OF Nick Castellanos, Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens -- 326 AB, .301/.378/.488/.866; 26 2B, 1 3B, 11 HR, 42 RBI, 42 BB, 58 K, 58 R, 3 SB
No surprise to anyone who has digested any Tigers chatter in the last two months, Castellanos has a sky-high stock owing from his youth and increasingly exceptional hitting. His early growing pains from adjusting to the league seem long passed, and almost all of the questions we had about his ability to hit have been answered. Can he control the strike zone? Check. Make consistently strong contact? Check. Improve his power profile? Yup, that's a check. His June became the real eye-opener; he hit .361/.441/.583, having his best month in terms of XBHs (9 doubles, 5 homers) and K/BB ratio (13/16). Does this mean he's done developing? Not at all. His defense remains below average, and simply hitting well for half of a season does not define one's destiny. But all the excitement for the 21 year old is well warranted. Given the struggles of Andy Dirks and now Avisail Garcia, it's becoming more and more difficult to give reasons why Castellanos should not get his long-awaited promotion
RHP Melvin Mercedes, Double-A Erie SeaWolves -- 0-0, 3.00 ERA, 3 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 4 K, .286 BAA
Advanced-A Lakeland Flying Tigers -- 3-1, 0.96 ERA, 28 IP, 23 H, 5 BB, 17 K, .221 BAA
Mercedes checked in at 23 in our midseason rankings, recently earning a promotion for his strong work in Lakeland. His strikeout rates aren't entirely impressive for a relief prospect, but he does two important things really well: prevent hits, and prevent walks. These skills will be important to watch as he gets acclimated to the Eastern League, and as one of the few priority pitchers in the Erie bullpen, he should get plenty of opportunities to show his talents. Mercedes isn't your typical Tigers reliever; despite his imposing size, he attacks hitters with a low 90s fastball featuring heavy sink. He complements that with the typical slider to keep everything on the ground, something he did successfully as well (only 1 homer allowed). Mercedes is 22 years old, and for him, that's a great spot to be. He's young for the level, giving him plenty of time to adjust and develop without anyone getting impatient. On the other hand, 22 is old enough that good performances get him in on the big league radar immediately.
OF Danry Vasquez, Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps -- 294 AB, .282/.334/.395/.729; 13 2B, 4 3B, 4 HR, 30 RBI, 24 BB, 46 K, 36 R, 8 SB
Vasquez had always been able to keep his head above water in his aggressive Midwest League assignment, showing decent ability to put the bat on the ball, while extremely raw in other facets of the game. This hasn't changed much during the year, as the power remains modest, and his 8 steals are coupled with just as many times being caught. The standout skill which has his stock up right now is the ability to control the strike zone and get on base. This jumped drastically in June; after 5 walks in April and 6 in May, he drew 13 in June matching his 13 strikeouts in the same month. His month by month OBP has tracked that improvement. Starting with a poor .299 mark in April, Vasquez had made noticeable strides to push that mark to .327 in May, and now .364 in June. The power hasn't quite shown up, but that's not much to fear. If Vasquez can show continued control of the strike zone, he is much more likely to turn his future strength into usable in-game power.
OF Steven Moya, Advanced-A Lakeland Flying Tigers -- 152 AB, .263/.296/.447/.743; 7 2B, 3 3B, 5 HR, 22 RBI, 6 BB, 44 K, 18 R, 4 SB
Moya's had a tough season thanks to some injury problems (only 9 games played in May, 5 in April), and he hasn't been consistently productive even upon his return in June. But I want to highlight his most recent performance, because it looks like his prodigious power has finally arrived. Moya's last 10 games look Cabrera-esque, featuring 4 doubles, a triple, and 4 home runs. These home runs are not cheap, either. In those 10 games, Moya owns a line of .390/.444/.829. While any player can get hot over 10 games, it takes special talent to have streaks look so blistering. Moya isn't without concerns; he has to make up for lost time, and he still struggles with K/BB (12 Ks, 4 BBs in those last 10 games). He's also one health problem away from getting an "injury prone" tag thrown around. But that power, it will have us watching him very closely.
