Searching for Max Scherzer's replacement

Robbie Ray pitches in the first inning against the Texas Rangers on May 22, 2014 - Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Max Scherzer will likely depart in free agency, but the Tigers can replace him from within

Max Scherzer is in the midst of what is almost certainly his final season with Detroit. His five years have yielded 72 wins and a WAR of 17.4, per baseball-reference. Sure, he could, in theory, return. All the Tigers must do is outbid 29 other teams in free agency. In the last five years, only one of 30 free agents returned after declining an extension. The one was Derek Jeter.

As Scherzer does not identify with Detroit like Jeter does with New York, we need to start considering who can take a spot in the rotation. The good news is that the Tigers' system has a bunch of impressive arms. The bad news is that most are in the low minors.

In Triple-A Toledo, Robbie Ray waits his turn. He made two good starts in Detroit this year, and one lousy start.  His 10 games in Toledo are a mixed bag. The 3.13 ERA is promising, along with 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings. The 1.44 WHIP needs to improve. He is clearly next in line for a rotation spot.

The other starters in Toledo do not engender much excitement beyond sport-starting or relieving.

In Double-A Erie, only Kyle Ryan has an ERA below 5.00 among the starters. Ryan's strikeout rate is low and likely to decline if he is promoted.

Looking at Advanced-A Lakeland, excitement grows. Lakeland just completed the first half of its season with a record of 42-25, good for three games out of first. The Daytona Cubs, in what is often ranked a top farm system, were 16½ games behind.

Kevin Eichorn is finally having good results with an ERA of 1.93 and WHIP of 1.13, but at 24 years old and in his third tour of the Florida State League he is not a prospect.

Edgar De La Rosa throws hard and the results are starting to match the potential with an ERA below 3.00 and WHIP below 1.20, but he is 23 years old and striking out too few.

Left-handed Josh Turley has five wins, no losses, and an ERA of 2.08.  His WHIP of 0.95 leads the league.  Like De La Rosa he is 23 years old, so will need to progress through the ranks without delay.

Jake Thompson is excelling in Lakeland with a 2.48 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and strikeout rate approaching nine per nine innings. Jake is only 20 years old, three years below the average Advanced-A player. Thompson will not be replacing Scherzer in 2015, but by late 2016 he could be the answer.

Next week we will take a look at Low-A West Michigan. The Whitecaps finished in first place for the first half of the season, and may have five aces in their rotation.

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