Over the past month, we have been busy profiling the best prospects in the Detroit Tigers’ farm system. You may disagree with where some players were ranked, but overall I feel like it offers an accurate portrayal of the current prospect hierarchy within the Tigers’ minor league system.
Last year, I tried to identify five under-the-radar prospects within the Tigers’ system. All five of those players were Latin American signings who had not yet reached full season ball. One, outfielder Jose Azocar, went on to have a great season with the West Michigan Whitecaps. Another, second baseman Hector Martinez, was listed 12th in our organizational rankings this year. The others may still contribute, but are a long way off from the major leagues.
This year, I decided to take a slightly different approach. We will still highlight a few players light years away from the major leagues, but I also found a couple of compelling statistical anomalies higher up in the Tigers’ system. Regardless of where these players ply their trade in 2017, you should keep an eye on the box scores.
RHP Artie Lewicki
An eighth round pick out of Virginia in 2014, Lewicki has been largely overlooked so far in his professional career. He pitched out of the bullpen for the Cavaliers in 2013 after having Tommy John surgery in 2012, and the Tigers used him as a reliever after he signed in 2014. He shifted back to the rotation with the Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps in 2015, and has posted solid numbers ever since. In 32 appearances (30 starts) over the past two minor league seasons, Lewicki has a 3.48 ERA. He has 154 strikeouts to 44 walks in 168 1⁄3 innings, a solid-if-unspectacular ratio of 3.5 punchouts to every walk.
Things seemed to click a little bit in 2016, though. Lewicki walked just 19 batters in 89 innings, an excellent 5.1 percent rate. He largely maintained his strikeout rate has he jumped to Double-A Erie, where he made 12 starts with a 3.48 ERA. FanGraphs’ Carson Cistulli singled him out in this year’s Tigers prospect rankings. According to Minor League Ball’s FaBIO evaluation system*, Lewicki was one of the top performers in the minor leagues last season due to his impressive batted ball profile. Lewicki scored well with a 55.8 percent ground ball rate and additional 9.4 percent pop-up rate. His 13.9 percent line drive rate (per MLBFarm) is a bit unsustainable, especially as he finally starts to see age-appropriate competition. However, if the numbers are any indication, he might eventually become a useful back-end starter who excels at missing barrels.
*The most impressive thing about Lewicki’s performance is the company he finds himself in. Directly surrounding him are some of the more heralded pitching prospects in baseball, including Jose De Leon, Jharel Cotton, David Paulino, and Jose Berrios.
SS Wenceel Perez
Nothing says “under the radar” like Perez, who doesn’t even have a Baseball Reference page yet. The young shortstop was one of the Tigers’ bigger international signees in 2016, but has yet to play in a professional game. That doesn’t stop TigsTown’s Mark Anderson from giving Perez above-average future grades on four of his five tools, with raw power the lone exception. His speed, defense, and arm could all be plus tools one day, with the hit tool not far behind. Anderson believe the Tigers could move Perez quickly if the bat pans out, which could lead to him shooting up prospect rankings in the future.
Plus, his name is Wenceel. What’s not to love?
LHP Matt Hall
I’m still not sure what to make of Hall, a slightly undersized lefthander drafted out of Missouri State in 2015. Hall dominated the Midwest League last season, posting a 1.09 ERA and 3.43 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 12 starts with the Whitecaps. He struggled after a midseason promotion to Advanced-A Lakeland, allowing a 4.15 ERA in 60 2⁄3 innings pitched. His strikeout and walk rates both trended in the wrong direction, hinting that his high-80s fastball would not fool more advanced hitters.
There’s a bit more to this, though. Hall’s BABIP crept upward after his promotion, and he stranded fewer runners on base. He still maintained a solid 20.5 percent strikeout rate in the Florida State League, and only allowed home runs at a league average rate. Hall was also hell on lefties last year, limiting them to a .178 batting average and .282 on-base percentage in 149 plate appearances. With an above-average curveball already in tow, he is one more pitch away from carving out a decent major league career. Whether that comes as a LOOGY or in the back of a starting rotation depends on how his command develops over the next couple years.
OF Ulrich Bojarski
Trust me, I didn’t make this name up.
Bojarski is an 18-year-old Australian outfielder who has yet to appear in a game as a member of the Tigers organization. He hit .243/.268/.360 in 38 games with the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League in 2016, and managed just nine extra base hits in 136 at-bats. It’s important to remember how young he is, though; in ABL competition, Bojarski is often facing pitchers five years his superior, if not more. TigsTown’s Mark Anderson identifies Bojarski as a potential right or center fielder thanks to his solid arm strength and athleticism. He is a loooooong way off from the major leagues right now, but could be a real difference maker if everything clicks.
LHP Gregory Soto
The Tigers threw Soto into the deep end last season, handing him 15 starts at Short-Season Connecticut, their New York-Penn League affiliate. Soto remained afloat, allowing a 3.03 ERA and 3.28 FIP in 71 1⁄3 innings. His peripherals were not pretty, though. Soto only allowed one home run, and walked 34 batters to just 62 strikeouts. If we were to repeat those 15 starts, his ERA would probably tick up by a half run or more.
There’s a lot to like here, though. Soto throws hard, reaching 95-96 miles per hour at times with his fastball. TigsTown’s Mark Anderson notes that both of Soto’s secondary pitches are below average at this point, but any improvement in either pitch and he becomes a legitimate relief arm. The Tigers, of course, are hoping that both improve —along with his command, which sure needs work — and he reaches his ultimate ceiling as a mid-rotation starter.