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MLB Draft 2016: Surveying the Tigers' minor league middle infield depth

The Tigers could eventually turn out a solid shortstop or two if everything breaks right.

Detroit Tigers v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

A couple years ago, this list of the middle infield prospects in the Detroit Tigers' system would have been a lot more promising than it looks today. However, since the start of 2014, the Tigers have traded Devon Travis, Eugenio Suarez, Javier Betancourt, Willy Adames, Domingo Leyba, and Steve Lombardozzi (hey, he counts) for established major league talent. No system can survive that kind of pillaging, and the Tigers were not known for their minor league depth to begin with.

The good news, however, is that this list is not completely barren. While most of these players are not sure-fire major league starters, they are worth evaluating, and could eventually contribute in some way on a big league roster.

Triple-A Toledo

Dixon Machado (24) - R/R

A consistent darling of the fanbase, Machado has the kind of glove and arm that other shortstops dream of. Machado has been described as a defensive wizard in many scouting reports, and there is no question he would be an above average defender at the major league level. The bat isn't anywhere close to that marker, though, and a major reason why he isn't starting for an MLB team somewhere. Much has been made of Machado's breakout 2014 season in Double-A Erie, but he is hitting just .254/.317/.319 in two seasons at Triple-A. It's a shame, too; it would be a lot of fun to see that glove everyday.

JaCoby Jones (24) - R/R

There isn't a perfect place for Jones in these system overviews because he fits everywhere, but the Tigers' persistent use of him at shortstop in 2015 means he's a middle infielder for now. Jones is a big, athletic player with the versatility to play multiple positions on the diamond, including short, third base, and in the outfield. His 50-game suspension for Not PEDs was well-publicized in the Tigers universe, but his statistics before and after returning are not. In 60 games at the Double-A level, Jones hit a robust .283/.362/.511 with 10 home runs. His strikeout rate is a bit high for the minor leagues, though, so it may be best to pump the brakes on his overall potential until we see how he fares at Triple-A.

Double-A Erie

Harold Castro (22) - L/R

If it seems like Castro has been around the Tigers' minor league system forever... well, you wouldn't be wrong. Castro made a quick ascent to full season ball, playing 62 games for the West Michigan Whitecaps and Lakeland Flying Tigers at age 19. The versatile Venezuelan has bounced around since then, playing here and there for the Whitecaps, Flying Tigers, and most recently, the SeaWolves. His offensive numbers haven't been great at any level, but he has progressed to hitting .275/.304/.345 this season. TigsTown's Chris Brown rated him as one of the best defenders in the Tigers' minor league system. While Castro was once thought of as a potential starting second baseman, it seems his ceiling is now more of a utility player.

Kody Eaves (22) - L/R

The return on a blockbuster deal for third baseman Jefry Marte, Eaves is enjoying a nice little season down in Double-A. The former 16th round pick is currently hitting .218, but has a solid .333 on-base percentage and is slugging .427 in 131 plate appearances. Fourteen of his 24 hits this season have gone for extra bases, and with JaCoby Jones now out of the way, he should get a little more playing time. He will need to clean up some significant platoon splits if he wants consistent run at higher levels, though.

Advanced-A Lakeland

A.J. Simcox (21) - R/R

While his former college teammate has been grabbing all the headlines, shortstop A.J. Simcox could be one of the steals of the 2015 draft for the Tigers. A 14th round pick, many scouts have perked up when talking about Simcox's potential lately, citing him as a solid bet to stick at the shortstop position as he moves up the ladder. Simcox has decent offensive potential as well, a big reason why he ranked 14th on TigsTown's preseason top 50 rankings. "Simcox carries a good approach into the batter’s box and has a knack for contact," they say, giving him a ceiling as a starting shortstop if everything clicks.

Joey Pankake (23) - R/R

The jump to High-A Lakeland has not been kind to many of the players on the West Michigan Whitecaps' championship roster from a season ago, and Pankake is among them. Pankake is batting just .230/.302/.374 this season, but has perked up lately with a .777 OPS over the last month. A third baseman in college, Pankake has moved to second base at the pro level in hopes that his bat will play better at the keystone. There are questions about his potential at any of the infield positions, though, and a move to the outfield would sap a lot of his prospect value.

Single-A West Michigan

Steven Fuentes (21) - S/R

Full season ball has not been kind to Steven Fuentes. After rocketing onto the scene with an .831 OPS for short-season Connecticut in 2014, Fuentes has not been able to keep his batting average above the Mendoza line since. The 21-year-old Venezuelan struggled in the Midwest League in 2015 -- understandable for a then-20-year-old -- but has not improved much in 2016. Fuentes is a raw player with plenty of athleticism and a cannon for an arm, but he won't make it very far if he doesn't make strides with the bat.

David Gonzalez (22) - S/R and Jose Zambrano (22) - S/R

A pair of 22-year-olds with multiple stints in Low-A ball probably won't move the needle much, but middle infield prospects can be valuable if everything breaks right. Gonzalez has fared slightly better after a disastrous stint in Lakeland last season, hitting .258/.315/.355 with the Whitecaps this year. Zambrano has only played a few games for West Michigan this year, but has spent time at both second and third base.

Short-season ball

Anthony Pereira (19) - R/R

We don't talk about minor leaguers all that often at BYB, and any mentions of players who have yet to make it to the New York-Penn League (a step below the West Michigan Whitecaps) are almost unheard of. Pereira may see time with the Connecticut Tigers this season after a pair of stellar seasons in the Venezuelan Summer League, where he hit .263/.351/.413. TigsTown ranked him as the No. 18 prospect in the organization prior to the season, a surprising bump for a 19-year-old with just 48 games on American soil under his belt. Pereira has a long way to go, but could eventually be a name worth paying attention to if things go well.