Earlier this year, we introduced a new method for selecting the top prospects in the Tigers' farm system. Over the past six weeks, you have voted in a number of polls while we counted down (or up) the Tigers' prospect rankings. Some votes were close, others were a complete landslide. Now, we have our definitive list of the top 20 Tigers prospects for the 2015 season.
1. Steven Moya, outfielder
Moya might be as divisive of a prospect the Tigers have had in a long time. Blessed with prodigious raw power, Moya started to put things together in 2014. He hit .276/.306/.555 with 35 home runs and 105 RBI in 549 plate appearances at Double-A Erie. The Eastern League might be the most hitter-friendly level that Tigers prospects see, but Moya's performance was still impressive. He does have issues, though. The Tigers have already said that he needs to work on his plate discipline and pitch recognition, one of the reasons why he played in the Arizona Fall League this year. With Yoenis Cespedes now on the roster, expect Moya to spend most of 2015 at Triple-A.
2. James McCann, catcher
McCann might be the newest darling of the Tigers' fanbase. Many fans clamored for him to platoon with Alex Avila during the second half of 2014, and it's hard to blame them. McCann hit .295/.343/.427 with seven home runs and 54 RBI in his first trip to Triple-A Toledo, including an .865 OPS in 144 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. McCann didn't get many opportunities to showcase his skills in a September call-up, but all signs point toward 2015 being a dress rehearsal for the 24-year-old McCann taking the starting job in 2016.
3. Derek Hill, outfielder
The trendy pick as the organization's top prospect by just about everyone, Hill was selected in the first round of the 2014 draft. He was a high school outfielder out of California, and has already drawn comparisons to Torii Hunter for his defensive prowess. Already one of the best defensive outfielders in the organization, Hill split 197 plate appearances between the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn Leagues in 2014. He hit .208/.296/.295 with two home runs, and stole 11 bases in 13 attempts. Hill may start 2014 at Single-A West Michigan, but a repeat of short season ball wouldn't be surprising.
4. Kevin Ziomek, left-handed pitcher
Ziomek was the Tigers' second round pick in 2013, and the Vanderbilt product put together a sharp season in 2014. The 22 year old tossed 123 innings at Single-A West Michigan, striking out 152 batters while walking 53. His 2.27 ERA led the staff, and his 2.98 FIP was nearly as good. While he was age appropriate for the Midwest League, this kind of dominance isn't surprising for someone who thrived in the SEC during college. This could be a make-or-break season for Ziomek's prospect stock, and it wouldn't be shocking to see a mid-season promotion to the high minors if things are going well.
5. Tyler Collins, outfielder
Collins gave Tigers fans a brief glimpse of his talents in 2014, hitting a monster home run in his first at-bat after being called up on September 1st. He made the Tigers' roster out of spring training last season, but only appeared in seven games before being sent down to Triple-A Toledo. Collins made the most out of his demotion, hitting .263/.335/.423 with 18 home runs and 62 RBI in his first year at the Triple A level. Collins will lose prospect eligibility when he turns 25 next season, but he will likely graduate prior to his birthday as a backup outfielder in 2015.
6. Buck Farmer, right-handed pitcher
The 2014 season was a big one for Farmer. He ranked 29th on our prospect list last season, but an excellent first half at Single-A West Michigan led to a quick progression to the high minors and a pair of starts for the Tigers. He wasn't quite as strong in the second half, but it's hard to blame him. After being promoted -- and skipping Advanced-A Lakeland, no less -- Farmer made trips from Erie to Detroit to Toledo to Detroit to Toledo to Detroit. And that was just August. Farmer was a fifth round pick out of Georgia Tech in 2013, and will be 24-years-old in 2015.
7. Drew VerHagen, right-handed pitcher
As yet another big right-handed starter from the SEC, VerHagen is the blueprint for what the Tigers look for on draft day. They selected him out of Vanderbilt with the 154th overall pick in the 2012 draft, and he worked quickly through the lower levels of the system. VerHagen spent most of 2014 at Triple-A Toledo, where he allowed a 3.67 ERA and 3.70 FIP in 110 1/3 innings. He made his MLB debut as well, allowing three runs in five innings against the Cleveland Indians. His season was cut short by a stress fracture in his lower back, and he should split time between Toledo and Detroit again in 2015. Baseball Prospectus ranked VerHagen the seventh-best prospect in the system prior to the 2014 season.
8. Austin Kubitza, right-handed pitcher
The Tigers' fourth round draft pick in 2013, Kubitza was one of four West Michigan Whitecaps starters to post a sub-3.00 ERA last season. He tied for the team lead in wins, led the team in innings, and had the second-best ERA behind Kevin Ziomek. Kubitza doesn't possess the velocity that most Tigers pitching prospects do, but his fastball -- which tops out around 90 miles per hour -- generates a ton of weak contact. Prospect evaluators are all over the map when it comes to assessing his potential, with MLB.com pushing him all the way up to third in the Tigers' system.
9. Kyle Lobstein, left-handed pitcher
Frankly, I didn't realize that Lobstein was still considered a prospect. Tigers fans are well aware of the left-hander's talents after he allowed a 4.35 ERA in 39 1/3 innings down the stretch in 2014. Lobstein doesn't have the physical talents of many of the other pitchers in the system, so his addition to the poll is timely. A former 2nd round pick, the 25 year old Lobstein should slot into Toledo's rotation and be one of the first call-ups if a starter is needed in 2015.
