Last season I took a monthly look at prospect performance in the minor leagues, pointing out noteworthy statistical performances, whether they were positive or negative. The goal was to look at prospects that might be doing well on the surface and to delve deeper to see how well they were truly doing. It was a lot of fun, and I'd like to revisit it for a season retrospective on some Tigers minor leaguers. This performance review will be split into two posts: one examining players in the high minors and one examining some in the low minors.
What might I mean by stars and scrubs, you may be asking? A star is a player that puts up eyepopping statistics in the minor leagues. His scouting report might not be so good, but his performance is incredible and deserves attention. A scrub is a player whose performance looks horrible on paper. In some cases, that isn't such a horrible thing (Nick Castellanos had a scrub-caliber April but is still a top prospect). Either way, the performance merits looking at- often times to deliver a reality check.
So who are this edition's three stars and three scrubs? The best of the high minors and the worst of the 40 man roster? You can find out after the jump!
Star: Luis Marte, RHP
AA Erie: 53 IP, 1.70 ERA, 2.67 FIP, 33% K/PA, 8.8% BB/PA, 4% HR/Air
I normally despise relief prospects. Relievers are fungible commodities, and are generally hard to develop through just relief appearances. Most good relievers are failed starters; if you can't hack it in the rotation, you go to the 'pen where your stuff gets better. There's also a problem with paying a high price (either in money or in draft picks) for relief help; guys like Ryan Perry can be terrible and first round picks, while guys like Al Alburquerque can come out of nowhere and surprise.
This gets me to Marte. Marte is a failed starter, moved to the bullpen because of injury problems and command issues. He has a plus curveball and a pretty darn good slider and fastball, though they're not quite plus. He'll also mix in a changeup every now and then. Marte had problems with command and home run rate until this year as well. But his numbers from Erie indicate that he's made some strides in these areas. If you're looking for another potential Alburquerque-level surprise when it comes to relief help, Marte could be it. He won't be as good considering his fastball sits in the low 90's, but he's got some potential.
Scrub: Ryan Strieby, 1B
AAA Toledo: 557 PA, .255/.341/.429, 30% K/PA, 10.8 BB/PA, .174 ISO
There was once a time when I was high on Ryan Strieby. Hitting .304/.425/.567 at AA Erie will get people excited. Unfortunately, wrist problems and issues with contact rate have derailed this once viable prospect. I like players that take walks, but a strikeout rate above 25% in the minor leagues is a pretty big red flag. Combine that with the fact that Strieby's persistent wrist issues have sapped what power he had in Erie, and Strieby's done. This is the part where Kurt will point out how right he was on Strieby. I have learned my lesson; don't overvalue sluggers in the high minors (paging Aaron Westlake...).
Star: Drew Smyly, LHP
AA Erie: 45.2 IP, 1.18 ERA, 2.44 FIP, 29.8% K/PA, 8.4% BB/PA, 2% HR/Air
A+ Lakeland: 80.1 IP, 2.58 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 23.8% K/PA, 6.5% BB/PA, 1% HR/Air
A southpaw with a low 90's sinking fastball and solid curveball, changeup and cutter, Smyly is a finesse pitcher drafted in 2010 in the second round. His mechanics are decent, and he throws from a 3/4 arm angle which allows him to generate a few more ground balls than most pitchers.
However, we need to get something straight now. Drew Smyly is nowhere near as good as those eyepopping numbers, which compare to what Justin Verlander put up in 2005. Drew Smyly is not Justin Verlander. He doesn't have the power arsenal to be a dominant, shutdown ace. But he can be a very good fourth starter as soon as midseason next year. And if everything breaks right and Smyly's stuff takes a step forward, he might be able to take the role of a staff #3. Still, I'd like to see him repeat these numbers in AAA; if he does, he'll make me his biggest fan.
Scrub: Andy Oliver, LHP
AAA Toledo: 147 IP, 4.71 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 22.1% K/PA, 12.4% BB/PA, 6% HR/Air
Yowch. Just when I decide to get on the Andy Oliver bandwagon, the wheels fall off. Oliver's season wasn't horrible by any means, but it also wasn't good. Average doesn't get you promoted from the International league. Oliver took no steps forward in 2011, and by all accounts his command took a step backwards. The walk rate jumped from below 10% in April and May to around 12% in June, and it never went back down again.
The calls have begun to move Oliver to the 'pen, where he won't have to pitch so much and where his plus-plus fastball can really play up. He also has a good change and a slider, but the slider needs work and the changeup needs consistency. If I were the Tigers, I'd give Oliver one last shot in the rotation, but if the big-league club needs a late game power lefty with a fastball that sits in the mid-90's with movement, he'd be the first player I'd call.
Star: Jacob Turner, RHP
AA Erie: 113.2 IP, 3.12 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 19.0% K/PA, 6.8% BB/PA, 5% HR/Air
I wavered on whether or not to include Turner on this list. He's Detroit's top prospect, yes. His numbers were very good for a 20 year old pitcher in the Eastern League, yes. But nothing in his line is particularly eyepopping. The FIP suggests he was getting lucky with his ERA and the strikeout rate is below 20%, which is a pretty handy brightline for determining strikeout potential.
That said, fans also need to consider the positive. And there is lots of positive. Turner is 20 years old and will compete for a rotation spot with the Tigers in Spring Training next year. He still has a good fastball that sits in the low to mid 90's, a good changeup to complement that fastball and a hammer curve that flashes plus-plus on occasion. He also has good command (though it could probably use work) and poise beyond his years. In short, don't give up on Jacob Turner, even if he has a rough year next year. He's gonna be a good one.
Scrub: Brayan Villareal, RHP
AAA Toledo: 66 IP, 5.05 ERA, 5.03 FIP, 13.8% K/PA, 10% BB/PA, 5% HR/Air
Villareal had a season to forget in 2011. After making the Tigers out of spring training, he was demoted in mid-May after spotty use in the bullpen. His season in Toledo was just as awful; the 'Hens tried stretching him back out in the rotation, but he imploded something fierce and went down with an injury in late summer. When he came out, he moved back to the bullpen.
So what to make of Villareal? It would be easy to say that his problems were based on the injury, but to me what sticks out is the low strikeout rate. Villareal throws a fastball in the low to mid 90's with a pretty good slider and a decent changeup, so his stuff is pretty good. The problem is that he never really got the time to adjust to AAA or the majors; he was inconsistent because of lack of use in Detroit, and stretching him out in Toledo probably didn't help things. I still like him long term as a setup man or seventh inning guy.