It was easy to get carried away with the hype. Steven Moya, a massive individual with surprising speed and athleticism for someone with a 6'7" frame, hit 35 home runs and drove in 105 runs in 133 games for the Erie SeaWolves last season. He has drawn rave reviews for his light-tower power, an easy 80-grade tool on par with the likes of Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers. Moya drew plenty of buzz heading into spring training as a potential addition to the Detroit Tigers' Opening Day roster after Victor Martinez fell victim to another knee injury.
Instead, Moya flopped during the spring, batting just .125 with one home run in 16 games. He was optioned to the minor leagues, and eventually ended up on the disabled list with plantar fasciitis. No matter, though. Moya resumed his 2014 form in a short rehab stint with the Lakeland Flying Tigers, batting .275 with three home runs in nine games. The jump back to Triple-A got the better of him, though. Moya hit .216 with a .257 on-base percentage in his first month with the Mud Hens, and did not homer until his 19th game in a Toledo uniform.
The home runs are still around -- Moya has 15 in 381 plate appearances -- but so are the red flags. He has drawn 21 walks, which has almost eclipsed his total of 23 from last season. He has struck out 113 times, just shy of a 30 percent strikeout rate for the year. He is not hitting for average, batting just .233 with a good-but-not-great .177 ISO. These numbers aren't great for any level, and are a big concern for a player that many considered to be the Tigers' top prospect heading into 2015.
Unless he makes some major strides at an almost unprecedented clip down the stretch, Moya's presumed place with the 2016 club is in serious doubt. We shouldn't read too far into the organization's decision to call up Tyler Collins over Moya after the Yoenis Cespedes trade -- the Tigers are still in the playoff hunt despite selling at the deadline -- but I wouldn't be surprised to see them make a major push for a free agent outfielder in the offseason.
Double-A Erie: Paul Voelker, RHP
Pitchers from Dallas Baptist University are known for one thing: power. The Patriots turn out pitchers with 95 mile-per-hour fastballs like clockwork, and Tigers farmhand Paul Voelker is no exception. A 10th round pick by the Tigers in 2014, Voelker is blazing through the farm system this season. He began the year at Single-A West Michigan, where he struck out 20 batters in 16 innings before earning an early-May call-up to Lakeland. A six-week stop in central Florida resulted in a 1.64 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 22 innings, prompting another promotion.
Voelker's overall numbers in Erie aren't very tidy, but that is largely thanks to one bad inning on July 28. The other seven of his eight outings in a SeaWolves uniform have been vintage Voelker. He has been a bit more wild since arriving in Erie, walking eight batters in his first eight innings, but command was not an issue at the lower levels. Voelker will be tested by the advanced hitters of the Eastern League the rest of the way, and it's possible (though not likely) that more scoreless innings could lead to a September call-up. With a fastball that reaches 97 miles per hour and a plus slider, Voelker could be the kind of homegrown bullpen ace that the Tigers have been missing for the past decade.
Single-A West Michigan: Michael Gerber, OF
Last season, a Whitecaps outfielder named Wynton Bernard won the Midwest League MVP Award by batting .323/.394/.442 with 42 extra base hits and 45 stolen bases in 583 plate appearances. This year, another Whitecaps outfielder, Michael Gerber, may be topping Bernard's performance. Gerber is batting .310/.372/.484 in 437 plate appearances. He doesn't have the foot speed that Bernard does, but has demonstrated a bit more power, with eight triples and 10 home runs in 102 games. He has some quickness of his own, swiping 15 bases in 18 attempts.
A 15th round pick out of Creighton in 2014, Gerber is also a little old for the Midwest League. He turned 23 in July, and has faced younger pitchers in about two-thirds of his plate appearances this season. He has also tailed off somewhat after a scalding start to the year, batting just .260 with a .317 on-base percentage since June 1. However, with a diverse skill set and some downright lethal numbers against right-handed pitchers, he's one to keep an eye on as he progresses.
Photo Credit: Emily Waldon / Bless You Boys
Advanced-A Lakeland: Kevin Ziomek, LHP
The West Michigan Whitecaps had a stellar rotation in 2014, with four players posting sub-3.00 ERAs in at least 18 starts apiece. After Jonathon Crawford was traded to the Cincinnati Reds during the winter, Kevin Ziomek was widely considered to be the best prospect of that group. He posted a 2.27 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 123 innings for the Whitecaps last season, striking out over a batter per inning along the way. A lefthander drafted out of Vanderbilt in 2013, Ziomek entered 2015 as one of the organization's top prospects.
Ziomek made the shortest jump of any of his 2014 rotation mates, but his ERA has not reflected the conservative promotional schedule. Ziomek has a 4.31 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 108 2/3 innings this year. He has allowed over a hit per inning, and right-handed hitters are batting .291 off him. It sounds bad on the surface, but there are a lot of positive signs. Ziomek has cut his walk rate in half, and is still striking out 21.4 percent of batters he faces. The 4.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio and low home run rate are nice, resulting in a sparkling 2.59 FIP. His .357 BABIP is very high, especially for a player inducing ground balls at a 52 percent clip. He will need to maintain a solid strikeout rate as he moves up the ladder -- righties are going to hit his near-sidearm delivery for his entire career -- but has not been nearly the failure that the box scores suggest.