Tigers #1 Prospect Nick Castellanos - Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
Obviously, this site is dedicated to the coverage of the Tigers prospects, but if you think about it, the ultimate goal of our prospects is to one day make the Opening Day roster/starting lineup of the Tigers. So, with this post, I thought it would be fun to predict what the starting lineup on Opening Day 2015 will be. Obviously, this shouldn't be taken as "bible" by anyone, since, as we all know, you can't predict baseball. I'm not going to forecast many trades/free agent signings, even though there undoubtedly will be several in the next 2+ years. Instead, I'm going to do this post using mainly current Tigers and prospects, with maybe a trade prediction or two thrown in.
1) Austin Jackson, CF
I have no qualms saying that Jackson will be our starting CF for many years to come, and while many predict a Granderson-esque move down in the order with his continued high K's and increased power, I think Jackson will continue to hit leadoff, with good power and good OBP, regardless of the strikeouts that will continuously haunt his game. In 2015, Jackson will still be in his prime as one of the best CF's in the game. He may have to move to a corner OF spot further into the future, but in 2015, I expect him to have at least 1 gold glove under his belt.
2) Omar Infante, 2B
Infante's contract will expire following 2013, but I think that Dombrowski will lock him up for a longer term deal before then, especially with no legitimate 2nd base prospects in the minor leagues (unless you count Eugenio Saurez, but I'll get to him shortly). Infante brings an above average glove, good speed, some pop, and a solid bat to a lineup that has sorely lacked all of the above since Polanco left (not saying Polly was fast, but you get the point). He's still young-er, and could anchor 2B in Detroit for many years.
3) Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Miggy. The Big Man. The best hitter in baseball. I think he'll stick at 3rd until the expiration of Victor Martinez's contract (after 2014), then move back over to 1B in 2015. He'll still be among the best hitters in the game at this point, and will be only 31, so still in his prime. Moving him back across the diamond will also improve the team's defense, as you'll see a bit further down.
4) Prince Fielder, DH
Like Miggy, Prince will stick at 1B for the duration of Victor Martinez's contract, and then will slide to full-time DH in 2015. By that time, he'll understand that the move is for the betterment of the team. Having played 3 years in Detroit by this point, I think we'll see a return to the 35-40 HR Prince Fielder that we've been used to seeing (although 2012 has HARDLY been a disappointment).
5) Avisail Garcia, RF
Avi, or "Mini-Miggy" as some have dubbed him, has been exciting in his brief tenure in Detroit this season. He's shown off his plus arm, and his somewhat amazing speed for a man his size. And remember, in 2015, he'll still be only 24. I think he'll be the full time starter in RF by mid-2013/early 2014, but in 2015, he will have developed enough power to bat 5th directly behind Prince. He's arguably our most exciting prospect (I said "exciting", not "best"), and it's going to be really fun watching him develop.
6) Alex Avila, C
Arguably the cornerstone of the Tigers franchise, as you don't happen across left-handed power hitting catchers that get on base and defend well very often. Avila had a career year in 2011, and has taken a bit of a step back in 2012, mostly due to injury IMO. I don't believe his 2011 will be repeated, at least consistently, but I have no problem saying that Avila can be a perennial .275/..370/.440 hitter in the major leagues, while still maintaining good defense behind the plate. He is the sole reason that a top prospect like Rob Brantly became available in a trade, and will continue to anchor the catching position in Detroit for many years, barring injury of course.
7) Nick Castellanos, 3B
The top prospect in the entire Tigers system will move back to his native position of 3B by 2015. I believe that Castellanos will be a solid 3B in the majors, and with the emergence of Garcia, the move to RF will become unnecessary in time. He could still move to LF if the Tigers see fit, but I can't see that happening because I don't see Miguel Cabrera as the long term answer at 3B. Castellanos should begin 2013 back in AA, to help him further develop his power and work on plate discipline. I'd move him back to 3B right away, but I genuinely have zero idea what the Tigers have planned for him. His performance in the AFL will probably have a large bearing on what Detroit will do with him position-wise for 2013. Ideally, he stays in the minors for all of 2013, developing both offensively and defensively, and by 2014 he may force a Victor Martinez trade to open a spot for him.
8) Tyler Collins, LF
This may be the first "surprise" of the post, but Tyler Collins is a guy I really, really like. He's been profiled as a bat-first 4th OF, or perhaps a 2nd division starter, but, perhaps unrequitedly, I see more. I don't think he'll ever be an all-star caliber player, but I can certainly see a nearly every day LF in the major leagues. He'll never be known for his defense, but he's solid-average in LF, and the arm plays well from there. Especially with freaks of athleticism in CF and RF, the Tigers can afford to play a less-than-awesome guy in LF, and Collins fits that description, especially since I think that he'll be able to hit major league pitching pretty well by 2015. Some people will be asking me why I don't have Andy Dirks here, but Dirks is a guy I see as a prime trade candidate in 2013, especially after his breakout 2012 (despite the Achilles injury).
9) Eugenio Saurez, SS
The 1st legitimate middle infield prospect since Cale Iorg (?), Saurez had a breakout season in 2012 with West Michigan (Class A). He still struck out too much, but combined that with solid D, a great OBP, somewhat surprising power, and good speed. Saurez performed so well in 2012 that many, including myself, expect him to skip A+ altogether in 2013 and go directly to AA. I'd like to see the Tigers take their time with him, but we all know that's not the Tigers way. I think he'll spend all of 2013 in AA, then split time between AA-AAA-MLB in 2014 (perhaps as a Sept. call up), and then hopefully be ready to take the reigns as starting SS in 2015. With the lineup I have assembled here, ideally Saurez won't be expected to provide too much with his bat, but playing a good SS and holding his own in the batter's box will be enough to justify starting him.
