In the world of prospects, the Detroit Tigers’ system is considered one of the weakest in the the game. While that reputation is not unearned (thank you, Dave Dombrowski), that does not mean that there are not some very promising players in the pipeline that feeds the Tigers. Among those players are right-handed flamethrower Joe Jimenez and slugging lefty Christin Stewart, who were named by MLB Pipeline as the Tigers prospects of the year.
Jimenez is closer to the majors than Stewart, although both started the year in High-A Lakeland. The competition at that level was no competition at all for Jimenez. While with the Flying Tigers, he allowed only five walks and struck out 28, resulting in a strikeout-to-walk ratio over 5.0 and a strikeout percentage of 44.4 percent! Opposing batters hit only .089 against him. Fun fact: Bartolo Colon's career batting average is actually higher, at .091.
Jimenez was equally as dominant in his tenures with Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. He limited opponents to a meager 2.18 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, and restricted batters to a .171 batting average in 20 2⁄3 innings with Erie. This earned him a promotion to Toledo. It was as if he never left Double-A, as he only surrendered a .164 average, 0.83 WHIP and 2.30 ERA in 17 games with Toledo.
In most cases, major league front offices are skittish about labeling a player as a closer or using only one as their closer at any level. While the Tigers have not labeled him as such, Jimenez has done nothing but close during his career, and been good at it. He will be a very welcome addition to the Tigers bullpen in 2017.
I mean, what's not to love?
Look into my eyes... pic.twitter.com/ATzVmMq4yv— Joe Jiménez (@JAJimenez27) October 11, 2016
The highest-rated position player in the Tigers’ system, Stewart performed better than almost any other hitter in the Tigers’ organization. He performed well by almost any metric, hitting .255/.386/.517 in 128 games between High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie this year.
These numbers are made especially impressive when put in light of what is said in this article from MiLB.com.
The Class A Advanced Florida State League is pitcher-friendly to the extreme, but the left-handed hitter was the second player in the Minors to reach double figures in home runs when he connected for his 10th on May 9 at Tampa.
No one in the Florida State League hit more than 14 homers a year ago. Stewart was already closing in on that after just 30 games.
Stewart was an absolute terror during his tenure with High-A Lakeland, slugging home runs left and right. He was able to put together a very impressive HR/PA ratio, smacking one out every 5.4 plate appearances. He was also able to post an Isolated Power (ISO) of .270 in a very pitcher-friendly league.
He effectively silenced concerns about his plate discipline once and for all, taking walks at a Joey Votto-esque 16.7 percent.
“I'm a little bit surprised," Stewart said in an interview back in May. "I'm not trying to shoot it out of the ballpark every time, and I knew how this league played. So far, it's been fun. I hit the weights and got stronger, but I think the big difference was not chasing out of the strike zone and getting my pitches to hit."
Stewart did not fare as spectacularly in his limited time with Erie, but still managed to hit nine percent above league average, with a 109 wRC+. He also was able to continue to post solid walk numbers, taking a free pass in 12.0 percent of at-bats. His average went in the toilet, however, as he only hit .218. Batting average is not the most accurate determiner of offensive ability, but a corner outfielder with extremely limited defensive ability should have a better average than that.
Stewart will likely start next season with Erie, and if all goes well, will be in Toledo by year’s end. He may earn a call in September if things go really well, but don’t count on him as a regular until at least 2018.
Other Tigers prospects who played well in 2016
Tyler Alexander: The control artist was very good in Lakeland and decent in Erie. Look for him in a Mud Hens uniform next year.
Michael Gerber: The underdog had another solid year, showing he has upside to offer to a big-league outfield sometime around 2018.
Jose Azocar: The speedy center fielder had a fantastic year with West Michigan, but is a project long-term and will have a long developmental process.
Grayson Griener: The Tigers’ best catching prospect put himself back on the prospect map with a tremendous 2016 after an equally disastrous 2015.
Mark Ecker: My personal “Most Underrated Tigers Prospect” had a good professional debut and is is on the fast track to Comerica Park. He has the upside of a career setup man.