C James McCann, Double-A Erie SeaWolves -- 264 AB, .295/.333/.386/.720; 15 2B, 0 3B, 3 HR, 35 RBI, 15 BB, 46 K, 29 R, 2 SB
James McCann is kind of a boring prospect these days. He's a good defender, he handles the bat pretty well, controls the zone at an average level, and has gap power. After 264 ABs at the AA level, all of those things are still true. There's plenty of value for those skills; he has the talent to regularly hit .275 in the big leagues with enough walks and doubles to approach a league-average MLB line. Most teams would be fine starting McCann, including the Tigers if Avila doesn't get back to his offensive potential. But, like I said, boring.
LHP Kyle Lobstein, Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens -- 0-1, 3.60 ERA, 5 IP, 5 H, 3 BB, 5 K, .263 BAA
Double-A Erie SeaWolves -- 7-4, 3.12 ERA, 95.1 IP, 92 H, 27 BB, 83 K, .262 BAA
Lobstein is probably the next emergency starter now that Jose Alvarez has run out of bullets. It's only fitting that Lobstein becomes such given their similarities. Lobstein has the same 4 pitch mix, a similar strength (quality of changeup), and has succeeded with the same "good control lefty" profile that allowed Alvarez to beat minor leaguers with regularity. But, there are some differences; Lobstein throws each offering with a bit more velocity, he has a bit more deception in his delivery, and he has some projection to improve his offerings into a better MLB profile. Having done everything he can against Eastern League hitters, Lobstein will now wait for the call in Toledo.
2B Hernan Perez, Double-A Erie SeaWolves -- 326 AB, .298/.324/.414/.738; 24 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 32 RBI, 12 BB, 46 K, 37 R, 21 SB
Perez burst onto the scene with a strong April, showing a nice .323 average. Since then, his water has more or less found its level. Perez will turn in months that vary slightly based on whether one or two of his singles and doubles found a defender's glove instead, but aside from that, he's been remarkably consistent. For a 22 year old showing solid defensive skills at 2nd, this is hardly a bad thing. But, he suffers from the same condition of James McCann as a boring prospect. It's not all that likely that Perez will ever draw walks and hit for power, so, you're left with a guy that could be league average at an important position, but not much else.
2B Devon Travis, Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps -- 290 AB, .352/.430/.486/.916; 17 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 42 RBI, 35 BB, 32 K, 55 R, 14 SB
After doing everything that is reasonably possible at the plate, Devon Travis has finally gotten promoted. I don't have much to add, other than the remind you that he was really really good in 77 games. Now we get to swoon over him in Lakeland!
LHP Casey Crosby, Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens -- 2-5, 4.84 ERA, 57.2 IP, 55 H, 40 BB, 61 K, .258 BAA
It's not all bad. He gets two ground balls for every fly ball. He still strikes out more than a batter per inning, and he otherwise isn't very hittable. It's just that it's time for him to ply his trade in the bullpen. There's a chance he could be very effective there, possibly even moreso than Drew Smyly. But unlike Smyly, Crosby has no reasonable future left in the rotation. At this point, each start Crosby makes is time wasted that could be spent on teaching him how to pitch in relief.
SS Eugenio Suarez, Double-A Erie SeaWolves -- 208 AB, .240/.331/.370/.701; 11 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 24 BB, 50 K, 24 R, 5 SB
Advanced-A Lakeland Flying Tigers -- 103 AB, .311/.410/.437/.847; 6 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 14 BB, 25 K, 17 R, 2 SB
When last we saw Suarez, he had put together that nice line in Lakeland and earned a promotion. People got really excited as Suarez showed patience and power in Erie in May. The league caught up to Suarez in June; his .572 OPS coupled with a high error total demonstrated that the game was just moving too fast for Suarez. He turns 22 this month, so this isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Suarez has plenty of time to get used to the league, re-adjust, and show his skills. However, this setback took a lot of helium out of his balloon.
OF Tyler Collins, Double-A Erie SeaWolves -- 252 AB, .206/.317/.397/.713; 15 2B, 0 3B, 11 HR, 40 RBI, 38 BB, 74 K, 39 R, 2 SB
Collins' torrid streak in May seems like ancient history now. The corner outfielder, whose calling card was consistently hard contact, was catching all sorts of attention for his new-found power, as he set a new career high in homers by the end of May. Eastern League pitchers have adjusted to Collins' swing, and the results are alarming. Collins' K-rate has skyrocketed to well above 25%, including 35 Ks in June alone. June was an especially rough month, as he posted a .172/.263/.299 line. This kind of dreadful streak is troubling, especially so for a bat-first prospect. If he isn't able to right the ship in the second half, he could take a tumble in next year's pre-season rankings.