First up is West Michigan in the Midwest League. Most of the talent is on the pitching side, and the entire roster can be found here:
Guys to watch:
2B Javier Betancourt- Betancourt is one of my favorites in the system. An 18 year old being challenged with an advanced assignment, I predicted that WMI would be his destination this offseason. The Tigers often like to challenge players who have an advanced skill set and maturity level, and Betancourt absolutely falls into that category. Full season ball will be a test for him, but he's definitely going to hold his own, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him exceed at the Low-A level. He's on the rise in the system for sure, and I'm certain that he'll be in the Tigers top 10 come mid season.
2B Harold Castro- this is an interesting case. Castro was held back originally in EST, and was only called up when Schotts hit the DL. Betancourt looks to be the every day 2B, so I'm curious how the Tigers will handle the Castro situation. He's young, and it's clear he can hit, but their handling of him so far has been odd to say the least. It seems like there may be some off the field stuff at play here, but I'd expect to see Castro DH and play 2B, while Betancourt mans SS or 3B every once in awhile, or DH's. His playing time may be spare again, but I really want to see what happens when he gets every day reps.
UTL Dominic Ficociello- a heralded prep player, Ficociello was selected in the 12th round of last year's entry draft. He's got the ability to hit from both sides of the plate, and isn't a 1B only prospect, even though he'll see some time there. He's athletic enough to play 2B or 3B, and may be able to handle the OF as well. The MWL is a tough league to hit, and he's still age appropriate, so keep an eye on Fico to see if the power develops.
CF Austin Schotts- Schotts is looking for a bounce back campaign from his 2013 season, where it's certain that he didn't perform up to his capabilities. Already on the DL for a hammy, it's important that Schotts grabs every day reps and can show he's able to make adjustments. I'm interested to see how he handles the MWL at the plate in his second stint. He can certainly run and play defense at this point, but the hit tool lags a bit behind.
OF Ben Verlander- after a nice showing in Connecticut last year, Verlander is going to get full time reps in a corner OF spot for WMI this season. He's got an athletic build with a bit of pop, but is going to have to continue to crush the ball in order to solidify his status on the prospect radar. I see him as more of an extra OF long term, so long as he continues to hit.
SP Jon Crawford- in a somewhat surprising move, Crawford was placed in West Michigan for the beginning part of the season. As an advanced college arm heralding from Florida, I would have guessed that he'd be placed there. I'm interested to see if the velocity of old returns for Crawford, who was 91-94 in his first start. In college, he sat in the 93-96 range, and those extra couple of ticks will help determine whether or not he's a mid rotation starter or a bullpen piece long term.
SP Buck Farmer- another selection from last year's draft, he may be short for West Michigan (along with a couple of others) due to his advanced repertoire. His control/command profile looks to be too much for young hitters, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him in Lakeland sooner rather than later.
SP Kevin Ziomek- like farmer, he should have no problem carving up these young hitters. Ziomek works in the 89-92 range, and I'd like to see his velocity return a tick, with some increased focus on the development of his change up. The curve ball is already big league average, maybe even a small tick above, and if he can repeat his delivery, he's got a big league future.
RP Montreal Robertson- the writing was on the wall that Robertson needed to be placed in the pen, and this is a good decision. He can run it up into the mid 90s, and can focus on developing his second pitch. The change up shows flashes, and the curveball lags well behind. He plays with a cutter, but will need a go to second pitch for the arsenal.
SP Jeff Thompson- a big, strong dude, I'm interested to see how Jeff responds to his full season workload. He may be in WMI the entire year, but that's not a big deal. Let the big man throw innings and see what happens.
RP Zac Reininger- an interesting spec arm, Reininger has a low, riding FB in the low 90s with a command profile. He's a slinger from a 3/4 arm angle, and a decent curveball to boot. As he fills out, he may add another tick, and should be a potential swing man type, or 7th inning arm.