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February 5, 2013

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Detroit Tigers Top 10 Prospects

by Jason Parks

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State of the Farm: When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride ‘till I get to the bottom and I see you again.”

Prospect rankings primer

The Top Ten

  1. OF/IF Nick Castellanos
  2. OF Avisail Garcia
  3. RHP Bruce Rondon
  4. OF Danry Vasquez
  5. RHP Jake Thompson
  6. LHP Casey Crosby
  7. IF Eugenio Suarez
  8. CF Austin Schotts
  9. RF Steven Moya
  10.  2B Harold Castro

1. Nick Castellanos
Position: OF/IF
DOB: 03/04/1992
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 210 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2010 draft, Archbishop McCarthy High School (Southwest Ranches, FL)
2012 Stats: .405/.461/.553 at High-A Lakeland (55 games); .264/.296/.382 at Double-A Erie (79 games)
The Tools: High-6 potential hit; 6 potential power; 6 arm

What Happened in 2012: Castellanos crushed it in High-A, before falling back to earth at the Double-A level, an advanced promotion for such a young player.

Strengths: Wiry strength on lengthy frame; room for additional strength; very fast bat; hands to command that bat; smooth trigger and bat path; stays in zone a long time; hit tool has well above-average potential; could develop into .300 hitter at highest level; line-drive stroke that could develop into above-average over-the-fence power in time; arm is stronger than people realize; easy 6 that can play in right field; good athlete; huge makeup.

Weaknesses: Double-A was huge test and exposed some weaknesses in present swing; struggled against arm-side pitching; expanded his zone and would chase; some question about pitch recognition and reaction; defensive profile is average at best; reads and routes in outfield still underdeveloped.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Explanation of Risk: Moderate risk; failed in first stop at Double-A level, but good baseball skills and plus work ethic.

Fantasy Future: Might not develop prototypical corner power, but should hit for a high batting average and doubles pop; over-the-fence power could arrive late.

The Year Ahead: A full season of Double-A ball is on tap, and given his skill-set, makeup, and adjustment ability, Castellanos should take a big step forward in 2013 and put himself in the discussion for the 25-man roster in 2014. He has a really sweet swing from the right side, and even though he has some length, he has shown the ability to square velocity and shorten up in two-strike counts. Good hitters are likely to develop power as they mature, and Castellanos fits into this category. It’s a line-drive stroke, but as he grows into his body and finds rhythm in his swing, the strength and bat speed are there to lift balls over the fence. This is a very, very good offensive prospect.

Major league ETA: 2014

2. Avisail Garcia
Position: OF
DOB: 06/12/1991
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 240 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2007, Venezuela
2012 Stats: .289/.324/.447 at High-A Lakeland (67 games); .312/.345/.465 at Double-A Erie (55 games); .319/.373/.319 at major league level (23 games)

The Tools: 6 power potential; 7 arm; 6 run; 6 hit

What Happened in 2012: Garcia started the year playing in front of Florida State League crowds and finished the year on the biggest stage in baseball, getting six plate appearance in the World Series after hitting .455 in the ALCS.

Strengths: Massive size/strength; high-end athlete for such size; loud tools; good bat-to-ball skills; very read/react hitter with excellent hand-eye coordination; plus-plus raw power; easy 7 arm; 6 run; glove is above average; promising defensive profile.

Weaknesses: Aggressive approach; swing can get loose; prone to zone expansion and secondary exploitation; struggles when he works to the pull side; power utility is big question mark; hit tool could fold after book is written at highest level.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Explanation of Risk: Moderate risk; already achieved major-league success; should find sustainable home at highest level by 2014

Fantasy Future: Promising hit tool with secondary skills (speed/power); overall profile depends on power utility.

The Year Ahead: After a magical ride in 2012, Garcia will most likely start back in Triple-A, where he can continue the development of his bat against arms likely to utilize sequence. Sources were very mixed on his future, with some buying into the hit tool as a plus weapon and the power eventually finding its way into his game. Others weren’t sold on the hit tool, calling his approach into question and the fact that major-league arms will find a way to exploit his weaknesses. He’s a very large man with a very good tool set, and should eventually find a home in a major-league lineup. Whether he becomes a first-division masher or a second-division type depends on the game utility of the hit/power tools.

