Everybody knows the Tigers tend to move their prospects quickly. Some say it's rushing. Some say it's seeing how they respond to challenges. Regardless, professional baseball is chock full of Tiger players who are young for their level. Rick Porcello, for example, is in his third full season as a major leaguer and he's still one of the youngest players in the American League. So as I've done once already this season, let's take a look at the Tiger minor leaguers who are particularly young for the level where they're playing.
Jacob Turner, 5/21/91, SP, Throws: Right
113.2 IP, 102 H, 9 HR, 90 K, 32 BB
Turner's listed stats are with Erie and don't include his start in Detroit. As for that list about the youngest players in each league? Turner was on it - for the Eastern League. So a kid who was among the youngest players in Double A has now made his MLB debut and been assigned to Toledo. Now do people see why I don't really think the Tigers are handling him with kid gloves?
Matt Hoffman, 11/18/88, RP, Throws: Left
47 IP, 48 H, 3 HR, 35 K, 22 BB
Baseball America, in July, did a list of the ten youngest players in each of the full season leagues. Hoffman's name popped up on that list for the International League. His name also is likely to show up on list of the Tigers' promising relief prospects, as he has a good fastball and strong ground ball tendencies (57 GB% in 2011).
Jose Ortega, 10/12/88, RP, Throws: Right
35.2 IP, 42 H, 3 HR, 32 K, 22 BB
Ortega's name came up on the same BA list as Hoffman. It's good the Tigers have confidence in him, but a lot of the progress he made with walks last season seems to have stayed in Erie. He's also being dogged by the same problems we noticed last season. He gives up a lot of hits and doesn't get a lot of strikeouts despite a blazing fastball. BA said that heat came in straight and flat and he threw it too often. Are the numbers above simply the result of him still working through the same problems?
The SeaWolves are short on young talent now that Turner has been promoted and Francisco Martinez was traded to Seattle. Drew Smyly is now the youngest player on the team and he just doesn't seem particularly young for the league at 22. That doesn't mean it's not impressive to find him earning a spot in the Double A rotation in his first pro season of ball.
Avisail Garcia, 6/12/91, RF, Bats: R
413 PA, .268/.305/.369, 16 BB, 106 K, .311 wOBA
If you go by wOBA, an all-encompassing measure of offensive production, Garcia has held the same level of production he saw last season in the Midwest League. Considering his youth relative to the league, that could be considered an accomplishment. The problem lies in the fact that it's still not good production and it's very reliant on his batting average. Without significant strides in his plate discipline, he'll need to keep finding a way to hit for both average and power. That's not going to be easy if he's striking out seven times more than he walks since that usually means you're not being selective with pitches.
Daniel Fields, 1/23/91, CF, Bats: L
405 PA, .219/.302/.329, 36 BB, 113 K, .293 wOBA
During the offseason, I was beating the drum and yelling that Fields managing average production in the Florida State League at 19 was a major accomplishment. I still think that's true, but that doesn't change the fact that his major regression in 2011 is a problem. He's striking out at the same high rate, walking less, hitting for less power and not getting as many hits as he did last year.
That's alarming for a player who seemed like one of the system's better position prospects heading into the season. It also will make his 2012 assignment difficult to gauge. It doesn't seem like a promotion is a good idea, but that would lead to a third straight season at the same level. Again, alarming.
Nick Castellanos, 3/4/92, 3B, Bats: R
437 PA, .307/.356/.441, 30 BB, 103 K, .360 wOBA
If you don't like the Tigers' tendency to advance players quickly, you're not going to like the fact that players like Castellanos are doing nothing to discourage it. After a rough April, he's hit over .300 every month since, with stretches where it's seemed like he doubles every day. The walks are also becoming less of a problem as a K:BB ratio that had been up around five is down to something closer to three. If he was the Tigers' top position prospect coming into the season, he's only distanced himself from his closest competition.
Dixon Machado, 2/22/92, SS, Bats: R
375 PA, .239/.306/.254, 30 BB, 58 K, .239 wOBA
This is a less promising development than Castellanos' story for the season. Machado has hit for almost literally no power this season, as just three of his 80 hits on the season have left him standing somewhere other than first base. It's encouraging that he's at least putting the ball in play and taking some walks, but he's going to need to put some more leverage behind that swing to go anywhere. As you might expect, he has shown good speed, stealing 18 bases in 22 tries.
Josue Carreno, 6/26/91, RHP
103.2 IP, 114 H, 7 HR, 91 K, 35 BB
Carreno moved up from his 2010 assignment in the NY-Penn league, where Baseball America tabbed him as one of the league's top twenty prospects. His peripherals this season have been much better than his 5-10 record and 5.30 ERA would suggest. His team high strikeout total has him in the league's top twenty in that category while keeping a respectable walk total. With the stuff to get him mentioned as a true prospect, including a fastball that approaches the mid-90s, that's a good base for further success.
Kyle Ryan, 9/25/91, LHP
115.1 IP, 128 H, 3 HR, 74 K, 27 BB
Ryan was the Tigers' 12th round pick last season and has performed well as a solid member of the Whitecaps' rotation. The lefty has been able to keep able to keep the ball in the yard while putting up nearly three times as many Ks as walks. The strikeout rate isn't great, though, so we'll have to see how his stuff plays once he moves away from Grand Rapids' friendly confines.
Steven Moya, 9/8/91, OF, Bats: L
249 PA, .197/.225/.360, 9 BB, 91 K, .263 wOBA
Moya is exactly the kind of player whom people will point to if they take issue with the Tigers' philosophy of moving players quickly. He didn't do well in the GCL last season and his being tossed in at this level has been a nightmare in 2011. Aside from power that's well above average, both in terms of tools and in-game performance, there's been little to like. Frankly, his numbers certainly suggest he's been overmatched by Midwest League pitchers. You might point out he's hit three homers since July 28, but in that stretch he's still just 8 for 29 with one walk and seven strikeouts.
Let me just say I don't perform this type of exercise for any kind of conclusive evidence of determining whether the Tigers' detractors are right or wrong. There are probably players who could have benefitted from a more conservative approach, but there are also players who would have suffered, too.
In April, people were probably lamenting Castellanos being placed in West Michigan. It's obviously worked out better than if he had not started playing games until the middle of June when the GCL and Connecticut start. Francisco Martinez's stock likely rose dramatically when he enjoyed success in Double A at 20 years old, and that allowed the Tigers to use him as the main piece of a trade that could net them an important piece of their rotation for the next four years. Whether we like it or not, that makes him just as valuable to the Tigers as he would've been as a prospect who earned a shot with the Tigers.
I don't see a whole lot of results here that suggest to me the Tigers are doing any damage placing these players where they are. The ones who are struggling seem to be doing so with problems they were previously known to have. The ones who aren't struggling greatly raise their stock as prospects and the Tigers have shown they are willing to reward that success with chances to prove themselves further.
I'll be the first to admit the Tigers seem to have some problems somewhere in their player development process. They're either not doing a great job of picking talents or something they're doing is stalling the progress of great talents. But if there is something wrong with what they're doing, I don't see anything in the players above that suggest it's the result of pushing these players too aggressively.