It’s not often that you see a player removed from an Arizona Fall League roster. However, that happened earlier this week when Detroit Tigers pitching prospect Adam Ravenelle was taken off the Mesa Solar Sox roster after five subpar appearances.
The Tigers have given Ravenelle plenty of chances to prove himself. Selected out of Vanderbilt in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB draft, Ravenelle has gone to the Arizona Fall League in each of the past three seasons. He understandably struggled in 2015, having only pitched in Single-A ball by that point. However, his performances in the 2016 and 2017 Fall Leagues have not gone much better; last year, he posted a 6.75 ERA in 9 1⁄3 innings for the Salt River Rafters. This year, he gave up eight runs (five earned) in 5 2⁄3 frames.
Initial reporting from Emily Waldon of The Athletic suggested that Ravenelle was not removed from the Solar Sox roster due to injury. However, radar gun readings tell a different story. Ravenelle’s calling card is his high-90s fastball, one that can touch 100 miles per hour at times. PitchFX data from the 2016 Arizona Fall League clocked him at 98.1 miles per hour on average, with a peak velocity of 99.8 mph. This year? Ravenelle’s heater is down to just 94.5 mph on average and 96.1 mph at peak.
No matter the extent of his arm trouble, Ravenelle’s poor performance in the Fall League caps off a disappointing 2017 season. Tigers fans were hoping that he could take a step forward after posting a 3.88 ERA in 58 innings across two levels in 2016, but he was knocked around to the tune of a 5.16 ERA in 42 games at Double-A Erie. Worse yet, his high-octane fastball hasn’t translated into that many strikeouts (though his 2.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio was a career-best).
It’s still too early to write off Ravenelle as a viable major leaguer, but time is running out in Detroit. He will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year, so the Tigers will need to add him to their 40-man roster by November 20. If they don’t, his power fastball-slider combo could interest a team who thinks they could sort him out.
Triple-A Toledo: C Grayson Greiner
We tried our best to find a few winners following the Tigers’ roster purge on Thursday. With another round of cuts coming on Friday, one new winner emerged: catching prospect Grayson Greiner. Another 2014 draftee, Greiner will also be eligible for this year’s Rule 5 draft. With Bryan Holaday now out of the way, Greiner is almost sure to be added to the Tigers’ 40-man roster by November 20, protecting him from Rule 5 selection.
If the Tigers don’t add him, for some reason, they would be taking a big risk. Greiner had a solid 2017 season at the plate, hitting .241/.323/.436 with 14 home runs and 20 doubles for Double-A Erie. This was good enough for a 108 wRC+ in the hitter-friendly Eastern League, an especially impressive mark for a catcher.
And if his splits are indicative, the Tigers might even be able to expect better. Greiner endured a horrible start to the season, hitting just .198 with a .553 OPS in April and May. It looked like a huge step back following an excellent 2016 season, one that saw him re-establish himself as a legitimate catching prospect in the team’s system. However, Greiner exploded in June, and hit a robust .269/.348/.548 in his final 224 plate appearances. He posted an OPS above 1.000 in both June and July before wearing down in August, as catchers are wont to do. All 14 of his home runs came during this stretch, along with 11 of his 20 doubles.
Greiner probably won’t be this kind of a power threat at the major league level, but that’s okay. His calling card is his strong defense; despite standing 6’6, he has been praised for his receiving and blocking abilities, as well as an above-average arm. He also flashed solid plate discipline this year, walking over 10 percent of the time in 371 total plate appearances for Erie.
Double-A Erie: IF Kody Eaves
Earlier this year, I hyped up Eaves’ hot start as Something to Watch.
While it’s easy to peg Eaves as a future utility player, the uptick in production might signal something greater. A left-handed hitter with quick hands and a decent approach at the plate, Eaves compiled an .804 OPS against right-handed pitching last season. He hit 11 home runs and stole 21 bases in High-A ball the year before, when he also demonstrated significant platoon splits. He might not be the heir apparent to Ian Kinsler at second base, but his athleticism, strong arm, and left-handed bat could afford him consistent playing time against righties if things break the right way.
Turns out we might be onto something here. Eaves’ power trailed off a bit as the season went on, but he still hit .272/.343/.472 with 13 home runs and 18 doubles for Double-A Erie in 2017, a 124 wRC+. He has continued to produce in the Arizona Fall League, with a .999 OPS in 14 games for the Mesa Solar Sox. While we shouldn’t get too excited about that performance — his BABIP is sky-high and the AFL is a very hitter-friendly environment — it’s still nice to see him performing well against top competition.
And with all the roster turnover currently happening above him, we might get a chance to see Eaves in the big leagues soon. He will almost certainly start at Triple-A Toledo next year after a strong performance in Erie, and he is one of the first infielders in line for at-bats should Ian Kinsler be traded. Eaves can also play third base capably, and one imagines he will get some outfield reps at some point to further improve his versatility. He still needs to prove more at the plate before we start thinking of him as Kinsler’s heir at second, but he already looks like an interesting utility option.