Major league ETA: 2012

3. Bruce Rondon
Position: RHP
DOB: 12/09/90
Height/Weight: 6’3’’ 265 (listed)
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2007, Venezuela
2012 Stats: 1.93 ERA (23.1 IP, 12 H, 34 K, 10 BB) at High-A Lakeland; 0.83 ERA (21.2 IP, 15 H, 23 H, 9 BB) at Double-A Erie; 2.25 ERA (8 IP, 5 H, 9 K, 7 BB) at Triple-A
Toledo
The Tools: 7+ FB; 5 potential CH; 5 SL

What Happened in 2012: Rondon exploded as a prospect, moving three levels and putting himself in a position to play a major role in the back of the major-league ‘pen in 2013.

Strengths: Starts and ends with his fastball; massive arm strength on a very large human; fastball has grade 8 velocity; routinely works in the upper 90s and can touch over 100 mph; plus-plus movement; explosive and late arm-side run; big intimidation factor; changeup is best secondary offering; average pitch profile that plays well off fastball with good arm-side action; will vary arm slot; good angle.

Weaknesses: Well-below average command profile; delivery is max effort and struggles to stay in rhythm; arm slot variations can throw off release points; slider is fringe offering; slides to the side of the ball and pitch saucers and sweeps across the zone.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; setup reliever

Explanation of Risk: Moderate risk; raw fastball is good enough for highest level, but command profile and secondary offerings are question marks.

Fantasy Future: Has big-time bat-missing potential; command will most likely keep him from excelling as a closer.

The Year Ahead: It must be a very challenging experience for a right-handed hitter to stand in the box against Rondon, his large frame casting a shadow over your confidence, as a 100 mph fastball bores into the numbers on your chest. It’s a high-leverage relief profile, but the command will have to improve to find success at the major-league level. If he can find a way to throw strikes, he’s a scary arm out of the bullpen. If not, well, he’ll still be a scary arm, but not on a level that will benefit the team.

Major league ETA: 2013

4. Danry Vasquez
Position: OF
DOB: 01/08/1994
Height/Weight: 6’3’’ 170 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2010, Venezuela
2012 Stats: .162/.218/.222 at Low-A Western Michigan (29 games); .311/.341/.401 at short-season Connecticut (72 games)
The Tools: 6 potential hit; 6 raw; 5 arm

What Happened in 2012: A false start in full-season ball was merely a minor roadblock, as the young Venezuelan showed off his offensive chops in the New York-Penn League, hitting over .300 in a solid 72-game sample.

Strengths: Highly projectable frame; could add weight/strength; whippy swing that shows impressive bat speed; natural hitting ability; it’s very easy; good present pop; good power projection; bat has the potential to play in corner.

Weaknesses: Overall profile dependent on offensive utility; arm is only average and better suited for left field; below-average run; lacks up the middle skill-set; doesn’t yet have a good plan at the plate; can chew fastballs, but struggled with secondary stuff and would chase.

Overall Future Potential: 5; solid-average major-league regular

Explanation of Risk: High risk; has yet to find stride at full-season level; huge pressure on bat; questions about approach.

Fantasy Future: Has plus potential hit tool and the type of swing that power eventually flows through; could hit .280-plus with 15-plus HR from left field defensive profile.

The Year Ahead: Vasquez just turned 19, and will take another swing at the full-season level. The ability to fail and respond to failure is paramount to future success, and the adjustments made after his initial failure in Low-A speak volumes about the makeup of the player. He’s a natural hitter with a projectable body, so if he grows into his frame and adds strength, the juice in the bat could make him a very good prospect. The defensive profile will play in left field, but the path to success is in the promise of the bat, and that could develop in a number of different ways.

Major league ETA: 2016

5. Jake Thompson
Position: RHP
DOB: 01/31/1994
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 235 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2012 draft, Rockwall-Heath High School (Heath, TX)
2012 Stats: 1.91 ERA (28.1 IP, 14 H, 31 K, 10 BB) at complex level GCL
The Tools: Plus potential FB; plus potential CB

What Happened in 2012: With a mature build and a lively fastball, it didn’t take the big Texan long to find professional success, missing more than a bat per inning at the complex level.

Strengths: Excellent size; impressive present strength; workhorse in the making; fastball will work low 90s; heavy sink; stays over the ball and can pound away in the strike zone; curveball shows above-average potential; can create good depth and a tight rotation; some feel for changeup; good command profile because of clean delivery.

Weaknesses: Not much projection in body; arsenal unlikely to feature impact offering; changeup is underdeveloped; will have to hit spots and keep the ball down for success; lacks the stuff to profile higher than 3/4 starter; moderate ceiling/low floor.

Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 3/4 starter

Explanation of Risk: High risk; mature build but arsenal is pedestrian at present; needs big jump in secondary arsenal.

