The Detroit Tigers' long-suffering farm system got a substantial boost in quality through their deadline trades of David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria last season. In addition the Tigers had a pair of first-round picks to work with in the 2015 draft. So it's no surprise that Baseball America's top prospect rankings for the 2016 Tigers features a completely overhauled top 10, with the new additions making an immediate impact.
As expected, Michael Fulmer, acquired for Yoenis Cespedes from the New York Mets' organization, leads the way as the Tigers' new No. 1 prospect. Fulmer torched Double-A last year, posting a 2.24 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, en route to a 10-3 record, racking up 125 strikeouts in 124 innings of work. He was named the Eastern League's Pitcher of the Year, and will have a chance to contribute at the major league level this year if he's able to build on a superb 2015 campaign.
Fulmer's fastball/slider combo is already major league ready. The questions going forward revolve around his durability, and whether or not he's able to develop his changeup into at least a league average offering. He'll need it to survive as a starter in the majors. If not, his two primary offerings may be good enough to make him into an excellent bullpen weapon. His development with the Toledo Mud Hens in Triple-A will be one of the major storylines to follow from the Tigers farm system this season.
Illustrating how radically the Tigers' farm system has improved over the past calendar year, only left-hander Kevin Ziomek who remains sixth in the Tigers' system, and 2014's top pick, Derek Hill, are carryovers from the 2015 list.
|2016 Detroit Tigers Prospects|
The Tigers' top draft pick in 2015, hard-throwing right-hander Beau Burrows, makes an immediate splash after a late summer stint in rookie ball. Burrows proved himself well above the curve as an 18-year old. The Weatherford, Texas, product had a stellar start to his pro career, posting a 1.61 ERA in the Gulf Coast League. Scouts love his advanced fastball velocity, movement, and command, all powered by a strong lower half and compact delivery. Burrows also features an advanced curveball, which Baseball America considers the best curveball in the Tigers' system.
The shocker here is right-fielder Mike Gerber checking in third. The 15th round selection out of Creighton University in 2014, Gerber had a nice showing in short-season ball in 2014, as one would expect for a college player. In 2015 he was a force for the Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps, helping carrying them to a Midwest League championship. Gerber showed developing power as he thumped 13 bombs for the Whitecaps, posting an .822 OPS and becoming a fan favorite in West Michigan, and among the Bless You Boys staff as well.
He continued that success in the Arizona Fall League and will likely make the big jump to Double-A Erie in 2016. If his advanced command of the strikezone, and quality contact sustain through that level, the Tigers may have found themselves a real diamond in the rough here. Still, ranking an un-hyped college player at No. 3 after a good showing in Single-A ball seems like a reach.
Overall the 2015 Midwest League Champion Whitecaps find themselves well represented here. Beyond Gerber, flamethrowing right-handers Spencer Turnbull and closer Joe Jimenez both climb onto the top 10 list. While both remain somewhat raw, Jimenez is particularly interesting. His high-90s fastball and advanced slider need only refinement to give him a chance to play an important future role in the Tigers' bullpen. Turnbull will have to continue to rein in his control, while developing his secondary offerings substantially to reach the majors as a starter.
Derek Hill, the 2014 No. 1 pick for the Tigers, battled injuries last season, and was never able to get things going offensively. However, the 20-year-old did display his outstanding speed and defense in center field. He'll need to stay healthy in 2016 and make some real strides at the plate to start moving through the system. Presumably he'll start the year with the Whitecaps again, looking to build traction and justify the Tigers' faith in him.
One notable absence is last year's No. 2 prospect per Baseball America, Steven Moya. Moya's tough 2015 campaign in Triple-A has left him a bit of an afterthought. His showing in winter ball showed some progress as he works to revamp his stance and swing. Moya will have one more year left of Triple-A to improve his eye and approach before the Tigers are faced with a decision on him. In his chat today, BA writer Ben Badler said Moya would be just outside the top 10. Moya needs to work on his plate discipline, he added.
Overall, the drastically revamped top 10 list shows both how poor the Tigers' system was late in former GM Dave Dombrowski's tenure, and also how much he did to restock it last season. There may be more talent in the pipeline now than we've seen in years, though that's more a comment on just how lacking in talent and depth the system was in recent years. And don't forget other recent additions like Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd may not have met the BA's requirements but are both under the age of 25. With the Tigers' payroll near the luxury tax, it will be new GM Al Avila's task to continue rebuilding the farm system in order to sustain the Tigers' half-decade run of consistent success. With the many large contracts still on the books for years to come, the future will almost certainly depend on it.