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Scouting the strong prospect return in the Justin Verlander trade

The Tigers swapped their ace for Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron, and Jake Rogers.

Daz Cameron watches a pitch during his first at-bat with the Tigers organization.
Jay Markle/Bless You Boys

Waking up on Friday morning and seeing that Justin Verlander had been traded hit us all like a ton of bricks. Despite the majority of Bless You Boys readers approving of the trade, it is still painful to watch the face of the franchise wear another uniform. For me, it is a strange feeling. In June 2004, when the soon-to-be stud pitcher was drafted, I was three years old. I have literally never known a Tigers without him.

As with all good things, Verlander’s time in Detroit was going to end at some point. Fortunately, the Detroit Tigers' front office was able to extract as much value from the pitcher as they possibly could. The trades that general manager Al Avila has made lifted the Tigers farm system out of the mud and brought it to a respectable level.

This trade is the most impactful of them. Let’s meet the Tigers’ newest prospects.

RHP Franklin Perez

The return for an ace like Verlander is never light, and this three-player package is centered around Perez, a bonafide blue-chip prospect. A product of the Carlos Guillen Baseball Academy, where he manned the hot corner, Perez’s ceiling is much higher as a starting pitcher. Signed in 2014 for a cool $1 million, Perez is still only 19 years old and has already reached Double-A.

Perez thrives on his diverse and mature arsenal, which is steadily improving. He starts hitters off with a plus fastball that sits in the 92-94 mile-per-hour range, but he has hit as high as 96 mph. There is physical projection left in his slender frame, so scouts are optimistic that there is still some velocity waiting to be unleashed. That velocity, paired with some sinking motion and a good feel for locating his heater, make for a very good pitch.

The fastball is good, but it is made even better by Perez’s trio of secondary pitches. He shows fantastic feel for a curveball that he uses as his main strikeout pitch. It projects to be a plus offering. He will also use a fading changeup far more liberally than many his age. While evaluators hesitate to call it plus, it is more advanced than anyone would expect to see from a teenager.

Finally, Perez has been incorporating a slider into his arsenal, but it lags behind his other pitches. MLB Pipeline gives it a future average grade in their scouting report, but FanGraphs is less optimistic, saying it's a below-average offering at best. In a later article, they said, "If it improves enough to usurp the curveball... as Perez’s primary way to miss bats against righties, then he could be a monster."

There aren't many pitchers who are able to make an up-and-down delivery work, but FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen noted that Perez is able to utilize the motion due to his athleticism. It also work well with the sinking motion on his fastball and makes it difficult for hitters to pick up his changeup. Longenhagen notes that many pitchers with a vertical arm slot "sometimes struggle with east/west fastball command," but points out that it is not something that has plagued this young player thus far.

Yet another positive point to Perez's style of play is that his delivery lacks any kind of violence, and his fluid motion poses a low injury risk. Some evaluators worry that Perez may not have 200-inning stamina, and his diminishing performance down the stretch this year has not eased those tensions. However, there is still plenty of time for him to allay those concerns as he reaches physical maturity.

Rounding out the spectacular package of talent that Perez brings to the table is an advanced understanding of pitching and the ability to locate his pitches well. This is a real advantage for him, as it gives him a leg up on many of his peers and allows him to perform at a higher level than most teenagers.

Daz Cameron

Once a top prospect and heralded as a future star as an amateur, Cameron slipped past the first round in 2015 because of hefty bonus demands. The Astros ended up with him, signing him to a $4 million dollar deal, and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, the best has not come yet.

Here’s what ESPN’s Keith Law had to say about Cameron:

He's a true center fielder who probably won't match his father's power/speed combination, but should end up an above-average hitter who gets to 15-20 homers in some years and adds some value on the bases.

After performing well enough in short-season ball to earn himself a promotion to Single-A, he floundered miserably. In his first taste of full-season ball, he hit only .143/.221/.221, posting a pathetic 32 wRC+. His season came to a conclusion after only 40 games due to a broken finger. Once considered to have plus contact ability and average power, FanGraphs assigned him below-average grades for his hit and power tools. His stock had not ever been lower entering the 2017 season.

The overall package was considered below average, and he was coming close to being written off.

Jay Markle/Bless You Boys

The 2017 season was a new beginning for the young outfielder, though, and he has done much to restore his value. Over the course of 120 games, he has batted .271/.349/.466, an offensive production 28 percent above average, according to wRC+.

The jury is still out on Cameron's defense, though. Most everyone agrees that he will be a center fielder long term, but there are still those who doubt that his glove is as strong as it was as a prep. MLB Pipeline believes that he has a future as an excellent defender up the middle, but FanGraphs is the lowest on him, seeing his future up the middle as merely average.

If everything breaks his way, Cameron will be a centerfielder with tools to spare, a dynamic player on both sides of the ball. More likely is a career as an even-keeled player who is good enough to stick in center field and bats just well enough to play regularly. In any case, he is a solid prospect with plenty of upside to dream on. He is a good get for Avila's biggest trade to this point. Cameron is not a top-100 prospect right now, but his resurgence could lead to a return to those lists in the near future.

Jake Rogers

Rogers, a product of Tulane, has always been seen as a truly special defender behind the plate. FanGraphs is higher on Rogers than any of the other major sources.

He’s the best defensive catching prospect I’ve seen, a polished receiver and cat-like ball-blocker with a plus arm. ... His glove, alone, makes him a likely big leaguer, at least as an uber-gloved backup. If he does anything with the bat — .250/.315/.405 is league average at catcher right now, folks — he’s an everyday guy.

Rogers enters a Tigers system thick with catching prospects, and tops them all. MLB Pipeline grades his glove at 65 — nearly a double-plus tool. FanGraphs labels it plus-plus, or 70-grade. Rogers also shuts down the running game with an arm that is both strong and accurate.

Rogers' spectacular work as a backstop has not come as a surprise, but his production in the batter's box has been a true shock. Approaching the draft, his bat was considered his weakest attribute. MLB Pipeline said that "he has a big leg kick that throws off his timing at the plate and a right-handed swing that gets long and produces weak contact too often." They assigned him well below-average grades for both his contact and power.

Rogers has flown in the face of any negativity, though, posting fantastic numbers at every level. At Single-A, he hit .255/.336/.520 in 27 games, good for a 138 wRC+. In his most recent stop, an 83-game stretch in Advanced-A, he has batted .265/.357/.457, a 127 wRC+.

This outbreak with the bat may or may not be an aberration. On the one hand, his performances have not been fueled by a ridiculously high batting average on balls in play (BABIP) — .290 in Single-A and .302 in Advanced-A. His HR/FB rate is a little high, at 12.1 percent, but that is not enough to elevate a mediocre performance to the level at which Rogers has been playing. On the other hand, his swing isn't all that pretty. "I worry about his bat against better pitching as he swings uphill," said ESPN’s Keith Law, "and I've seen him struggle to adjust to changing speeds."

In any case, Rogers provides depth for the Tigers and is very good for the final piece in any deal. His ultimate ceiling is that of a starting catcher who provides tons of value on defense and is a far better batter than one would expect in a glove-first regular. Far more likely is a backup role with a ridiculously good glove that buoys him to a long career behind the plate.