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Preseason Predictions: Taking a look at sleeper prospects

The preseason is a wonderful time of the year. We all get to dream about what will come in the long season ahead. Minor flaws or problems with the team are overlooked in favor of our unblemished record. The season changes things, of course, but it's fun to look and see what possibilities exist for the team in 2011.

It's fun to do that on a prospecting level too. Of course, what's really fun is taking a look at prospects that might break out or might fall flat. Today I'm going to do just that. I have prepared a list of four sleepers and four anti-sleepers. The sleepers are prospects that, for the most part, fall a little more under the radar. The anti-sleepers are guys that get far too much buzz for what they are.

My methodology also isn't as firm as you would find in a top 30 list. Prediction lists are a good place to take risks in analysis- to take the toolsy guy who you may have ranked 27th and talk him up, or the guy you ranked 11th and bust him down. There is certainly reason behind the rationale for all these picks, but sometimes the reason is based more off of gut or small sample sizes (or even worse, A ball stats).

Here we go!

Sleeper: Daniel Fields, OF

So remember how I said that these prospects are supposed to be under the radar? I kinda fudged that. I for one can't stop raving about this kid and the kind of player he might be. Fields has several things going his way. He's got good bloodlines (his father was Bruce Fields, former Tigers hitting coach), a boatload of tools and tons of projectability. The worst news: the Tigers really like him, and for a young player that means you get thrown into the fire that is the high (or high-ish) minors. And even that couldn't stop Fields, who put up a slightly above average OPS in a pitchers league with boatloads of walks. If the contact rate gets better or Fields develops power, he'll jump onto a lot of radars. And if he does both, watch out.

Anti-Sleeper: Drew Smyly, LHP

So last year I spent a bunch of time railing on a lefthanded college pitcher that the Tigers took in the second round of the draft over higher upside players. Oops. Smyly is different though. While my problem with Andrew Oliver was that he had a two pitch mix, Smyly has four pitches and good command, and is apparently a safe bet to become a fourth starter. The problem is that the margin is so thin. The reason I like power pitchers or guys with wild arms and upside is because there is room for error. If, heaven forbid, Jacob Turner loses 3 miles on his fastball, he can still be a third or fourth starter. If Andy Oliver never develops a third pitch, he can be a good closer or setup guy. But if something goes wrong with Smyly, his upside becomes either "LOOGY" or "Brad Thomas".

Smyly is still a good prospect, and I'm happy to have him. But I can't help but feeling it is really dangerous to rank a command guy in the top 10 (several prospect outlets did) let alone the top 15 without a bunch of data. I really hope Smyly pulls an "Oliver" and makes me look dumb at season's end, but I'm not buying what he's selling until he passes the AA test.

Sleeper: Rob Brantly, C

A bunch of people talk about Bryan Holaday as the next best thing when it comes to Tigers catching prospects. But people overlook Brantly, who the Tigers took in the third round of last year's draft. Brantly has a nice left-handed swing, he projects to have average pop, and he's pretty good defensively. His results were middling in the Midwest league: .255/.352/.335, and his .687 OPS was below league average. But the tools are still there, and I really think he can surprise this year. I called him a sleeper in the MSP Tigers Annual, and I'll echo that here.

Anti-Sleeper: Bryan Holaday, C

Speaking of catching prospects, we need to talk about Bryan Holaday. It's really easy to compare him to Brantly: both are college players, both were taken early in the draft (Brantly in the 3rd and Holaday in the 6th) and both have some upside. The problem is that comparing the two is, in a way, unfair. Brantly was a draft-eligible sophomore, while Holaday was a senior at TCU. Holaday has some things working in his favor, mainly really good defense. But he doesn't project to hit much at all: he has pop but there are still concerns about how his swing will translate to wood, and his results last year (.220/.335/.327 in Lakeland) are pretty mediocre. That's not really a fair value judgment: the leap from college ball to High A is a pretty big one, and the FSL is living torture for hitters. But I think it makes sense to rein the hype in on this guy at least a little bit. I know there hasn't been much to talk about in terms of catchers in Detroit's system, but sharing the love with Brantly and John Murrian would be prudent.