10. Dixon Machado, shortstop
A defensive wizard at shortstop with a cannon for an arm, Machado possesses a wiry frame that led to almost zero power at the plate. He is still very thin, but Machado finally flashed some offensive muscle last year, hitting .305/.391/.442 with 23 doubles in 342 plate appearances at Double-A Erie. Now expected to start the season at Triple-A Toledo, the soon-to-be 23-year-old Machado could start to turn heads with another solid offensive season. Expect the Tigers to showcase him at every opportunity in 2015, especially if he continues to get on base consistently.
11. Grayson Greiner, catcher
A massive catcher out of South Carolina -- think Joe Mauer tall -- Greiner's defense is his calling card. Normally, six-foot-six catchers are moved to other positions, but Greiner displays solid athleticism and good receiving skils, leading many to believe he will stick at the position. He doesn't have the bat to play elsewhere at the moment, but he may yet add some power onto his massive frame. He has a long swing, but a good approach at the plate. The bat will determine how high Greiner's stock rises, but an .839 OPS in 104 plate appearances at West Michigan in 2014 is a good start.
12. Hernan Perez, infielder
It seems like Perez has been around forever, but the right-handed infielder is still only 23-years-old. Perez signed with the Tigers out of Venezuela in 2007 and slowly progressed his way through the minor league system. He made his MLB debut in 2012, but has only seen action in 44 games. His rookie eligibility expired in 2014, but most still consider him a prospect due to his young age and relative inexperience. He most likely projects to be a utility infielder -- and may fill that role for the Tigers in 2015, given his lack of remaining minor league options -- but some still believe Perez has the chops to be an MLB starter one day.
13. Kyle Ryan, left-handed pitcher
Ryan had one of the more underrated MLB debuts for the Tigers in recent memory, tossing six shutout innings in a pivotal late season matchup against a divisional opponent in a tight pennant race. A left-hander with a delivery that is impossible to describe without the word "funk," Ryan relies on deception to be effective. He projects to be a fringe starter, but hit 94 miles per hour with his fastball in a few relief appearances with the Tigers last September. If his stuff truly plays up in the bullpen, he could make a nice career as a full-time reliever.
14. Angel Nesbitt, right-handed pitcher
Nesbitt had a breakout year in 2014, allowing a 1.48 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 66 2/3 innings between Advanced-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie. Reports indicate that he finally showed an increase in fastball velocity, rising up into the high 90s at times. A prototypical fastball-slider power reliever, Nesbitt's strikeout numbers increased as he started throwing more smoke. Nesbitt was added to the 40-man roster this winter after going unprotected in last year's Rule 5 draft, and should make his MLB debut in 2015 barring a setback.
15. Edgar De La Rosa, right-handed pitcher
If you think Steven Moya is a big guy, De La Rosa might be even larger. Measuring at 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, De La Rosa is an imposing presence on the mound. He became more imposing in 2014, pumping mid-to-high 90s fastballs at hitters in the Advanced-A Florida State League. Yes, "at." He hit 11 batters in 2014 and walked 53 batters in a career high 139 innings. His strikeout rate isn't as high as some would expect given his velocity, and many believe a transition to the bullpen is in his future. If the Tigers decide to move him to the pen, he could be a quick riser through the system.
16. Javier Betancourt, second baseman
Betancourt is what many would call a "gamer." He doesn't have superstar potential, but gets the most out of his physical tools with great instincts and a high baseball IQ. He doesn't have the arm to play shortstop or the bat to play third base, but has a good feel for the strike zone and doesn't strike out often. He hit .269 at Single-A West Michigan last season, but slugged just .344. However, as a 19 year old, that's fairly impressive. His upside is limited, and it may be another year or two until we see what exactly the Tigers have in Betancourt.
17. Spencer Turnbull, right-handed pitcher
The Tigers drafted Turnbull out of the University of Alabama in the second round of the 2014 draft. A six foot, three inch right-hander, Turnbull's fastball can reach the mid-90s. However, his secondary pitches are somewhat lacking, and he profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter even if he gets the slider and changeup working. He spent most of 2014 at short season Connecticut, where he allowed a 4.45 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 28 1/3 innings. Now 22, expect Turnbull to start 2015 at Single-A West Michigan.
18. Joe Jimenez, right-handed pitcher
Originally from Puerto Rico, Jimenez went undrafted in 2013 thanks to some exorbitant salary demands. The Tigers signed him as an undrafted free agent and quickly moved the promising right-hander to a bullpen role. While the move to the pen seems puzzling given Jimenez's age and raw potential, it seems to have paid off so far. He has allowed a 1.81 ERA in 44 2/3 professional innings, and is currently impressing in winter ball. Fans on the west side of the state should get their first glimpse of Jimenez in 2015, as he will likely move up to Single-A West Michigan.
19. Endrys Briceno, right-handed pitcher
Briceno was a trendy pick to become one of the breakout stars of the Tigers' farm system prior to the 2014 season. We ranked him fourth on our prospect countdown last season, and many others were similarly bullish. Instead, Briceno only pitched 16 innings and underwent Tommy John surgery during the summer. Don't expect the soon-to-be 23 year old to do much pitching this season, but a loose, easy pitching motion and mid-90s fastball make him a potential mid-rotation starter if everything breaks right. Unfortunately, that "if" became a lot bigger after last year's setback, but Briceno could still have a big league future ahead of him if the velocity returns.
20. Joey Pankake, third baseman
The Tigers don't have many true bat-first prospects with power projection, and the few that they have are currently blocked by a future Hall of Famer. Then, there's 2014 draft pick Joey Pankake. A seventh round pick with an 80-grade name, Pankake (yes, it's pronounced like you think) hit .294/.345/.400 in short season ball. His defense is a question mark, and most believe he will end up in left field. If he can somehow stick at third base and continue hitting in full-season ball, he should shoot up the Tigers' prospect rankings in 2016.