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Spencer Turnbull, JaCoby Jones among Tigers’ best performers in Arizona Fall League

The Tigers’ hitters out-performed their pitching prospects in this year’s Arizona Fall League.

Emily Waldon/Bless You Boys

Even though the Detroit Tigers are were out of the playoffs, there was still news about our favorite team’s prospects in the Arizona Fall League. The AFL is a showcase for prospects that teams send to log more developmental time, and these players are usually some of their best. The Tigers sent players to help fill the ranks of the Salt River Rafters’ roster in 2016. Joining them there were prospects from the Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta Braves, and Colorado Rockies.

The AFL regular season is now over, and Salt River did not make the playoffs. They finished 15-15, 12 game back of the Mesa Solar Sox in the East Division. We’ll highlight some of the team leaders below, but let’s focus on the Tigers’ top performers first.

After an electric debut in Detroit in September, the Tigers sent JaCoby Jones to the AFL to polish his defensive abilities in center. He proved to be quite the dynamic player in his time with the Rafters. While he clobbered a home run, stroked five doubles, and stole five bases, the most notable aspect of Jones’ performance was his more advanced approach at the plate. There has always been a significant amount of swing-and-miss in his game, and his future success hinges on his ability to develop some plate discipline.

He showed strides in this department in the Fall League, and limited his strikeouts to just 16 in 21 games. He also showed a willingness to take a walk that has not been a part of his game in the past.

Right-handed pitcher Spencer Turnbull also stood out among Tigers prospects. After a spectacular 2015 season with Single-A West Michigan, Turnbull underwent shoulder surgery at the beginning of the year. He only was able to make 12 starts in the regular season, six of which were rehab starts in rookie ball. He did return to form, however, and was able to continue his end-of-season successes with the Rafters. His stuff was sharp and he was striking out batters at a high rate, posting a 21.7 percent strikeout rate.

Turnbull’s biggest struggle, though, has been reining in the walks. His high-heat fastball and power slider are able to fool batters, but he has had trouble spotting them. This flaw was thoroughly exposed this fall. Despite his good strikeout numbers, he also walked 10.9 percent of batters he faced during AFL action. This is only a little bit higher than his career norms, and will have to improve if Turnbull hopes to have long-term success at higher levels.

Another solid performer from the Tigers organization was Adam Ravenelle, who was recently ranked by Baseball America as the Tigers’ No. 8 prospect heading into 2017. While that rating received quite a bit of kickback, it goes to show that Ravenelle is indeed a quality prospect. His explosive mid-90s fastball pairs well with his slider, and earned him the closer’s role in the Rafters’ bullpen. He did well there for the first half of the season, but came to a screeching halt towards the second half. His final line featured a 6.75 ERA and 4.84 FIP caused by identical strikeout and walk rates of 15.6 percent.

A similar sad story accompanied catching prospect Grayson Griener, who was hoping to get off to a hot start in the Fall League. “The fact that I finished the season on such a high note — I swung the bat well there at the end of the season — the fact that I did that really helped me prepare for the fall league,” Greiner told BYB in October. He did get off to a roaring start, hitting .462/.533/1.456 through four games while not striking out once. He continued that power streak with a .462 ISO through the first two weeks of AFL action.

After that, though, things started to slow down significantly. He finished the AFL season with a .205 batting average and .286 on-base percentage, resulting in a forgettable 81 wRC+. He did suffer from a .267 BABIP, though, and that can explain part of his poor performance.

Former Tigers prospect (and current Atlanta Braves catcher) Kade Scivicque led the River Rafters with a .378 batting average. Fellow Braves prospect Travis Demeritte, a second baseman, led the team with four home runs. The 6’7 Jared Miller, who led the team in ERA after not allowing a single run in 18 13 innings pitched, is affiliated with the Diamondbacks.

Here is a summary of the rest of the Tigers’ prospects’ numbers.

JaCoby Jones 21 .329 .391 .427 6 13
Christin Stewart 19 .268 .350 .408 7 9
Grayson Greiner 12 .205 .286 .364 5 6
Adam Ravenelle 9.1 6.75 7 7 1.82
Spencer Turnbull 20.0 3.60 20 10 1.50
Jeff Thompson 10.2 6.75 8 9 1.88
Victor Alcantara 10.0 12.60 8 11 2.60