1) James McCann, Backup C
McCann is arguably the Tigers best catching prospect in the system since the trade of Rob Brantly, although we can't forget about Curt Casali. McCann profiles as the prototypical MLB backup catcher: Very good with the glove, not much bat, not much power, but will hit in the low-mid .200's. Remember, backup catcher is an incredibly important job, as we've seen the last couple years in Detroit.
2) Daniel Fields, 4th OF
Before you all start laughing at me (Galea, I'm looking at you), I still have some faith in Fields as a prospect. He began 2012 at High-A, repeating it for the 2nd time, and got off to a good start before an injury sidelined him for awhile. He was promoted to AA for the last month or so of the season, and did very well, getting on base, hitting for power, and stealing bases. He should start 2013 as Erie's starting CF, and 2013 will be a make or break season for him. I don't think he'll ever hit well enough to be a regular in the MLB, but I have faith that he'll hit well enough and get on base enough to be a 4th OF, especially since he can play all 3 OF positions and runs very well.
3) Hernan Perez, Middle IF
We saw Perez make a cameo in Detroit early in the season when the Tigers were desperate for MIF help. In his short time, Perez wasn't able to show much, other than his good speed when he legged out an infield single for his 1st major league hit. Perez brings plus D with a plus arm to 2B, and while he can play SS in a pinch, his best position is 2B. He runs very well, but still needs to work on his baserunning instincts. He'll never hit for much power, and the hit tool isn't good enough for me to project him as a starter, but I think he'll be very successful as a major league utility guy.
4) Dean Green, 1B/DH
Green is probably the best power prospect in the Tigers system, aside from maybe Steven Moya, but doesn't really have a positional future in Detroit. Considering 1B/DH will be covered by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder for the foreseeable future, Green doesn't really have a spot available. But he hits the ball, and hits for power. He hit very well at WMI pre-injury, and then absolutely tore the cover off the ball at Lakeland when he was promoted. I believe he'll start the season as Erie's 1B, and his power will continue to develop. He's a left handed power stick that I believe will find a role in the major leagues as a bench bat. Maybe that's more suited for the National League, but for the sake of this post, I'm going to pencil him in as the 2015 Marcus Thames.
1) Justin Verlander, RHP
Do I even need to do an explanation post here?
2) Max Scherzer, RHP
The Tigers will soon have to make a choice as to whether to keep Max Scherzer or Rick Porcello on the roster. They will both be due substantial raises, and I don't think that the Tigers can keep both. While Scherzer may fetch more on the trade market than Porcello, after this season I don't think that Dombrowski will be very keen to trade away a power arm strikeout machine like Max. I believe that makes Porcello the odd man out, and while I believe there is still a lot of potential left in Porcello's right arm, I think his tenure in Detroit is reaching an end (unfortunately, IMO).
3) Doug Fister, RHP
I mean, Fister has been so good, that even noted snarkologist and Tiger troll Keith Law wrote an article detailing how his opinion of Fister had changed. Some may argue that Fister is the true #2 behind Verlander, but at this point, that's kind of irrelevant isn't it? Even in 2015, the Tigers top 3 of Verlander, Scherzer, and Fister will be among baseball's best.
4) Casey Crosby, LHP
Ballsy prediction, no? Considering Crosby didn't really do a whole lot in 2012 to instill confidence in him as a #4 starter in the future, I still believe that his electric left arm will have a permanent place in the rotation by 2014. For the first time in his career, he was healthy in back to back years in 2011 & 2012, and while he still walks too many, the strikeout total was still high, and the innings total was very good. Crosby showed some things in 2012, including a propensity to get swings and misses with a power curveball, while also showing the ability to get quick outs with a cutter that sits a few ticks off of his plus fastball. Many see Crosby taking the Andy Oliver route (finally going to the bullpen after failing miserably as a starter) but I don't. Crosby will start 2013 back in Toledo, and I believe that 2013 will be a breakout season for him.
5) Drew Smyly, LHP
I'm sure people are screaming "WHAT!? CROSBY OVER SMYLY?! YOURE AN IDIOT FIRE LEELAND" or something like that, but let me explain. While Smyly is obviously the better pitcher right now, I think Crosby's ceiling is higher than Smyly's, while Smyly's floor is much higher than Crosby's. Make sense? Smyly showed us some great things in 2012 despite the injuries, especially (at least for me) the velo on his fastball that I didn't know he had. 94 MPH from a lefty is a plus fastball, and when you combine it with his pitchability and secondary pitches, most notably his cutter than I absolutely love, Smyly has a long, successful major league career in front of him, even if it's not destined to be an all-star caliber career.
NOTE: I'd love to predict the bullpen, but, not to be rude, are you effing kidding me? That's the closest damned thing to impossible. So I guess I'll just do a "names to keep an eye on" sort of deal, where I list guys who will probably be in the bullpen in 2015.
That's it for me everyone. Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Feel free to comment on here with your thoughts, or contact me on twitter @B_Sakowski or @TigersProspects