Neither deal was a home run like the David Price trade, but dealing for prospects is always a bit of a gamble. The Detroit Tigers have long been criticized for a conservative approach when evaluating amateur and minor league talent, opting for "high-floor" players over those with boom-or-bust potential.
When flipping Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria to contenders at this year's MLB trade deadline, however, the Tigers bucked their trend. Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa, both received from the New York Mets in the Cespedes deal, are a pair of right-handed pitchers close to the majors, but both have the potential to be more than the fringe starters currently littered around the upper reaches of the Tigers' minor league system. JaCoby Jones, the return in the Joakim Soria trade, is the only position player the Tigers added this week. A remarkable athlete, he has the potential to be a super-utility player with power if everything clicks.
While Tigers fans were hoping to land Zack Wheeler in the Yoenis Cespedes trade, Michael Fulmer was the true lynchpin of the deal. Bob Nightengale of the USA Today reported that the Tigers were insistent on getting Fulmer, a sandwich round pick out of high school in the 2011 draft. He was impressive in his full-season debut in 2012, holding opponents to a 2.74 ERA and 2.66 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was limited to just 46 innings in an injury-shortened 2013 season, and struggled in 20 starts in 2014.
Fulmer had elbow surgery last offseason, delaying his 2015 debut until late April. Amazin' Avenue labeled Fulmer the No. 20 prospect in the Mets organization prior to the year.
The bloom is off the prospect rose for the former first-rounder with one-time aspirations to complement the likes of Harvey, Wheeler, and Syndergaard. Staying healthy has been a serious bugaboo for the 21-year-old Fulmer who has already dealt with concerns over his knee, shoulder, and elbow during his short professional career. The stuff hasn't developed to the level that many hoped from the high ceiling prep draftee; however, there is still enough there for a potential bounceback in a return trip to Binghamton in 2015. At this point a career in relief seems very likely."
Finally healthy, Fulmer has launched himself back into the starter conversation with a dominant performance at Double-A Binghamton. He has allowed a 1.88 ERA and 2.61 FIP in 86 innings, holding opponents to a .227 batting average and .281 on-base percentage. Amazin' Avenue took notice, moving him up to eighth in the organization in their midseason rankings.
Fulmer has attributed his resurgence to finally being healthy for the first time in a couple years and it's showing up not just in his results but also in his stuff. Over this run of dominance Fulmer has been sitting in the mid-90s with the fastball, flashing a sharp slider and a plus change, the combination of which has been overwhelming for Double-A hitters. The Mets have a fantastic track record of developing hard throwing pitching prospects over the past couple years so it wouldn't surprise me if Fulmer was pitching in the majors in some capacity this time in 2016.
ESPN's Keith Law ($) was very complimentary of the trade from the Tigers' perspective, indicating that Fulmer was a top-five Mets prospect and a top-100 guy overall in his eyes. Law detailed Fulmer's arsenal as a mid-90s fastball "with a plus slider and solid-average changeup...and the ability to spin a curveball." Minor League Ball's John Sickels agreed, calling Fulmer a potential No. 3 starter if he can withstand a starter's workload.
Fangraphs' Kiley McDaniel didn't weigh in on Fulmer or Cessa after the trade deadline, and his preseason summary of Fulmer's prospect stock is sure to throw some water on the fire (especially after a player comp Tigers fans are all-too-familiar with).
His low-80’s curveball is above average to plus and his high-80’s slider/cutter is also above average while his high-80’s changeup is fringy. Fulmer’s delivery is higher effort with a spinoff to first base and he’s had a torn meniscus in his knee in 2013, so, despite improving command, it seems likely that he’ll end up his relief at some point. The stuff, frame, command and knee issues are all similar to Joba Chamberlain and that may be what Fulmer’s career ends up looking like.
While some are high on Matt Boyd after a recent breakout, Fulmer is the second-best prospect the Tigers received at this year's trade deadline. He has the typical build and velocity of a Tigers pitching prospect, but doesn't have the command issues that so many others in their farm system do. Fulmer will make his debut with the Double-A Erie SeaWolves on Tuesday, and will likely spend the rest of the season there before competing for a rotation spot in 2016.
Originally signed as an infielder out of Mexico in 2008, Cessa couldn't crack the Mendoza line in two seasons in the Dominican Summer League. He transitioned to the mound in 2010 and started to impress quickly. Cessa posted a 2.49 ERA in the New York-Penn League in 2012 and a 3.12 ERA in the Sally League in 2013, with 168 strikeouts to 32 walks in 202 1/3 combined innings. Cessa's ERA took a hit in High-A ball in 2014, but he still maintained a 3.07 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 114 2/3 innings.
Fangraphs' Kiley McDaniel weighted in on Cessa prior to the season, and while Cessa has performed well at Double-A, the consensus on his future hasn't changed much.
