Throughout his minor league career, the biggest knock on Dixon Machado has been his bat. Or, more accurately, a lack thereof. The slender Machado is a career .240 hitter in 2670 minor league plate appearances with just 110 extra base hits to his name. By comparison, J.D. Martinez has 108 extra base hits in roughly one-third as many plate appearances in a Tigers uniform. Machado has displayed an advanced approach at the plate, walking 9.4 percent of the time, but his complete lack of power has hindered an otherwise stellar profile.
There is reason to believe in Machado, though. Of those 110 extra base hits in seven minor league seasons, 60 of them have come since the start of 2014. This includes 10 of Machado's 16 career home runs, all against advanced pitching in the upper minor leagues. Machado hit .286/.375/.404 between two levels last season, including an .832 OPS in 342 plate appearances at Double-A Erie. The promotion didn't hinder his eye, as he walked in 11.9 percent of his trips to the plate.
This year, Machado's production has fallen off a bit. He is batting .253/.306/.321 in 477 plate appearances with Triple-A Toledo, and has a .503 OPS since July 1. His power has regressed to its previous level, with a .068 ISO despite four home runs. A drop in walk rate may be the most concerning sign of all, though. Machado is walking just 6.5 percent of the time this year, including three walks in 62 August plate appearances. It's far from the end of the world -- Machado is still only 23, after all -- but the drop-off in production as the season progresses is not good. He has always had the glove to play at the major league level, but the Tigers will need to see more progress at the plate in 2016 before he threatens for any big league playing time.
Double-A Erie: Michael Fulmer, RHP
It's pretty obvious that the Tigers' newest top pitching prospect is too good for Double-A ball. Since arriving in Detroit's system, Fulmer has logged 12 2/3 scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts and just seven hits allowed. Including his last two outings with the Binghamton Mets, Fulmer has not allowed a run in his last four starts. He has a 1.64 ERA in 17 Double-A starts this season, and opponents are batting just .220/.274/.311 against him. His 3.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio is equally impressive, and at 22 years old, he's still younger than most of the players in the Eastern League. Only 51 of the 419 batters he has faced this year have been younger than him, and this includes a start in the Advanced-A Florida State League to begin the season.
The scouting reports match up with Fulmer's gaudy stat line. TigsTown's Mark Anderson put plus grades on Fulmer's fastball and slider, and projects him as a potential mid-rotation starter as early as midseason 2016. The only blemish on Fulmer's résumé at this point is his injury history. Fulmer has dealt with elbow, knee, and back ailments throughout his young career, and the 2015 season is the first time he has been able to stay healthy for an extended period of time. Given these early durability concerns, the Tigers would be wise to slow-play Fulmer's development by starting him in Triple-A Toledo for the 2016 season. However, I wouldn't be surprised if Fulmer continues his current trajectory and forces his way onto the major league roster with an early season call-up.
Photo Credit: Emily Waldon / Bless You Boys
Single-A West Michigan: Joe Jimenez, RHP
"Why is Joe Jimenez still at West Michigan?"
This is the first question that pops into anyone's head when they see Jimenez's stat line. The 20-year-old righthander is absolutely dominating the Midwest League, holding opponents to a 1.50 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 34 appearances. The poor souls that step in against Jimenez's high-90s heat are hitting just .164/.223/.258, and have struck out more than five times as often as they have walked. In fact, Jimenez has nearly twice as many strikeouts (53) as baserunners allowed (31).
So why is Jimenez still pitching for the Whitecaps? I posed this question to John Moore, author of our midseason top prospects list and a contributor at TigsTown and Minor League Ball, and his answer was simple: fastball command. Jimenez, like many other young flamethrowers, is able to dominate the lower levels of the minor leagues with his plus stuff, but the overall product doesn't look as good as his stat line suggests. In an in-depth scouting report for TigsTown, Moore indicated that Jimenez's fastball command and slider control both needed work.
Sure, Jimenez could do that just as well at Advanced-A Lakeland -- where he would probably still put up dominant numbers -- but there's something to be said for keeping the youngster in Grand Rapids. For one, the Whitecaps are in the middle of the playoff race, providing a level of excitement and adrenaline that won't be replicated in Lakeland this season. Learning to pitch in these situations is important for Jimenez's development if he is to ever close out games at the big league level. Also, at just 20 years old, Jimenez still has plenty of years in baseball ahead of him. Moving him up a level this season won't expedite his development all that much, and he could still be ready for big league action in 2017.
Advanced-A Lakeland: Endrys Briceno, RHP
Oh, what could have been. Endrys Briceno, a lanky Venezuelan righthander, entered the 2014 season with as much potential as any starter in the Tigers' (admittedly weak) minor league system. With a mid-90s fastball that many described as "easy gas," Briceno was a secondary pitch or two from shooting up the Tigers' minor league rankings. Instead of a breakout season, however, Briceno just broke. He underwent Tommy John surgery last July, ending his season.
Now 23 years old and still very raw, Briceno's development window is closing quickly. He still possesses that mid-90s heat (as observed by TigsTown's James Chipman), but his secondary stuff lags far behind. Briceno's changeup is his second-best offering, but without a breaking ball to match, he will struggle to stay in the starting rotation for much longer. Briceno's return to action has gone relatively well, with a 3.41 ERA and 3.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 29 innings, but his command has faltered in four starts for Advanced-A Lakeland. The lofty upside is still there, but Briceno's future more likely rests in the bullpen, if in the major leagues at all.