One of my favorite things to do in any trade deadline is to track the trade hugs. You know, a guy finds out he's been traded, and the first thing he's gotta do is hug his teammates, in the dugout, preferably on camera. I don't know if Avisail Garcia or Danry Vasquez hugged anyone in a publicly observable manner (I was busy), but nevertheless, they have moved on to better farm systems. I liked those guys. They oozed with talent, and I think they'll be dynamic major leaguers for quite some time. But, rest assured, I like most of the guys who are left as well. And luckily for them, there should be some prime opportunities for playing time with the big club in the next couple seasons.
Corner Outfield. Depth Grade: C+
Incumbents: Torii Hunter, Andy Dirks, Matt Tuiasosopo, Don Kelly
Prospects: Nick Castellanos, Tyler Collins, Steven Moya
The Tigers have a lot of decisions to make for their 2014 bench and their 2015 RF starter role. Nick Castellanos has seemed destined for the LF job for ages now, and Garcia's departure eliminates what might have been a real competition through next year's spring training. Andy Dirks had a real opportunity to keep him at bay with a great year, but that ship has sailed by now.
Now, with Castellanos' role being a foregone conclusion, Andy Dirks finds himself in a strange position: fighting for a bench job with Don Kelly. Before this year, such a proposition would be laughable. Now, I find it difficult to argue that Dirks actually deserves that job instead of Kelly. Also working in Kelly's favor is that Dirks can be optioned to Triple-A for depth. I imagine the Tigers would rather trade Dirks than stash a 28 year old on the Toledo roster, but either way, Dirks' prospects are not great. Tuiasosopo's job seems safe, so long as he contributes something in the second half. He's played well, he won't have arbitration rights, and the Tigers don't have an obvious alternative for a bench RHH.
When Torii Hunter departs after 2014, there doesn't appear to be an obvious replacement. Avi Garcia would have fit very nicely in that spot, but he's now more of an obvious replacement for Alex Rios. That leaves the Tigers with a choice between Tyler Collins and a free agent. As of right now, there are a few outfielders who should be available, should the Tigers go that route: Brett Gardner, Nick Markakis, Nori Aoki, and Nate Schierholtz stand out from a cursory glance.
Looking that prospects, there isn't much I can tell you about Castellanos that hasn't been said already. He doesn't have the eye-popping stat line that you like to see from a future LF fixture, but he has performed well given a significant age disadvantage. Most encouraging has been his relatively low K-rate (around 16%) and high BB-rate (around 10%). His advanced approach should allow him to contribute to an MLB lineup while he continues to develop his abilities to hit for average and power.
Tyler Collins is at a fork in his career road. An absurdly streaky hitter, Collins has shown an ability to carry his lineup for weeks, flashing real power (.200 ISO) and a willingness to adopt the take-and-rake style (10% BB rate). On the other hand, he's been criticized very heavily for his inability to adjust to any pitching gameplan whatsoever. That explains his low batting average (.235), hurt by far too many Ks (23%). If he can use 2014 in Toledo to reduce his swing-and-miss, he'll be on the radar to replace Hunter. If he can't, he'll be the underdog in a competition for a bench role. Steven Moya has elite potential, thanks to 80 grade power, but he is severely hindered by an atrocious approach. While his K-rate (25%) and batting average (.261) aren't obvious red flags, his BB-rate (4%) is a bright one. Moya is one to watch, but don't expect him to be in the big league conversation until late 2015 or 2016.
Center Field. Depth Grade: D
Incumbent: Austin Jackson
Prospects: Daniel Fields, Austin Schotts.
After this season, an Austin Jackson extension should be an absolute top priority. The step back he took on offense should lower his price, compared to the ransom he could have drawn after last season. Even if the offense never improves again, there's serious value to be found in his defense, value that they would have a very difficult time replacing. There are some durability concerns, sure, but the Tigers aren't really in a position to turn him away. Should they decide to go year-to-year, Jackson can be a free agent after the 2015 season.
Daniel Fields has emerged from FSL purgatory to reclaim status as a real prospect, but "good 4th outfielder" is really the most I see out of him. He covers ground well enough in center, and while his arm isn't great, it's good enough for government work. He generates some nice bat speed, and double-digit homer totals are well within his reach. Unfortunately, regular contact with the ball is just not there. I tagged him early on as a guy whose K-rate would determine their destiny, and Fields' has been stuck at 25% all year. He's used a willingness to walk and a high BABIP to elevate his season line to something impressive (.291/.358/.454), but it's really hard to see him do anything close to that in the majors. Instead, the Tigers would do well to keep him as a 4th outfielder. As a key bench player, they can reserve his bat for key matchups and get him plenty of playing time as a defensive replacement.
Austin Schotts has starter potential, but it's just so far away that he's almost not even worth mentioning. After a nice showing with last year's GCL squad, Schotts was given an aggressive assignment to West Michigan, and he foundered. He was demoted to Connecticut, but outcomes really haven't improved. In his defense, he is only 19 years old. He could return to West Michigan next year and still be one of the younger players in the league. But until he actually proves something on the field, he's little more than a lottery ticket.
Designated Hitter. Grade Depth: N/A
Incumbent: Victor Martinez
Prospects: Prince Fielder (?), Dean Green.
DH prospects are rare because most minor leaguers are young and athletic enough to play SOMETHING, but Dean Green, who I mentioned for 1B, is close to a DH prospect. However, when Martinez moves on, I have trouble seeing this position as anything more than the future home of Prince Fielder. Fielder is already a bad fielder, and he has 7 years ahead of him on this deal. Even if he could keep playing 1st for all those years, Miguel Cabrera isn't going to play 3rd for 7 more years. If he has to move, Cabrera should force Fielder to DH, since Cabrera is a better hitter and has priority, and also because he's a much better 1st baseman. Obviously, if Prince stays at 1st, the DH could be pretty much anyone in or out of the system.
My previous article covering the infield can be found here.