The 6’3/190 righty will run it up to 96 mph early in starts but would settle around 90 mph. His curveball is ahead of his slider and he also has a changeup is good at times, all flashing average to slightly above for scouts, with the ultimate fit likely a multi-inning swing man or middle reliever. He’ll head to Double-A next season and may still pitch as a starter to get the innings to develop his stuff.
There may be hope for more, though. Cessa allowed a 2.56 ERA and a 2.67 FIP in 13 starts with the Double-A Binghamton Mets, prompting a quick promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas. His ERA jumped to 8.51 in five starts for the 51s, but the 51s' home stadium, Cashman Field, is a hellish environment for pitchers. Cessa still posted 24 strikeouts to just four walks in 24 1/3 innings before the trade. Fangraphs' Nathaniel Stoltz has seen Cessa pitch this season, and is becoming more confident that the 23-year-old may stick in a major league rotation.
When I saw him last month, he worked at 91-95 mph, touching 96, holding that velocity deep into the game and spotting the pitch consistently to all four quadrants of the zone. His 81-83 mph changeup has become his out pitch, with big speed separation and sink that can get both lefties and righties out in front and over the top of the ball...His slurvy 79-84 mph slider is clearly his third pitch, but it has its moments, particularly in the upper end of its velocity range. Cessa’s smooth, easy delivery allows him to spot the ball well; he has consistently excelled in preventing free passes in the minors and projects for above-average command. As his proximity to the majors decreases, Cessa is emerging as a good bet to be a nice innings-eater.
ESPN's Keith Law wasn't as optimistic about Cessa's future as a starter, but praised his "plus-plus command and great feel" in his post-trade analysis. Some of Amazin' Avenue's staff writers placed Cessa anywhere from No. 11 to 20 on their midseason prospect rankings. Jeffrey Paternostro, who had Cessa 20th after laying eyes on him earlier this year, also sees him as a future reliever.
I can squint and see one of Cessa's off-speed offerings getting to major league average, but it's tough to project two of them to do so. That, combined with the effort in the mechanics and the command profile, and I see him as a reliever at the highest level. Cessa's having more success as a starter in Binghamton than Hansel Robles did, but I could see a similar track/outcome for the 23-year-old right-hander.
Even if Cessa does end up in the bullpen, the combination of a mid-90s fastball and plus command is very intriguing. His offspeed pitches lag behind more than usual due to his brief history as a pitcher, and the mixed reviews on which is the better offering suggest that he's not making a ton of progress with any of them. The Tigers will be wise to let him continue starting for the time being, but if he starts to stumble, having him focus on one offspeed pitch as a reliever may make more sense for his future.
A third round pick out of LSU in 2013, JaCoby Jones has a very diverse skill set. Praised as an exceptional athlete with plenty of tools, Jones has the ability to play both the infield and outfield. He also has solid speed and raw power, but the main question is whether his contact abilities and plate discipline will allow those others skills to shine through at the highest level. Jones impressed in the Single-A Sally League last season, batting .288/.347/.503 with 23 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 117 games played.
Fangraphs' Kiley McDaniel, like others, was complimentary of Jones' athleticism and "five o'clock power" in his preseason overview of the Pirates' farm system, and did his best to downplay Jones' strong year in A-ball.
Jones is big and has plus speed and an above average to plus arm, so the tools and athleticism are there, but I’d guess he still ends up fitting best at third base in the end. For a kid with a raw approach at the plate, Jones puts on a polished show in BP, with above average raw power to all fields and an easy swing. Jones performed well in Low-A last year, but struck out more than you’d like to see while one of the older prospects in the league; some guys can make that work at higher levels, but very few. He turns 23 in May and hasn’t played above Low-A, so the Pirates will move him quickly to Double-A if he gets off to a quick start in High-A.
Jones improved his walk rate slightly in 93 games with High-A Bradenton, but hit just .253/.313/.396 with 10 home runs in 423 plate appearances. He was promoted to Double-A anyway, where he went 5-for-10 in three games before being traded. Jones has played in three games for Double-A Erie since arriving in the Tigers system, and homered three times on Sunday afternoon.
Minor League Ball's John Moore was complimentary of Jones after the trade, but identified the same flaws others have already pointed out.
Jones was a highly thought of prospect coming out of LSU back in 2013, but the big knock on him has always been his approach at the plate, which is very raw. He becomes very pull happy at times and also struggles with pitch recognition...However, there are plenty of things to like about Jones' game right now. Jones swing looks pretty good mechanically speaking and he has good raw power to all fields. Jones is a very good athlete and his speed can be graded as plus. He's stolen 15 bases in 19 attempts this year, a nice attribute in combination with his power (10 homers).
TigsTown's Mark Anderson ($) was the most pessimistic about Jones' future, indicating that he would likely end up as a bench piece with some power. While this is a bit disappointing for a fanbase hoping to replenish its pipeline with a slew of future stars, there is still value in a player that can do multiple things off the bench. Jones' athleticism is sure to help, and the quality makeup Anderson cites is never a bad thing. It's a longshot, but he has "super utility" potential if everything clicks.