Earlier this season, many Detroit Tigers fans were hoping the organization would push promising right-handed reliever Joe Jimenez up to Double-A Erie in hopes of finding a challenge for the 21-year-old Puerto Rican. They got their wish on May 26, when Jimenez was promoted after 16 1/3 scoreless innings for the Advanced-A Lakeland Flying Tigers.
So far, Jimenez is still searching for that challenge. In seven appearances for the SeaWolves, Jimenez has struck out 13 of the 25 batters he faced while allowing just five hitters to reach base. His WHIP has increased to 0.71, which tells you just how dominant he was in Lakeland. He has 41 strikeouts in 24 1/3 total innings. He still has yet to allow a run this season.
At this point, there isn’t much more Jimenez can prove in the minor leagues. Opponents have no chance when he steps to the mound. It’s time to call him up and see if he can help the Tigers, a team struggling to find reliable relief help outside of their top couple arms. Jimenez has the stuff to contribute right away, with a mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider. Scouts have hinted at some command issues, but his 6.8 percent walk rate indicates that they aren’t glaring enough to stop him from being effective at the major league level. At the very least, he should be better than the likes of Mark Lowe and Bobby Parnell.
Unfortunately, it seems that the Tigers are reluctant to promote one of the most gifted arms in the organization. They were cautious with him in 2015, and appear to be taking a similar approach in 2016. He could be a big boost for a strained Tigers bullpen, but instead we may have to watch him light up the minors for another month or two.
Single-A West Michigan: Derek Hill, OF
The 2015 season was a rough one for former first round pick Derek Hill, viewed by many as the Tigers’ center fielder of the future the moment he was drafted out of Elk Grove High School (CA) in June 2014. Hill played in just 53 games last season and hit a paltry .238/.305/.314 with zero home runs and 11 extra base hits.
This season has been different, though. Old friend Emily Waldon profiled Hill in her new gig at 2080 Baseball:
Entering 2016, we are seeing the long-awaited healthy version of the 20 year old, finally allowing a glimpse of what Detroit first saw in him out of high school. Displaying a more patient, relaxed stance at the plate, Hill has experienced a dip in his overall ISO, dropping from .076 in 2015, down to .062 this season...Hill is leading West Michigan with 42 runs and 19 stolen bases, all while hitting .268/.326/.348 and adding a .647 OPS.
To break things down further, Hill is hitting .291/.347/.373 in 28 games since coming off the disabled list in mid-May. He hit his first career home run on June 16, and has swiped 11 bases in 14 attempts over the past month. His 7.4 percent walk rate could stand to improve, but with how poorly he hit in an injury-plagued 2015 season, it’s not the worst thing in the world.
Meanwhile, I’m not concerned one bit about the lack of power right now. Hill is still only 20 years old and was never expected to be a major power threat at the major league level. His speed and defense are his calling cards, and will make him a productive player even at the bottom of a major league lineup. He still has a long way to go through the minor leagues, but the last month has been a welcome sight for those waiting for him to fulfill his lofty potential.
Advanced-A Lakeland: Christin Stewart, OF
The Florida State League is not kind to hitters. For instance, two players tied for the league lead with 14 home runs. The stadiums are big — built to accommodate major league players during spring training — and most hitters worth their salt are whisked away to Double-A before too long.
So, it says something that Christin Stewart already has 16 home runs this season. This matches the highest full-season total in the FSL in the past two years, and would have tied him with the likes of Miguel Sano and Maikel Franco in a homer-happy 2014 season.
Oh, and it’s June. Stewart has just 283 plate appearances on the season, and has an extra base hit in 10.2 percent of them. He has also shown a surprising improvement in his plate discipline, one of the supposed knocks on him prior to the 2015 draft. Stewart has drawn 48 walks this year, nearly double the total he amassed in 18 more plate appearances across three levels in 2015. It would not be a surprise to see the Tigers promote Stewart to Double-A soon, especially if he continues to improve on his .239 batting average.
Short-season Connecticut: Anthony Pereira, SS
If you’re looking for a prospect to follow throughout his entire ascent through the Tigers’ minor league system, shortstop Anthony Pereira might be a fun player to watch. An international signee out of Venezuela, Pereira is just 19 years old and made his U.S. debut with the Gulf Coast Tigers in 2015. His numbers weren’t much to write home about, but a monster season in the Venezuelan Summer League — he hit .298/.372/.440 in 22 games — drew the eyes of many. TigsTown ranked him as the No. 18 prospect in the Tigers’ organization prior to the 2016 season, and said he "has a chance to be an impact offensive player."
This season, Pereira will ply his trade for the Connecticut Tigers, the organization’s New York-Penn League affiliate. They dropped their season opener on Friday, but Pereira had a solid debut with a double in three at-bats. He certainly has a looooong way to go before reaching the majors — he might not debut until 2019 or 2020 if things go right — but should be one to keep an eye on along the way.