Fields, Martinez might need to repeat High-A to begin 2011.
ETA: 2014

10. Bruce Rondon, RHP
DOB
: 12/9/90
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2007, Venezuela
2010 Stats: 0.70 ERA (25.2-11-14-26) at Rookie (24 G); 1.35 ERA (6.2-2-2-7) at High-A (4 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/control

Year in Review: This teenaged Venezuelan was hard to hit in the Gulf Coast League, and then had few troubles in a late-year emergency stint at High-A.
The Good: One scout who saw Rondon with Lakeland called him “among the most unique arms I saw all year.” While he throws from a low arm slot that is just short of pure sidearm, he pumps serious gas, sitting at 91-94 mph and touching as high as 96 with his fastball while riding in hard on right-handed hitters. He adds a true plus slider with two-plane break, and limited hitters to a .125 batting average (13-for-104) in 2010.
The Bad: Rondon's arm angle will always be a concern, and he has yet to prove that he get can lefties out to avoid future ROOGY status; to beat that, he will need to get the job done at every level. He doesn't make it look easy, and the effort in his delivery creates some command and control problems.
Ephemera: Batters facing Rondon in 2010 with runners in scoring position and two outs went 0-for-17.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be some kind of reliever, maybe even good enough to hold leads in the late innings.
Fantasy Impact: He's probably not a saves guy.
Path to the Big Leagues: Rondon will likely begin the year at Low-A West Michigan, and will need multiple looks before everyone is sold on his ability.
ETA: 2014

11. Danry Vasquez, OF
DOB
: 1/8/94
Height/Weight: 6-2/170
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 2010, Venezuela
2010 Stats: Did Not Play
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/speed

Year in Review: The Tigers were an early player in the international market, signing Vasquez to a $1.2 million bonus in July.
The Good: Vasquez is a multi-dimensional player, but it was his bat that earned the big money. He has a lightning-fast bat and great hands, and projects for good power once his body matures. He's an average runner, and is gifted with enough instincts and arm strength to fit in right field.
The Bad: Like any 16-year-old, Vasquez is extremely raw. He's not especially athletic at his age, as could be a below-average runner in a corner-outfield spot by the time he reaches the big leagues. More than anything, he just needs at-bats and consistent pro-level coaching.
Ephemera: Remember when Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by someone from Tonya Harding's posse? That happened two days before Vasquez was born.
Perfect World Projection: A star-level outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: C'mon people, he just turned 17.
Path to the Big Leagues: Vasquez is not expected to get anything more than some Gulf Coast League at-bats in 2011.
ETA: 2016.

The Sleeper: Smallish right-hander Lester Oliveros has two plus pitches out of the bullpen, and some think he could get to Detroit as early as this year if he throws more strikes.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/85 or later)
1. Rick Porcello, RHP

2. Jacob Turner, RHP
3. Austin Jackson, CF
4. Nick Castellanos, 3B
5. Andy Oliver, LHP
6. Ryan Perry, RHP
7. Alex Avila, C
8. Chance Ruffin, RHP
9. Daniel Schlereth, LHP
10. Brennan Boesch, OF

While Porcello hasn't exactly exploded onto the scene, it's easy to forget that he'll still be eligible for this list for three more years. The quick send-down to Triple-A had the desired effect, as he was a better pitcher in the second half and still has considerable upside. Jackson is good, but he's not as good as he was in 2010 unless that 170-strikeout tally decreases considerably. Perry threw more strikes in 2010, but he also missed fewer bats; the next step is to turn those strikes into good strikes, but he's already a good reliever. Avila's 2009 showing in the big leagues seemed like a bit of a fluke, and it was, but he'll be a solid everyday catcher with good defense. Speaking of flukes, there were few things more fluky in baseball during the 2010 season than Boesch's May and June. His final numbers are a better representation of his talent, and that's short of being an everyday corner outfielder.

Summary: Without Castellanos falling to them in the draft, the Tigers' system would be without a single premium position player, other than a handful of young players that require significant dreaming, and even among the pitchers ranked after Turner, many of the power arms come with more questions than answers. For now, they might have just enough talent to remain competitive in the American League Central, but help from the system is not on the way.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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