This winter is said to be a big one for Detroit Tigers fans. The Hot Stove has been kicking out rumors left and right, and speculation is rampant. The Astros’ front office is pursuing a big bat this offseason, according to Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi. Houston has narrowed their search down to two players: former Toronto Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion and Tigers star Miguel Cabrera.
In an interview with MLB Network on Tuesday, Tigers general manager Al Avila said that he was not actively shopping any of the Tigers players, but is actively listening on all of them. It appears as though Avila may have a potential match in the Houston Astros.
If Cabrera is going to be moved, a trade with the Astros make sense. They lack an impact player that can propel them into the playoffs, and Cabrera could be just that player. Meanwhile, Detroit needs young, controllable talent, and the Astros are overflowing with that.
The Astros are also willing to gain quite a bit of salary, so that would help with Detroit’s efforts to reduce payroll. We have been over what trading Cabrera means for the Tigers already this week, so let’s explore some of the players the Astros might offer in return for the superstar.
A player of Cabrera’s caliber commands a king’s ransom in return, and heading the veritable army of prospects that could be extracted from Houston’s system is Francis Martes. A righthander out of the Dominican Republic — he signed with the Miami Marlins back in 2012 for $87,000 — Martes was traded to the Astros a little more than a year later. He has shot up in prospect rankings recently, and is currently rated as the No. 29 overall prospect in the game by MLB.com.
This meteoric rise has been fueled by a combination of electric stuff and good results. While Martes has not immediately pitched well at every level of competition, he has always adjusted and done well. In 2013, his first year in professional ball, he pitched to a respectable 3.04 ERA and 3.23 FIP in the Dominican Summer League.
While these look very good on the surface, his peripherals were less than spectacular, and included a paltry 15.2 percent strikeout rate. Martes pitched to much better numbers the next year in the Gulf Coast League, highlighted by significantly improved strikeout numbers.
This kind of up-and-down pattern has been the way Martes performed every time he has moved up the Astros system. He is able to beat the competition with a fastball that has gone from a weak, high-80s offering when he was signed to a weapon that now peaks at 98 miles per hour. He also features a plus power curve with good depth and plus control. His arsenal is rounded out with a change that should turn out to be fringe-average.
The second overall pick of the 2015 MLB draft, Alex Bregman profiled as a quick-to-the-majors prospect that may not carry a lineup, but should hit for high average and likely won’t be a liability in the field. While he would be considered untouchable on the majority of teams, he plays for an organization that is flush with shortstops, including superstar Carlos Correa.
Bregman has dominated at every level of the minors, accumulating a 108 wRC+ (8 percent above league average) or better at every level. He peaked with a 179 wRC+ in 285 plate appearances at Double-A last season, almost double the league average. In his limited exposure at the major league level last year, he posted a 112 wRC+ with eight home runs in 217 plate appearances.
Armed with an unusual swing that allows him to make contact with just about anything, Bregman is more than a one-dimensional contact hitter. He is able make that contact count and will drive balls regularly. While his approach at the plate allows him to do well when he puts bat to ball, Bregman’s plate discipline is certainly nothing to write home about. His defensive abilities are nothing flashy, but he will likely be able to stay at shortstop long-term. However, if a move to the hot corner is in his future, his arm is certainly sufficient for the position.
While he may never be a superstar, Bregman is the type of player that will solidify a roster with consistent production, even if it is not overly flashy.
Quality bats are what the Tigers’ pipeline is most deprived of, and Derek Fisher is one of the best in the Astros system. An enigma, Fisher is the most coveted type of prospect: one that is able to combine power and speed.
Playing with the Astros’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates in 2016, Fisher posted good power numbers at both levels of competition. Hitting 16 home runs in his stint with Double-A, he was able to hit a respectable .431 slugging percentage and an isolated power (ISO) of .186. He put his short time in Triple-A to good use, producing at an even higher level. His slugging percentage went up to .505 and his ISO increased to .215.
Speed, another crucial element to his game, has also showed up and yielded favorable results. Stealing bases is not a challenge for Fisher, either. He proved that with back-to-back years logging over 25 swipes, with 31 in 2015 and 28 in 2016. His wheels have also enabled him to hit a remarkable number of triples, something power-only hitters are unable to claim.
This combination of skills prompts many prospect evaluators to project Fisher as a 20/20 player, a player who is able to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases annually, as a big leaguer. The only downsides to Fisher are his strikeout-prone ways and poor defense. Despite his overflowing speed, Fisher’s instincts restrict him to a corner outfield role, and his below-average arm will ensure he has a career in left field.
The Joe Jimenez of the Astros’ farm system, James Hoyt has had a roundabout track to the majors. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Braves in 2012, he was shipped to the Astros as a part of the Evan Gattis deal. After having spent several seasons in the minors, Hoyt has really found his groove, overpowering Triple-A competition with ease.
The key to Hoyt’s successes starts and ends with his explosive arsenal. A full and diverse set of offerings — all plus — are what has allowed him to make his unlikely assent from unknown college pitcher to the Astros’ next late-inning weapon. His fastball is where everything begins: it’s a 94-96 mph offering with good running action that he throws on a downhill plane created by his 6’6 frame.
His next weapon is described by Tomahawk Take as a “devastating slider that he uses as an out pitch.” Finally, Hoyt features a splitter. The in-vogue pitch of the ‘80s, the splitter is a pitch that is rarely thrown anymore by major league pitchers. Hoyt, however, uses his splitter well, and uses it to keep hitters off balance.
A pitcher with heavy ground ball tendencies, Hoyt induced a 53.8 percent ground ball rate on all batted balls in a limited sample size in the majors in 2016. That is likely not a fluke, as indicated by a monstrous groundout to flyout rate of 3.18. That’s not to say that his value is rooted exclusively in his ability to get ground balls, though, because that would be untrue.
Hoyt is also a strikeout machine, racking up 93 of them in 55 innings in Triple-A. In other words, Hoyt struck out just shy of half of the batters he faced, totaling to a monolithic 15.22 strikeouts per nine innings pitched (K/9).
The only real issue with Hoyt is spotty control, but that is somewhat expected in a reliever with such dynamic stuff. Long-term, he figures to be a high-leverage reliever, though maybe not a closer, and with many years of team control on his contract, Hoyt would be a near-perfect fit with the Tigers’ current roster.
Clearly, Houston has a number of pieces the Tigers could acquire in the event of a Cabrera trade. Each of these prospects has potential and would be useful at some level in the Tigers’ system, whether that’s with the major league club, Triple-A, or at a lower level. The biggest takeaway from this is that the Astros minor league system contains several highly ranked prospects, and a trade with Houston would likely be beneficial for the teams on both sides of the deal.