One month of baseball has been played. As of this post, the Detroit Tigers are stuck in a 7-game losing streak. Brad Ausmus appears as hapless as ever. Whether or not the team's performance is his fault, he will have to take responsibility for it eventually. Mike Ilitch broke the bank this past offseason to get Jordan Zimmermann (when using Matt Boyd would have saved them money) and signing Justin Upton (when promoting Stephen Moya would have saved them money). The Tigers front office wants a World Series title. If Ausmus can't deliver, chances are he will be removed from his position.
As is often the case on losing team with under performing talent, changes in personnel will have to be made. Losing and winning tends to be cyclical in major league baseball because losing seasons offer young talent their chance to shine. They also tend to force general managers to bolster their minor league rosters in the hopes of getting some long-term gains. In this post, I will attempt to detail a handful of players that may or may not see playing time at the major league level this coming season. Chances are- unless something changes and all the slumps come to an end all at once- these players will be needed after more fire sale trades occur.
It should be mentioned here that mlb.com's list of the Tigers top 30 prospects ranks players according to their raw talent as described by scouts across the league. It does not take into account who will get called up before anyone else. Many of the prospects listed are at the single-A level. For the purposes of this post, I will ignore them and focus my attention upon those prospects (and non-prospects) likely to see playing time in the big show.
If Steven Moya could play center field, he would already have been called up. Anthony Gose has not been playing well. Cameron Maybin recently aggravated his shoulder injury while diving on a play during a no-hitter in Triple-A Toledo. After struggling in the minors last year and in the nine games he played with the Tigers, Moya appears to have found his groove. He is hitting like an All-Star for the Mud Hens. He is a player who will walk infrequently and strike out a lot. In between, he will collect his share of doubles and home runs. Whether or not he can be relied upon to hit consistently remains to be seen.
He would get to the major leagues if the Tigers trade away J.D. Martinez. In my opinion, this is the most likely trade they're going to make -- unless the Yankees would like to acquire Victor Martinez. J.D.'s power is for real, but at some point, Detroit's ownership will have to take a look at how much they're spending (or over-spending) on each talent. Letting Moya languish in the minor leagues will likely result in him going to another organization. This is the course that the Twins took with Garrett Jones many years ago. For a few years, the Pirates benefited from Minnesota's ineptitude.
In 2015, Preston Guilmet pitched for six different teams (four in the minors, two in the majors). He's never done well enough in the short stints he's had at any major league level to convince a club to keep him around. In 2016, that might change. After the first month of the season, he has allowed one earned run in his first 14 appearances. He is a reliever, something which still appears to be in great demand in Detroit. More than likely, he will continue to play well enough to convince the Tigers (or another club) to give him yet another chance. What he does with it is not entirely clear. He may have finally figured things out -- or not. Or he may be one of those rare players who is too good for Triple-A yet not good enough for the major leagues.
Wynton Bernard is a center fielder who will eventually make his way onto the roster as a fourth outfielder. The Tigers are desperate for center fielders right now. Tyler Collins has played there. Andrew Romine played there for an inning. They know that the current paradigm is not working. Something needs to change. Bernard is the guy who should be able to provide an affordable stopgap or bridge until a more talented player comes along.
He is essentially a singles hitter without a great deal of power. His calling card is his speed. Odds are he'll be able to use that as his ticket to the show. Every manager wants a guy who can score from first base on a double in the ninth inning. If he can hit for anything close to an average (it currently stands at .247 in Toledo after .301 in Erie last year), he will get that spot. He is probably closer to a young Austin Jackson than Curtis Granderson.
JaCoby Jones is probably someone that the Tigers organization would like their fans to forget -- or, failing that, forgive. Before leaving Detroit to go work for the Boston Red Sox, Dave Dombrowski traded closer Joakim Soria to the Pirates for Jones, who had just made it to Pittsburgh's Double-A team, the Altoona Curve. Dombrowski saw something in the young shortstop. Jones' performance in 37 games for the Erie Sea Wolves in 2015 suggested that Dombrowski's evaluation had been correct. Jones appears to be a power-hitting shortstop, which by itself is a rare commodity in baseball. Added to that the fact that the Tigers have failed the produce any starting shortstops from their minor league system made Jones an attractive player to target.
The failure of Detroit's farm system was exposed in 2014 when Jose Iglesias went down with a season-ending injury. The Tigers had to rely upon Alex Gonzalez, Eugenio Suarez, Danny Worth, and Hernan Perez. None of them stood out in their time on the main roster. If Iglesias were to get injured again, the team would likely face a similar situation. There just aren't that many good shortstops to be had in the motor city.
Jones would have likely made his way to Toledo by now on the fast track for the majors had he not received a 50-game suspension from major league baseball during his time in the Arizona Fall League in November 2015. Whether his performance was enhanced or was the result of his natural talent will remain to be seen. In either case, it seems likely that Detroit will be looking at him to as their shortstop of the future -- unless someone else comes along. This seems unlikely.
Other players doing well, but probably won't be on the main roster
Thad Weber: Weber has been a mainstay at Toledo for the last few years. He is a 31-year-old starter. He has been used as a reliever the few times he has been called up to the main roster. After a mediocre year last year, he is pitching well this year. If he continues to pitch well, he will likely see action in September. He is behind Matt Boyd, Daniel Norris, and Shane Greene for the spot currently held by the struggling Mike Pelfrey. In 2014, he played in Korea, where he struggled.
Joe Mantiply: Mantiply is a 25-year-old reliever who pitched seven games in Toledo last year. He was rocketed up to Double-A in 2014. He's still there, despite pitching well. As an organization, the Tigers do not pay attention to WHIP. This is how Pelfrey and Greene made the team in the first place. If they did, Mantiply would already have gotten his chance at the majors.
Jose Valdez: Valdez has electric stuff that makes him look like a solid closer when he's on. Trouble is, he's not on as much as he should be. He's inconsistent, he walks too many batters, and he struggles to locate his pitches. He's with Erie for now, until he figures himself out. I mention him here because pitchers who can throw 98 miles per hour (as he can) are becoming rare. Pitchers like Kenta Maeda and Doug Fister are getting away with throwing the ball under 90 miles an hour regularly. In a perfect world, Valdez would be able to learn from guys who are using smoke and mirrors, instead of fireballs. The world isn't perfect.