Fantasy Future: Ceiling of league-average innings chewer; likely to be at mercy of defense behind him; lacks big put-out pitch

The Year Ahead: Because of his present fastball and mature physical standing, Thompson could make the jump to the full-season level in 2013. Although his profile lacks a sexy punch, his ability to throw strikes and work with a heavy low-90s fastball should allow for success even without a standout secondary offering. He does show some potential with the curveball, and has enough pitchability to bring promise to the changeup. He’s unlikely to develop into a big name prospect, but the name of the game is player and not prospect, and if he ends up as a middle-of-the-rotation workhorse at the major-league level, the Tigers would gladly take that with a smile.

Major league ETA: 2016

6. Casey Crosby
Position: LHP
DOB: 09/17/1988
Height/Weight: 6’5’’ 225 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Acquired: 5th round, 2007 draft, Kaneland High School (Maple Park, IL)
2012 Stats: 4.01 ERA (125.2 IP, 112 H, 112 K, 65 BB) at Triple-a Toledo; 9.49 ERA (12.1 IP, 15 H, 9K, 11 BB) at major-league level
The Tools: 6+ FB; 5 CB

What Happened in 2012: Different season, but same story for Crosby, who shows impressive velocity from the left side but suffers as a result of poor command.

Strengths: Great size; mature build; big arm strength; fastball is easy plus offering and can work 95+ in bursts; good angle and plane to plate; curveball plays as average offering; shows good shape and some depth; stuff will play better in the bullpen.

Weaknesses: Inconsistent mechanics; well below average command profile; struggles to throw strikes, much less quality strikes; curveball isn’t true plus offering; more flash than fire; changeup is below average.

Overall Future Potential: 5; back-end starter/setup reliever

Explanation of Risk: Moderate risk; pitched at major-league level; poor command, lack of secondary execution and injury history add to the risk.

Fantasy Future: Can miss bats with the fastball, so strikeouts are likely in any role; body to log innings, but command issues will limit potential in rotation.

The Year Ahead: Crosby has a major-league quality arm, but without better fastball command or secondary execution, the arsenal is unlikely to find sustainable success in a rotation. Out of the bullpen, his fastball could play as a 7 offering, but without consistent strike-throwing ability, he’s also unlikely to find success in high-leverage situations. Basically, the command needs to take a step forward or the impressive arm strength from the left side will be a waste.

Major league ETA: 2012

7. Eugenio Suarez
Position: IF
DOB: 07/18/1991
Height/Weight: 6’0’’ 180 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2008, Venezuela
2012 Stats: .288/.380/.409 at Low-A Western Michigan (135 games)
The Tools: 6 glove; 5 potential hit tool; 5 arm

What Happened in 2012: Making his full-season debut, the Venezuelan shortstop showed more stick and a better approach than expected, making him a legit prospect rather than just a guy to keep an eye on.

Strengths: Can play left-side defense; glove is solid-average to plus; arm is solid-average to plus; hands work well on both sides of the ball; hit tool shows solid-average potential; contact ability; brings a plan to the plate; solid run.

Weaknesses: Needs to add strength; swing is contact heavy, but contact can be soft; sources differ on shortstop skills; footwork isn’t crisp/fluid; lacks loud tools; offensive future a big question mark.

Overall Future Potential: 5; second-division player

Explanation of Risk: High risk; hasn’t played above Low-A; offensive/defensive question marks.

Fantasy Future: Contact type, with an approach; bat might be empty; could swipe a few bags; handle left side defensive assignment; limited impact potential.

The Year Ahead: Adding strength to the frame could give Suarez’s offensive profile an added dimension, as he can make contact but as he climbs that contact is likely to deflate. In High-A, he should be able to put together good at-bats and keep up the contact, but the real test will come in Double-A, where the stuff is better and low-ceiling bats are often exposed.

Major league ETA: 2015

8. Austin Schotts
Position: CF
DOB: 09/16/1993
Height/Weight: 5’11’’ 180 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 3rd round, 2012 draft, Centennial High School (Frisco, TX)
2012 Stats: .310/.360/.452 at complex level GCL (40 games); .333/.333/.333 at High-A Lakeland (2 games)
The Tools: 7 run; 5 glove; 5 potential hit

What Happened in 2012: The amateur shortstop made the transition to the outfield, where his instincts for the game and natural athleticism have a chance to play in the middle of the diamond.

