For years, the Detroit Tigers have had one of the worst farm systems in baseball. This did not matter for a while, as the Tigers were one of MLB’s most prolific teams at the major league level. Then-general manager Dave Dombrowski was able to paper over this deficit with a flurry of savvy trades, and the team stayed in contention. Over the past few years, however, their lack of prospect depth has started to reveal itself.
One of the most telling instances came shortly after J.D. Martinez was placed on the disabled list in 2016. Steven Moya was quickly overmatched by major league pitching while Tyler Collins couldn’t find his way in Triple-A Toledo. Without any other outfielders to turn to, the Tigers relied on utility infielder Mike Aviles as their primary right fielder. We all know how that turned out.
Were history to repeat itself in 2017, the Tigers will be better suited to weather the storm. Both Christin Stewart and Michael Gerber reached the Double-A level in 2016, and should be in line for a major league call-up late this year or in 2018. While Stewart has the higher overall ceiling — we profiled his offensive prowess here — Gerber is a well-rounded player who will have a role at the major league level.
Gerber doesn’t really possess a standout tool, but has flashed a modest amount of power in his time in the minors. He has amassed 108 extra base hits over the past two years, including 31 home runs. The homer total isn’t impressive at first glance — and scouts aren’t convinced he’ll be a typical corner outfielder thumper — but Gerber has spent most of his time in very pitcher-friendly leagues. TigsTown’s Mark Anderson echoed the sentiment last season, describing Gerber’s best tool as “above-average raw power that plays from line to line.” FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen pegged Gerber’s power as an average tool with below average in-game grades, but praised his above-average bat speed from the left side.
Gerber’s other “strength” isn’t a flashy tool, but rather a lack of serious weaknesses. Unlike Steven Moya’s plate discipline or Christin Stewart’s defense, Gerber grades as roughly average across the board. Despite feasting on Single-A catchers with 16 stolen bases in 2015, he is only an average runner. This limits his ability to play center field, but makes him an above average defender in the corners. Gerber’s arm is above-average to plus, and will play in right field. The glove won’t carry Gerber’s profile, but a trio of average-or-better tools significantly raises his floor.
Gerber’s plate discipline was once praised as a strength. Unfortunately, that seems to be a product of the competition he was facing. In 2015, a 23-year-old Gerber dominated the Midwest League with a 135 wRC+. He managed a healthy 8.6 percent walk rate and a 16.6 percent strikeout rate. The walk rate held steady as Gerber advanced up the ladder in 2016, but his strikeout rate skyrocketed to 28.6 percent in 388 plate appearances at Advanced-A Lakeland. He improved slightly (23.4 percent) at Double-A Erie to close out the year, but that came in a relatively brief 41-game sample.
Scouts warned of Gerber’s swing issues even prior to last season. FanGraphs’ Dan Farnsworth was chief among them.
His plate discipline profile has been the product of patience at the plate rather than a discerning eye, as he will chase balls down out of the zone and won’t be more than average in contact rate. He has been able to drive balls to all fields, though his power likely settles in around the above-average range while maxing out at plus if his approach sharpens. He has a solid swing with great hands that keep his swing through the ball. The only complaint I would have is how it can be too much of a one-piece move, without a lot of torque, particularly in his lower half at times.
Others have since joined in. New FanGraphs prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen identified Gerber’s issues with swing length and pitch recognition, especially against lefthanders. These issues, along with an unexciting (if well-rounded) profile, have halted his ascent up the Tigers’ prospect rankings. Once Baseball America’s No. 3 prospect in Detroit’s farm system, he has topped out at No. 5 across all publications this year despite the Tigers graduating a few players off of last year’s lists.
Projected Team: Double-A Erie SeaWolves
Gerber won’t spend the entire season in a SeaWolves uniform, but there is currently a logjam of outfielders at Triple-A Toledo blocking his path. He could use the extra seasoning anyway, as he only played in 41 games with the SeaWolves last year. Gerber could force his way into the conversation at Toledo with a hot start, but the Tigers’ sudden emphasis on slow-playing their prospects might halt his ascent there... for 2017, at least. Expect Gerber to be in the outfield picture come 2018 if everything goes well this season.
Jacob’s Scouting Report