Despite missing a few key players on their 25-man roster, the Detroit Tigers have managed to stay afloat in the suddenly rough-and-tumble American League Central Division. One of only two divisions with three teams over .500 (the other being the NL Central), the AL Central would send two teams to the Wild Card game if the season ended today. The Tigers currently sit three games back of the Kansas City Royals, who are a half game ahead of the surprising Minnesota Twins.
This is a rosier outlook than most are taking at this point, however. The Tigers dropped their third straight game to the Los Angeles Angels last night, falling to 2-4 on their current west coast road trip. Since taking two of three from the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this month, the Tigers are just 5-8, including a home series loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, who have the worst record in baseball. The offense isn't hitting, the starting pitching has been problematic at times, and the baserunning is quickly becoming an issue.
There are no easy answers for what ails the Tigers, but we still have a few mailbag questions that have trickled in recently. Be sure to send us your questions on Facebook, on Twitter, or via email at email@example.com!
I'm an awful gambler, but I would set Rondon's line at 25 innings. I think that the Tigers will call him up to the majors within the next week, provided he is healthy. Rondon has an electric arsenal that few other pitchers in the game have, and the Tigers are hopefully that he can harness his command enough to be effective at the major league level. We saw flashes of this in 2013, when he held opponents to a 2.29 ERA and 3.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the second half. I have doubts that Rondon will be a major factor this season, but the Tigers won't be reckless with him coming off of Tommy John surgery.
Personally, I would like to see the Tigers option Rondon to Toledo. The bullpen has been performing well of late, leaving little need for Rondon at the moment. The 24-year-old righthander has not looked particularly great during his rehab assignment, with four runs allowed in 3 1/3 innings so far. Unfortunately, I don't think the Tigers see things the same way. My guess is that Angel Nesbitt gets sent down when Rondon is ready for big league action.
The Tigers were aggressive with Hill, promoting him to Single-A West Michigan in his first full professional season. At 19 years old, Hill is one of the youngest players in the Midwest League. Analysts and scouts raved about his glove when he was drafted, but Hill's offense is currently lagging behind. He is hitting just .206/.271/.241 in 156 plate appearances this season, a .512 OPS.
As bad as Hill's numbers look on the surface, however, it's far from panic time. He is facing pitchers several years older than him on a daily basis, and, as a California native, is probably playing in cold weather for the first time in his life. Despite the new environment, Hill is drawing walks at an 8.3 percent rate. This isn't as high as you would like to see from someone with his skill set -- think Austin Jackson, hopefully with fewer strikeouts -- but it's a sign that he is still seeing the ball fairly well. Hill has been very productive on the basepaths once he gets there, stealing 16 bases in 19 attempts.
One player worth keeping an eye on is Hill's teammate, third baseman Zach Shepherd. An unheralded amateur free agent signee out of Australia, Shepherd is also 19 years old. He has been much more impressive at the plate thus far, hitting .277/.343/.415 with a pair of home runs in 182 plate appearances. Shepherd has 14 doubles on the season, tied for fourth in the league. His defense is a bit of a question mark, and he may end up moving to the outfield at some point, but he will start to shoot up the Tigers' prospect rankings if he keeps hitting.
The Tigers have one of the weaker farm systems in baseball, but that doesn't mean that they are completely devoid of young talent. The Tigers have gotten 1.1 WAR from players who did not begin the season on the Opening Day roster, a solid number considering they are less than one-third of the way through the season. This WAR total includes Kyle Lobstein, who has made eight starts after Justin Verlander was placed on the disabled list on April 8.
The Tigers have gotten an additional 0.7 WAR from homegrown products James McCann (0.5 WAR), Nick Castellanos (0.1 WAR), and Angel Nesbitt (0.1 WAR). However, their production has nearly been cancelled out by Hernan Perez, who has been worth -0.6 WAR in just 31 plate appearances this season.
Baseball Reference's version of WAR isn't as kind to the Tigers. The same group of players in the table above have been worth just 0.6 rWAR this year.
@BYBRob who might the Tigers take with their first two picks?— Regular Chips (@GoddTill) May 28, 2015
Trying to predict any professional sports draft is a challenge, but projecting the MLB draft takes a special brand of crazy. The draft is too deep, the talent pool is too broad, and there are too many factors at play to have any guess at what player a team will take, even on the first day of the draft. The only thing we can go on is previous history.
Luckily, the Tigers have been relatively predictable in this regard. We all know that they love power college arms, and there are a number of those in this year's draft. Experts have already linked the Tigers with righthanders Kyle Funkhouser and Walker Buehler, while James Kaprielian and Nate Kirby also fit that mold. Duke righthander Michael Matuella is another name to look out for, as MLB Network analysts compared him to former Tigers pitcher Doug Fister. Originally projected as a potential No. 1 overall pick, Matuella may drop to the late first round after having Tommy John surgery in April.
College arms aren't their only draw, though. The Tigers have spent several early round picks on top high school talent in Dave Dombrowski's tenure, including first round picks Rick Porcello, Jacob Turner, Nick Castellanos, and Derek Hill. Brady Aiken, last year's No. 1 overall pick, could drop to the Tigers after having Tommy John surgery this spring. There are a number of prep players that will also be available at that point, including Brother Rice star outfielder Nick Plummer.