The Detroit Tigers rarely burned high draft picks on college bats under Dave Dombrowski, instead focusing their efforts on high-octane pitching and the occasional high-upside high school player. Selecting Tennessee outfielder Christin Stewart with the 34th overall pick in the 2015 MLB amateur draft was out of character for them, so it's natural to invest a bit more curiosity in Stewart's progression.
Luckily, things are off to a flying start. Stewart is batting .282/.361/.462 in 43 games across three minor league levels this year, and has demonstrated more plate discipline than the initial scouting reports indicated. He has yet to show off his plus power, with just five home runs in 183 plate appearances, but scouts identified him as a bit of a project until his hit tool progresses. Stewart's swing generated more doubles than homers during his collegiate career, but he started to flash some home run pop with 15 dingers in 50 games with the Volunteers during his junior season.
Granted, it's early, and an advanced college bat like Stewart should be hitting well in the low minors. Good college hitters often progress quickly through the minor leagues, but with Stewart's relative youth (he's still only 21) and raw skill set, he may spend a full year at Advanced-A Lakeland in 2016 before the team pushes him aggressively through the high minors. Both the Midwest League (his current home) and Florida State League can be tough on hitters, so a lack of home runs doesn't spell doom yet. If he can maintain that respectable walk rate -- he's at 7.1 percent in 23 games of Midwest League play -- then the Tigers may have something on their hands.
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Double-A Erie: JaCoby Jones, IF/OF
Talk about a debut. JaCoby Jones has been in the Tigers' organization for little more than a week, but he already has four home runs. Three of them came in a breakout performance on the road last Sunday, while the fourth came against Washington Nationals uber-prospect Lucas Giolito on Saturday. In eight games with the SeaWolves, Jones is batting .300/.395/.733 with six walks and 10 strikeouts.
Jones showed off plenty of power in Single-A ball last season, blasting 23 home runs and adding 21 doubles in 501 plate appearances. His power stroke has fallen off somewhat this year -- his ISO is down from .215 to .159 -- but he has had no trouble adjusting to Double-A ball in the early going. Jones will have his ups and downs, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio approaching 4:1 won't help. If he can curtail his aggressive approach enough to force pitchers to work in the strike zone, then his impressive raw power will continue to shine through.
Advanced-A Lakeland: Grayson Greiner, C
When the Tigers drafted Grayson Greiner in the third round of the 2014 draft, the South Carolina product drew comparisons to Matt Wieters and Joe Mauer because of his 6'6" frame. Unfortunately, Greiner does not possess the same hitting prowess of those two, and his numbers reflect it. Pushed aggressively to the Florida State League after an impressive debut in 2014, Greiner is batting .183/.248/.258 with 10 doubles and three home runs in 275 plate appearances this season. He has struck out 27.6 percent of the time, but has a respectable 7.6 percent walk rate.
Of course, this was the knock on Greiner coming into this season. He was lauded as a solid defensive catcher despite his size, but his long swing and relatively meager hit tool were expected to hinder his progress through the minors. I'd like to think it says something that the Tigers haven't demoted him yet this season, but it's not like the catching prospects below him -- Shane Zeile and Arvicent Perez, in particular -- are faring much better at lower levels. Greiner's skill set was comparable to James McCann when the two were drafted, and they are hoping that the former can put together a similar breakout season in the near future.
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Short-season Connecticut: Drew Smith, RHP
He's not facing the best competition in the New York-Penn League, but hard-throwing righthander Drew Smith is making short work of the batters he is facing. A third round pick out of Dallas Baptist University in the 2015 draft, Smith is a reliever with closer upside. Smith possesses a high-90s fastball and sharp curveball, and more importantly, throws both of them for strikes. He has walked just four of the 106 batters he's faced this season, and has 34 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings.
The 8.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio probably won't last as he moves up the ladder, but his current numbers look like they're out of a video game. Smith has a 0.34 ERA in 10 appearances for Connecticut this year, and a 0.71 WHIP. Opponents have just 15 hits off him, with one double and zero home runs. If he continues to dominate opposing hitters, Smith's progression through the minors could mirror that of another Dallas Baptist product. Reliever Paul Voelker has moved up three levels this season after an impressive debut for Connecticut in 2014, and could be in line for a major league audition in 2016. Don't be surprised if Smith isn't too far behind.