Phew. We're in the home stretch. I really dragged this last one out, huh? Same rules apply as usual. In case you missed it, here are the links to the other parts of the top 30:
I just wanted to leave everyone with a parting note. I know that the Tigers farm system perennially ranks in the bottom quarter of baseball. However, they are extremely good at turning their prospects into usable major leaguers. That is the goal of a farm system. Just take a look at the roster right now. Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, Alex Avila, Miguel Cabrera, Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta, Andy Dirks, and Austin Jackson were all acquired using guys from within the system, or came from within the system. That is the goal. Look at the Royals of a few years ago. They had 12 guys in the top 100. How did that work out? So, just remember, prospects are currency. They can be used towards major league talent, or, can produce on the field for your major league club.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the top 5 prospects currently in the Tigers organization.
5. Bruce Rondon
This is a name that most Tiger fans are quite familiar with. Bruce signed with the Tigers in September of 2007. When you're looking at the signees from this year's international prospect crop, remember, it takes between 5-7 years for these guys to reach the big leagues, and that's if they're good prospects. It could take even longer. Back to Bruce, he's a mammoth of a human. between he, Steven Moya, and Melvin Mercedes, I'm pretty sure the Tigers are, if nothing else, among the top 5 teams in giant men.
If you're not familiar with Rondon's arsenal, he features a fastball that ranges from 99-102. Seriously. 102. If you don't believe me, check out his pitch f/x from yesterday, July 8, or his player card on Brooks Baseball. His fastball average for July is 101.8. That is not slow. Reports in the minor leagues have discussed plus movement on said fastball. In the majors, I haven't seen it yet. But, once he settles in, the movement may return. He also features a 90 MPH slider, which flashes plus (how couldn't it? he throws 102) and a 92 MPH change. Seriously. A 92 MPH change up. That pitch has flashed plus, too.
Watching him in games, I am encouraged with the development of his offspeed pitches. If he is able to throw those two pitches for strikes, or even make them look like strikes, the lightning fastball will be even more effective. Rondon has dealt with bouts of wildness in the minors, and even a little bit at the major league level. He has extreme effort in his delivery, and can often lose his arm slot. His mechanics, while improved, have a long way to go before I would deem them "repeatable". Although, he's only walked 16 in 35 innings of work. For him, that's plenty good enough. He can be effective walking 4.5/9 IP.
All in all, I would like to see some more swings and misses on Rondon's offerings. In his short time at the Major League level, batters have squared him up. He's got nothing left to prove in the minors, which you can see by his numbers: 29.2 IP 14 H 13 BB 40 K .139 BAA and 1.52 ERA at Toledo this year. It's time for him to put it together in the majors. I hope the Tigers continue to use him in the 7th and 8th inning, and don't push him into the closers role until next season at the earliest. He has the potential to be a lights out closer, and a high leverage relief arm for years to come.
4. Jonathon Crawford
Shocker. The Tigers take a college arm from the SEC in the first round. Crawford attended the University of Florida, and stands 6'2 190. Since he was a first rounder, scouting reports are easily accessible on the internet. However, scouts are split whether Crawford will become a starter or a reliever. Of course, the Tigers are going to try him as a starter first, because they used a high draft choice on him.
As far as Jonathon's repertoire goes, his fastball sits mostly in the 91-94 range, yet can touch 96 or 97. He is known to maintain his velocity deep into games. His slider is his best pitch. No doubt about it. It's got two plane, tight, sharp break, and depending who you're talking to, is either a plus, or even plus plus on the scouting scale. He will throw it at any time, in any count, and typically uses it as his out pitch. His change up is a work in progress, and I'm sure that the Tigers will attempt to develop that pitch if they intend on making him a starter. He has trouble controlling it, but the pitch has the potential to become major league average.
As far as mechanics go, I'm not a huge fan of his delivery. It's stiff, rigid, and not very free flowing. He's got a short stride, which, according to Kiley McDaniel, he changed in order to become more consistent his freshman year of college. His body is maxed out, and there's no potential for any velocity addition. I would imagine that the Tigers have a few tweaks in mind for his delivery, and combining that with Crawford's high pitching IQ and success at a big time college program, he's got a good shot to become a middle of the rotation starter or high leverage reliever at the big league level.
3. Danry Vazquez
I had the privilege of seeing Danry Vasquez, while I sat on the opening series of the Whitecaps season. I came away not loving him, to be completely honest. He was bad in the field, lacked some game awareness, and looked a bit lost at the plate. However, it was really cold, and he's 19. I went in with expectations too high, and that was my fault. Therefore, it's easy to take that original series with a grain of salt. After seeing him again, and reevaluating, I came to the conclusion that Vasquez is an extremely intriguing prospect, if nothing else. He's wirey at 6'3 170, and is already relegated to a corner spot in the OF. But oh man, that swing is so, so sweet. He keeps the bat flat through the hitting zone for a really long time, especially for a teenager. Danry has also got a nice approach at the plate, evidenced by the 7.5% walk rate and only a 14% K rate (which is awesome).
Vasquez was given a 1.2 million dollar bonus out of Venezuela 3 years ago. The highest in recent memory for a Tigers prospect. He was good, but not great in the GCL in 2011, and the Tigers decided to be aggressive, as they often are, and assigned him to WMI to start last year as an 18 year old. Vasquez was overmatched, and hit .162/.218/.222, but held his own in the New York Penn college league after a demotion. This year, in his second go around in the Midwest League, Vasquez is sporting a .282/.335/.389 line, good for a .724 OPS. Overall, not huge numbers, but there are plenty of encouraging signs that Vasquez could be an every day player.