Strengths: Plus athlete; legit baseball skills/instincts; run is 7; quick first step and excellent second gear; above-average potential on the glove; shows good bat-to-ball ability at the plate; good chance to develop secondary skills; good pitch-tracking skills; good situational hitter.

Weaknesses: Arm is fringe-average; still new to outfield, so reads/routes need work; might end up more slappy and contact-oriented at the plate; power is below average; some concerns that bat will underwhelm.

Overall Future Potential: 5; second-division player

Explanation of Risk: High risk; good makeup; feel for the game; complex-league resume (two games at High-A).

Fantasy Future: If he reaches his ceiling, will fit a prototypical leadoff profile, with plus-plus speed and contact ability at the plate; could be good for batting average and stolen bases.

The Year Ahead: Schotts can play the game, and with an advanced approach and feel, could jump to the full-season level in 2013. The transition to center from shortstop looked promising last season, and with another season of instruction and repetition under his belt, should continue to take steps forward. The kid can really run, so even soft contact could lead to a promising outcome, and if the bat plays better than expected, the Tigers just might have something in Schotts. 

Major league ETA: 2016

9. Steven Moya
Position: RF
DOB: 09/08/1991
Height/Weight: 6’7’’ 230 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: Non-drafted free agent, 2008, Puerto Rico
2012 Stats: .288/.319/.481 at Low-A Western Michigan (59 games)
The Tools: 8 raw; 6 arm

What Happened in 2012: A promising return to the Midwest League was cut short when the larger than average human outfielder required Tommy John on his throwing arm.

Strengths: Huge human; off-the-chart raw strength; raw power is 8; good athlete for size; in incredible physical shape; before surgery, arm was easy 6; enough run to handle right field; game power will make or break.

Weaknesses: Swing is leveraged and long; not quick or short to the ball; hit tool projects to be below average; 8 raw power, but unlikely to find that level of power utility; arm injury a question mark.

Overall Future Potential: 5; second-division player

Explanation of Risk: High risk; power is boom or bust

Fantasy Future: Power could be very big, but unlikely to hit for average and won’t be a stolen base threat.

The Year Ahead: Currently ahead of schedule in rehab, Moya will look to return to the field at some point in early 2013, most likely starting at the team complex before making the leap to the High-A level when the arm is ready for game action. Moya is a very large man with very large power, and the makeup reports are equally as large; sources just love to talk about this kid. The profile is boom or bust, and it’s completely dependent on the power utility. If he can hit enough to let the power play in game action, he could hit 25-plus_homers, although it will come with a low batting average and a very deep bucket of strikeouts. But 80 raw power is a fun thing to dream on, and if you like heroic batting practice displays, get to the park early when Moya is in the lineup. Don’t park anywhere near the outfield fences.

Major league ETA: 2016

10. Harold Castro
Position: 2B
DOB: 11/30/1993
Height/Weight: 6’0’’ 145 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2010, Venezuela
2012 Stats: .311/.343/.420 at complex-level GCL (51 games)
The Tools: 6 potential hit; 5 glove; 5+ run

What Happened in 2012: Making his stateside debut after an impressive Venezuelan Summer League campaign, Castro didn’t miss a beat, continuing to receive praise for his precocious hit tool.

Strengths: Natural bat-to-ball ability; great hands; very easy to the ball; can already use the entire field; just a hitter; arm is a 5 at second; glove should be a 5; above-average runner at present; should be consistent 6 runner with more strength.

Weaknesses: Right side defensive profile; physically underdeveloped at present; excellent hitter, but doesn’t pack a power punch; unlikely to develop power; struggled to barrel up arm-side pitching

Overall Future Potential: 5; second-division player

Explanation of Risk: High risk; limited professional experience; right side profile puts pressure on bat to reach ceiling.

Fantasy Future: Contact hitter with speed; won’t be a power threat, but with added strength could turn contact into consistent hard contact.

The Year Ahead: While he shows an aptitude for the game and a promising hit tool, Castro will most likely start the season in extended spring training before taking the step to the New York-Penn League.  He’s likely to keep putting the bat to the ball, but with better pitching will come bigger challenges, and without added strength, his line-drive stroke might fail to produce line drives. It will be interesting to see how he develops, as the defensive limitations put a ton of pressure on the bat, but guys with carrying hit tools find a way to play at the highest level.

Major league ETA: 2017

Prospects on the Rise:

1. RHP Brenny Paulino: On the injury shelf in 2012, Paulino will look to find a way back into the prospect spotlight in 2013. He’s currently rehabbing the arm, and without a concrete timetable for his return, it’s impossible to speculate on his performance. But a healthy Paulino is a top-five prospect in this system, and if the loose and lightning fast arm he showed in 2011 is the same in 2013, the Tigers system will receive a much needed high-ceiling talent injection.

