While almost everything in the offseason worth acknowledging happens in settings that are closed to the public eye, that doesn’t dampen wild-eyed speculation and enthusiasm. The majority of this is driven by the possibility of a franchise-altering trade, such as the Chris Sale trade, or the potential of luring a big name free agent with a massive contract, such as the one handed to David Price.
The Rule 5 draft, a technicality-laden process that deals only with marginal players, also gets quite a bit of attention among the faithful few who are still riveted to the sport in its slowest months. To make things easier the rest of us, Bless You Boys' own Patrick O'Kennedy broke it down recently.
In a nutshell, players who have been with an organization for a certain amount of time (four or five years, depending on how old they were when they signed) and are not on their organization's 40-man roster can be taken by another organization for a small fee. The catch is that the player selected must be kept on the 25-man roster of the team that took him for the entire season.
As Patrick noted in his article, there are quite a few notable Tigers prospects that are eligible for selection. Here is a brief description of each.
Mike Gerber, Outfielder
Most Tigers fans know Gerber's story by now, and it's one that points to a big league job sometime soon. Many were surprised when Detroit opted to not give him a September call-up after slashing .291/.363/.477 over 92 games with Double-A and a short but successful stint in Triple-A. He is pegged as a bench bat long-term, but has surprised in the past and has passable defense at three outfield positions, so it's possible there's more in store. It is unlikely he will go unselected if left off the roster.
Grayson Greiner, Catcher
"As far as being a catcher goes, I want to be perfect and help my pitchers out as much as possible. I will always be a defense-first catcher in my mind." Those were Greiner's words in an exclusive interview with Bless You Boys last October. While he puts emphasis on his glove, his bat will make or break his career. Following a monster 2016 with a 108 wRC+ and good defense in Double-A makes it likely that he will be picked up by another team if not protected.
Gregory Soto, Left-Handed Pitcher
A big part of the dominant West Michigan pitching staff until his promotion to Lakeland, Soto made a meteoric rise from anonymity in 2017. A small lefty with a big fastball and starter potential, he has little track record of being able to locate his pitches well. In addition, his secondary offerings were not viewed favorably entering the season. However, with his successes at both Low- and High-A came whispers of vast improvement in both areas. It's not unheard of for teams to select players like Soto and bury them in the bullpen for a year before continuing their development the next season.
Jose Azocar, Outfielder
A living cliche, the young outfielder is as toolsy as they come, but he can't seem to make things click. Looking just at surface numbers, he performed admirably in his time with West Michigan in 2016, but there were always silent red flags hidden in his walk and strikeout rate. These became far more jarring when he completely underwhelmed in 2017 at High-A, batting a paltry .220/.246/.292. Player have been known to come back from worse, and his excellent range an defense take pressure off his offense, but his stock has never been lower, and he is unlikely to be protected or taken in the coming weeks.
Sergio Alcantara, Shortstop
One of three players general manager Al Avila acquired from the Diamondbacks in the J.D. Martinez trade that received so much backlash from fans, Alcantara's value lies entirely with his defense. A slick fielder with a double-plus arm, his contact ability is mediocre and he has no power to speak of. That being said, his approach at the plate is solid; he draws walks well and rarely strikes out. An unlikely candidate for protection, he may be selected for his glove and kept as a poor team's 25th man, but that isn't an overwhelming probability.
Adam Ravenelle, Right-Handed Pitcher
A big righty with a bigger fastball, Ravenelle is the stereotypical Dombrowski prospect, and a holdover from that era. Surrounded with hype entering the 2017 season, his stuff regressed and he performed poorly, posting a 5.16 ERA with the Double-A Erie SeaWolves. He pitched in the Arizona Fall League but was dismissed early for an undisclosed reason. Some sources claim it was for a wedding and the team insists he isn't injured, but his non-ideal results and sudden drop in fastball velocity suggest otherwise. Odds are against something happening on this front anytime soon.
Spencer Turnbull, Right-Handed Pitcher
At first glance, Turnbull looks the part of an innings-eater. He absorbs seven inning starts with greater ease than most. While his stamina has never been called into question, his health has been problematic, making him one of the fuzzier choices in the batch. He missed a chunk of 2016 and 2017 with shoulder problems. He reached Double-A for the first time in 2017 and struggled there, but his sinker is a weapon and his slider/cutter has been improving, giving him bullpen potential if starting doesn't work. Anything could happen here, so Turnbull is one to keep an eye on.
Gerson Moreno, Right-Handed Pitcher
With Joe Jimenez out of public favor and the downfall of the aforementioned Ravenelle, Moreno stepped into the light in 2017. Splitting the season between Advanced-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie, he pitched well in the former but struggled in the latter. He reaches triple digits and has seen his slider and command improving, giving the Tigers good reason to add him to the 40-man. If he isn't protected, it is unlikely that he will be in Detroit's organization entering 2018.
Kody Eaves, Second Baseman
Eaves has had a slow, steady march through the minors since being drafted in 2012, and has been unimpressive most of the way. Repeating Double-A in 2017, he put up the best numbers of his career. He managed a 124 wRC+ before moving to Triple-A Toledo where he performed poorly. Neither his walk nor his strikeout rates are particularly special, he doesn't have much power, and his glove isn't attuned for action at short, so he is limited to a second-base profile. A bench bat long-term, he may be taken by another team, but his limited upside and the number of other players who merit protection will likely prevent him from being added to Detroit’s 40-man.
Dominic Ficociello, Infielder/Outfielder
A player without a home, Ficociello has basically the same story as Eaves. He performed better in 2017 than ever before, but his future isn't overly bright. He has a defensive profile that limits him to the corners, and he plays in all four, but isn't particularly good at any of them. He has little power and his swing isn't attuned to line drives, so his bat doesn't inspire much confidence either. He might play regularly in the major leagues eventually, but don't expect him to be protected.