Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila wasted no time making his first roster moves of the offseason. Less than 24 hours after Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros won the World Series, the Tigers had already subtracted several pieces from their 2017 roster.
As the afternoon news cycled through, the Tigers outrighted outfielders Alex Presley, Jim Aducci and Tyler Collins to the minor leagues, along with right-hander Jeff Ferrell. Also moving on is Anibal Sanchez, who had his team option officially declined. While many of these moves were somewhat expected, the most surprising move of the day was veteran utility man Andrew Romine getting claimed off waivers by the Seattle Mariners.
When old players go out, naturally new ones must fill their roles. No one expects Detroit to compete in 2018, meaning free agent signings will be few and far between this offseason. Luckily Detroit has several minor leaguers who are due for a major league promotion.
OF Michael Gerber
With a slew of outfielders no longer on the major league roster, this is Gerber’s time to shine. The 25-year-old Tennessee native has been in the Tigers system for what seems like a long time. The former 15th round selection has hit at every level. His worst season in the minor leagues was a 152-strikeout campaign in 2016, where he still hit .276/.345/.466 across two levels. He spent the majority of his 2017 season at Double-A, but spent time on the disabled list. He had a cup of coffee in Toledo, playing four games at Triple-A.
Gerber is a well-rounded prospect whose biggest issue is putting the ball in play. His strikeout numbers are probably higher than you would like, registering about 90-plus in each of the last three seasons. However, he is coming off an impressive season, hitting .304/.373/.496 with 14 home runs and 26 doubles.
Gerber has always been thought of as a fourth outfielder at best. However, with the sheer number of outfielders Detroit needs, a fourth outfielder might be a perfect fit. Mikie Mahtook is likely the only outfielder guaranteed a starting spot next season. At age 25, it is now or never for Gerber.
OF Christin Stewart
Stewart has been one of the Tigers’ best position-playing prospects since he was drafted with the No. 34 overall pick in 2015. The former Tennessee Volunteer has never played above Double-A. While it was surprising he spent his second consecutive year in Erie, the 23-year-old outfielder does not have much to prove offensively. His 2017 season featured 28 home runs and a .256/.335/.501 line. This was the encore to his 30 home run campaign in 2016, where he played the majority of the season in the dinger-deficient Florida State League.
Stewart has all kinds of power. He will likely hit 30-plus home runs at one point in his major league career. His only offensive issue, like Gerber, is his strikeouts. His 2017 walk rate decreased from the previous season, while his strikeout total stayed the same. His fielding issues are also noted, meaning he will needed to be hidden in a corner.
Nicholas Castellanos and Stewart in the same outfield would be a defensive nightmare for the Tigers. Stewart would probably benefit from a vacancy at the designated hitter spot more than a corner outfield spot. Regardless, 2018 will be the biggest spring training of his career.
2B Dawel Lugo
Romine’s departure should give Dixon Machado more at-bats, but Dawel Lugo could benefit from the roster vacancy as well. Lugo has played all three infield positions in his minor league career, the majority at shortstop. He is projected to play more at second and third base in the majors, though he is relatively new to those positions.
After his first professional season at the age of 17, Lugo has improved offensively almost every season. While he almost never walks, his strikeout numbers are not all that alarming either. Hitting .277/.321/.424 in 2017 suggests Lugo probably is not a starter just yet at the big leagues. He is entering his age-23 season after being acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the J.D. Martinez trade last season. After spending only a half season at Double-A Erie, an early major league promotion may be a bit premature, but it makes sense at some point in 2018.
RHPs Jairo Labourt and Bryan Garcia
Everyone knew Anibal Sanchez’s 2018 option was going to be declined. What nobody really knows is who will be on the Tigers’ 2018 pitching staff. Sanchez split time between the bullpen and the starting rotation last season, leaving a vacancy in either spot.
Acquired in the 2015 David Price trade, Labourt made it to the major leagues last September after transitioning to the bullpen earlier in the year. His live left arm has always had control issues, but has never been short of velocity and movement. To say fans saw him appear in six games last season probably would be incorrect, because he played exclusively in the final month of the season. For those who did watch, they saw him walk seven batters in six innings and post a 4.50 ERA.
The 2018 bullpen could feature several rookies, including Labourt and former Miami Hurricanes reliever Bryan Garcia. After reaching Triple-A in 2017, Garcia registered a 4.05 ERA. This was far off the pace from his 0.96 ERA in Erie, though. He could be in line for some major league innings next year.