2. RHP Endrys Briceno: Soon-to-be 21-year-old Venezuelan (of course) arm that hasn’t lived up to potential, but has the raw qualities to jump up prospect rankings if he can put the package together. With plus-plus arm strength and a playing catch release, the low-to-mid 90s fastball just explodes from his hand and gives him a true weapon in the arsenal. He shows some secondary feel, but has yet to find his rhythm. With added strength and another season under his belt, Briceno might be ready to take a big step forward in 2013.

3. C Franklin Navarro: The 18-year-old Venezuelan (of course) is set to make his stateside debut in 2013, and the reports on the bat from his 62-game run through the VSL were very promising. He’s raw in all phases of the game, especially behind the plate, but a young catcher that can hit will turn heads, and Navarro will get a chance to throw his hat into the prospect ring in the Gulf Coast League.

Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2013

1. 2B Jeff Kobernus: A rule-5 pick from the Nationals, Kobernus isn’t going to change a team’s fate with a first-division contribution, but with good fundamental play, good speed, and some situational hitting ability, the 24-year-old infielder has a chance to contribute to the 25-man roster in 2013.

2. C Bryan Holaday: Prospects that profile as backup catchers never get the love, but their contribution to the major-league team can make them extremely valuable players, especially when they are under team control for six seasons. Holaday’s bat isn’t going to play at a high level, and at best he’ll be a down-the-lineup, once-a-week backup, but the glove and the intangible qualities he brings to the table should be enough to keep him at the level.

3. RHP Michael Morrison: While its unlikely that Morrison emerges as a back end of the ‘pen weapon, the 25-year-old can miss bats and has a chance to pitch in relief at the major-league level. With a wiggly fastball that can touch the mid-90s and an average slider that can puff out its chest from time to time, Morrison should be able to make it work if he can just throw more strikes.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/87 or later)

  1. Nick Castellanos
  2. Avisail Garcia
  3. Rick Porcello
  4. Drew Smyly
  5. Bruce Rondon
  6. Danry Vasquez
  7. Jake Thompson
  8. Casey Crosby
  9. Eugenio Suarez
  10. Austin Schotts

For several years it has been widely agreed that the Tigers have one of the worst minor-leagues systems in the game. Yet during that same span the Tigers have seen numerous prospects impact the big club or depart via trade to help the club. That list includes guys like Brennan Boesch, Andy Dirks, Jacob Turner, Francisco Martinez, Rob Brantly, Al Alburquerque and Brayan Villarreal

The consistent arrival of players that contribute in the big leagues seems to fly in the face of the commonly held opinion of their farm system. It’s easy to look at the Tigers top 10 list and come to the conclusion that it’s a poor system; in fact, it flat out is poor. That said, I have little doubt they will get contributions from several players on that list, including the top three and possibly left-hander Casey Crosby in 2013.

When the frame of reference expands to include players under 25 years old, the overall tenor does not change in spite of the club’s success in recent years. While players like Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Max Scherzer, and Austin Jackson are all relatively young, they are all older than 25. The only two players that factor into this expanded list are starting pitchers Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly.

Porcello borders on criminally underrated at this point, possibly the victim of excessive expectations upon his arrival in the big leagues. Without the ability to spin a consistent breaking ball, Porcello has failed to reach the mid-rotation ceiling that was once considered his floor. Instead he is a back-end starter. He is extremely durable and keeps his team in the game.

Porcello’s primary competition for the fifth spot in the Tigers rotation is left-hander Drew Smyly. A player of similar upside to Porcello, Smyly owns a broader arsenal and brings it from the left side. His history of injuries leaves some scouts wondering if he can handle 25-30 starts a year in the big leagues and gives the Tigers good reason to maintain some depth.

In the end, it’s a good thing the Tigers have a wealth of talent in the 26-to-30-year-old range because there is little on the way to carry the roster otherwise. The Tigers will be extremely competitive over the next few years but it is unlikely to be the result of significant contributions from young newcomers to the roster —Mark Anderson

A Parting Thought: The system is among the worst in the league, mostly a result of college-heavy drafting and the willingness to trade prospects for players, but as long as the Venezuelan pipeline is still open, the Tigers have a chance to take huge steps forward in a very short amount of time.

Last year's Tigers rankings

Special thanks to Mark Anderson, Nick Faleris, and Hudson Belinsky for their input and influence on this list.

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

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