For the past couple years, I have supplemented our usual prospect rankings with a list of five “sleeper” prospects in the Detroit Tigers system. These lists have consisted of guys that aren’t quite on the prospect radar just yet, but are interesting in some form. Most of them are teenagers just entering pro ball, while others are primed for a breakout season. Last year, we discussed lefthander Gregory Soto before he went on to strike out everyone and their brother at the Single-A level. Righthander Artie Lewicki, who earned his major league call-up with a strong season in the minors, was also on the list.
This year’s list wasn’t necessarily tougher, per se — it’s always easy to squint and see the upside in a teenage prospect — but it was a little different. From a couple of higher profile signings to a largely ignored trade chip to the son of a Hall of Famer, here are five guys to keep tabs on in 2018.
IF Pedro Martinez Jr.
If visions of Pedro Martinez’s ludicrous 1999 season danced in your head when the Tigers signed his son last September, think again. Pedro Jr. enters the ranks as a third baseman, and one with plenty of upside. At 6’2, he’s already bigger than his father, and projects to get a little bigger as he ages. That size might be a concern defensively as he gets older, but scouts like his hands and instincts. His footwork should also improve with professional instruction.
Offensively, Martinez has drawn rave reviews already. Amaury Nina, president of the International Prospect League, compared Martinez to top prospect Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.
“I had Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the IPL, too, and I don’t say that Pedro’s son has the same power Vladimir Jr. has, but it’s going to be similar one day. Some players get power early, and some you have to wait a little bit more. I think Pedro is going to have to wait a little to have the same power as Vladimir Jr., but hitting-wise, I think they both have the same ability.”
Given the recent praise heaped on Guerrero — including an 80-grade on his hit tool from MLB.com — this might be too lofty of a comparison for Martinez. However, he has the chance to be the type of high-ceiling prospect otherwise lacking in this system. It will take a looooong time, but we’ll be watching him closely on his ascent through the minors.
RHP Elvin Rodriguez
Currently the forgotten prospect Detroit received in last August’s Justin Upton trade, Rodriguez is something of a lottery ticket. However, they might be onto something. The 19-year-old righty dominated the short season Pioneer League in 2017, striking out 49 batters to just 11 walks in 54 innings. He earned a late-season promotion to Single-A Burlington, where he maintained a 4.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio in three starts. While his ERA was a bit higher than we would like, he’s still a teenager holding his own against mostly college bats.
Most encouraging of all, however, is the improvement in velocity scouts cited this year. At first, Rodriguez’s fastball sat in the high 80s. Scouts projected that velocity to improve, and it has. He was clocked in the low 90s in many starts last season, and might be able to grow into more velocity as his slender 6’3 frame fills out. He likely won’t ever have the raw stuff to be a true weapon, but could eventually become a capable mid-to-back-end starter down the road.
RHP Wladimir Pinto
Everyone knows the Tigers love pitchers who throw really hard. Pinto is the next in line of such pitchers, reaching as high as 100 miles per hour out of the bullpen. He has been a true reliever ever since he signed with the Tigers, but has the raw stuff to be an absolute monster. Pinto turned in a dominant 10 inning performance last season, striking out 18 batters while allowing just three hits between short-season Connecticut and Single-A West Michigan.
Why is he so far down the list, then? Compared to the other hard-throwing relievers on this list, Pinto is a bit further from the majors. He made just one appearance for the Whitecaps last year, and is just a couple weeks from 20 years old. He also perhaps has even less of an idea where the ball is going when it leaves his hand. Pinto walked 28 batters in 27 2⁄3 innings in his first season of pro ball, and is projected to still have below-average control at his peak. He has a decent curveball too, but the fastball is currently the big draw here.
OF Julio Martinez
Martinez was on this list two years ago, at which point we (vaguely) compared him to another Julio Martinez in the Tigers system. While Julio the younger probably won’t ever be the second coming of J.D. Martinez, he possesses the raw power to be a middle-of-the-order hitter at the MLB level in a similar vein. Just 18 at the time of that previous article, Martinez struggled in his stateside debut, hitting .229/.283/.314 in 152 plate appearances in 2016.
A second go-round went much better. Martinez produced a .721 OPS in 175 plate appearances with the GCL Tigers last year, including three home runs and 14 extra-base hits. He was particularly strong down the stretch, hitting .308/.379/.505 in his final 29 games.
Though he hasn’t flashed much power yet, Martinez has plus power potential. TigsTown even hinted at it showing plus-plus at times back in 2016, though trouble with recognizing pitch spin holds him back some. He will need to improve both here and in the field, where he is still quite raw. Martinez has the arm to play right field, but he has struggled in all other areas on defense.
C Gresuan Silverio
Silverio appeared near the back end of FanGraphs’ top 50 international prospects list back in 2015, but as you’ll see in the link above, at least he made the list. The Dominican signed with Detroit during that period, giving them yet another potential Catcher of the Future. He had a monster season down in the Gulf Coast League last year, hitting .331/.422/.449. That’s not always the most hitter-friendly league, and it was the second consecutive season of Silverio drawing plenty of walks as a very young hitter (he even walked nearly as often as he struck out in 2017).
Aside from that, there is precious little information out there about the young catcher. Minor League Ball’s John Sickels referred to Silverio as a “Strong defensive catcher, will need to grow into his bat” back in 2015 when Silverio signed, and the writers at TigsTown praised him as one of the bigger surprises of the farm system in 2017.
Plus, who doesn’t love that name?