Sleeper: Avisail Garcia, OF

I feel I'm avoiding some tough decisions by talking about guys like Fields and Garcia. Truth be told though, there's not a whole lot of other talent that I feel as good about. Garcia gets press because, in a way, he deserves it. He projects to have good power and great speed, and scouts and prospect watchers dream on his potential. The problem is that the only thing there is potential. Normally, this is where I'd rail on Garcia for not putting those tools to use, but in his defense, he's 19 years old and competing in West Michigan, which is a pretty big challenge for someone essentially learning how to play baseball.

What gives me hope is that Garcia's strikeout and walk rates moved in the right direction from 2009 to 2010. His line drive rate and BABIP rate also improved, his batting average went up nearly 20 points and his slugging percentage went up nearly 30. Don't read too much into these numbers: it is A ball after all, and we're talking pretty small movements. But they're at least encouraging signs, and while I don't think that he'll break out next year, if he can build off of what he did in West Michigan, it'll be good news.

Anti-Sleeper: Adam Wilk, LHP

So we go from intense analysis of A ball stats to walking proof as to why you do not take those stats seriously. Adam Wilk put up an ERA of 3.01 in 24 starts at Lakeland. He struck out slightly more than six batters per nine inning and walked a mere 1.2 per nine. He also kept the ball in the park (one home run allowed roughly every 18 innings). The problem is that Adam Wilk has a fastball that sits in the upper 80's. That's okay for a command and control lefty (which Wilk is- check out that walk rate again) but there's a problem with evaluating command and control lefties: their ability to post excellent numbers at High A is deceptive. The real test of these kind of players comes at AA, and it comes from more than three games.

When you think of Adam Wilk, please consider this alternate comment: Adam Wilk is a deceptive command and control lefty that lives off of changing speeds and hitting specific spots in the strike zone. He tore up the FSL last year, but he was also a 23 year old in a league that, for the most part, favors pitchers. While he had three good starts in AA, you must be careful about reading too much into 24 innings of baseball as there are a lot of possible mitigating factors to consider. Overall, Wilk may have a bright future as a number four or number five starter, but he is not the second coming of Sandy Koufax. Or Jamie Moyer. Or anyone not named Mike Maroth.

Sleeper: Francisco Martinez, 3B

Man, I really am cheating with these sleepers. Martinez has been ranked pretty highly this offseason, mostly because of his good tools and decent production (after you adjust for his age). Yet Martinez still has a ways to go as far as turning skills into production. The real challenge will be to adjust to AA pitching- the Tigers haven't officially announced it, but it is increasingly likely that Martinez will move up to AA to accommodate Wade Gaynor at High A Lakeland. In my mind, this will be a real challenge for Martinez, but it will also allow him to escape the FSL, which is living torture on batters.

So what should we expect out of Martinez? I'd be surprised if he broke out in a huge way, though it's certainly possible. But I would expect an above average performance that will get him recognized by more national outlets that poises him for a breakout season in 2012.

Anti-Sleeper: Wade Gaynor, 3B

The short version: Gaynor's age relative to league was good, he was Tigers minor league position player of the year and his .286/.354/.436 was a big improvement over the year before. Even his walk and strikeout rates (at 8.1% and 19.1% respectively) aren't too horrible. So what's the problem? First, I'm worried about the power production a bit- a .158 ISO isn't really great for a third baseman (that puts him on level with Casey Blake if that rate holds up in the majors.

But that really isn't my biggest concern. The scouting reports concern me insofar as Gaynor doesn't really project to stay at third base defensively, and that his bat probably won't be good enough for a starter's job. In reality, he'll probably play as a four corners reserve if he manages to make it, but the Tigers also have Nick Castellanos and Francisco Martinez ahead of him on the depth chart, which means he might not get the most optimal spots for his development. That might only hurt on the margins, but it still hurts.