Danry is one of the few Tigers prospects with the potential to be a "role 6" player. By that, I mean an above average major leaguer. His slender frame and sweet swing makes it easy for me to project some power when his body fills out, and he has already shown signs of hitting for average. Like I said before, his fielding needs work, but he's got some athletic ability, and consistent reps in left field will only help that cause. At his absolute ceiling, I could see Vasquez hitting around .280 with somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 bombs and 35+ doubles. He's an incredibly long way away from doing that at the major league level, but has got the tools to get there.
2. Avisail Garcia
I debated putting Garcia at the top of this list. At the end of the day, I just couldn't. I love Avi's tools, but I think Castellanos' bat has the ability to be something special. While Garcia's ceiling is higher, his floor is ultimately lower than Nick's.
Avi has come a really, really long way in less than two years. In 2011 for Lakeland, Garcia hit .264/.297/.389. He walked 18 times and struck out 132. Those are crazy numbers, considering where he is now. Remember, Garcia is only 22 years old. He struggled in his last 25 PA at the MLB level, after the competition adjusted. That does not mean anything for his ultimate success, however.
Garcia is legitimately a 5 tool talent. He has put on legendary batting practice displays, shown some in game power as well, squares the ball up and hits for average, is a plus runner (I'm not debating this again), a plus defender in a corner OF spot, and has a cannon for an arm. He can impact the game without hitting.
It's evident at this point that Garcia is too good for the minors. He's hitting .463/.478/.657 in AAA so far. I think you'll see him in AAA for an extended period of time, probably for another 6 weeks of AB. Avi needs to play every day to hone his skills. The 'problem', if you want to call it that, is that AAA pitchers are not good enough to feast on his weaknesses, and he's able to mash their mistakes. The only way that Garcia is probably going to improve at this point is by taking his lumps in the majors, before ultimately adjusting and having success. The issue there is that the Tigers are not in a position to let him do that. Not only do they have a platoon going in left field right now, but, he's probably second in line for every day playing time among minor leaguers, as you'll see with the next guy on the list.
Garcia is in a weird spot right now. He's not a AAAA player, because he's 22 years old. All he can really do is continue to get better at the AAA level, and wait his turn. I'm confident that Avisail will be at the very least, a second division regular, or a first division 4th OF, because of his supplementary tools. I'm excited that a high ceiling talent has developed this much for the Tigers, and at the VERY least, will be able to bring back plenty of talent from another organization.
1. Nick Castellanos
Please do not ask me when Nick Castellanos is coming up. The answer is, I do not know. Good, now that we got that out of the way, let's talk about the Tigers top prospect.
Nick's bat is clearly the carrying tool here. However, that's fine, because the bat is really, really special. When I looked around the minor leagues this preseason, I rated Castellanos as the 4rd best pure hitter behind Tavares, Rendon, and Yelich. He's not far behind those guys, and trust me, that's elite company to be in. He's improved every single year in the minors, but to be honest, with a guy like this, stats aren't really that important. It's more the adjustments that he makes. Everyone can see a bright big league future there.
For instance, he struggled badly in Erie at the end of last year. Then, the organization promoted him to Toledo (I openly opined for him to start the season at Erie by the way) and after a slow start, he's rewarded them. Nick's .288/.363/.462 line is a far cry from his previous seasons in the minors. Castellanos has done things at Toledo that didn't show up on the stat sheet before. For instance, he's raised his walk rate 2%, which is now an excellent 11%, while lowering his K rate 5% from last year to 15.6%. The power has started to shine through as well. Nick has 11 HR, 28 2B and a triple, good for 40 XBH in all.
Why is Nick not in the major leagues you ask? The answer lies on the defensive side of the ball. Since Miguel Cabrera is going to be manning third, and Prince Fielder first for the foreseeable future, Castellanos was asked to play the outfield, where he never had played before. The transition has gone... okay. His defense in left field right now, if I had to describe it in a word, would be "meh". His defense grades somewhere along the lines of 35 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Meaning, it's a little worse than mediocre. Is it Delmon quality? Probably not. But, it would be bad enough right now where it would be noticeable. I know that Tiger fans hate to be patient, but the Dirksiasosopo platoon, in aggregate, provides about what Castellanos would, defense included. In fact, there's no guarantee that Nick would hit for a high .700's OPS, about what it would take in order to match the output of the platoon currently manning LF.
As far as Castellanos' ceiling goes, I think it's hard to imagine. At his ceiling and prime, something line .300/.375/.525 is not out of the realm of possibility. He could amass over 60 extra base hits no problem. I am not a big fan of player comps, but his numbers could look similar to someone like Billy Butler, who is a damn good hitter. I think that he will play the outfield for a couple more seasons, and hopefully, switch back to 3B, like what Chase Headley of San Diego did a couple years ago. At 3B, there is not as much pressure for the bat to play, like there is in the OF, and if Castellanos could put up a low to mid 800's OPS while playing average D at 3B, that is an impact player.
I'm anxious to see how the situation plays out, with both Castellanos and Garcia so close to being major league ready. It may not be remedied in 2013, but I think it will all shake itself out this upcoming offseason.
There you have it. By my count, those are the top 30 prospects in the Tigers organization. In case you missed any of the previous pieces of the countdown, I have included them above. I will also include a comprehensive list. As always, thanks for reading, and go Tigers!
- Jake Thompson
- De La Rosa