The Detroit Tigers desperately need bats who can contribute in 2020 (and beyond). Their offense was the worst in the majors last season by multiple metrics and it often felt like the team had hit rock bottom despite bright performances on the mound from Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, and Shane Greene. There aren’t many in-house reinforcements coming down the pipe on the offensive side of things — the early focus of Detroit’s rebuild has been to grow their pitching corps within and then build a lineup around them.
The Rule 5 draft, set to take place on Thursday, rarely yields immediate contributors. The players available are invariably flawed in some way; otherwise their parent clubs would have not have left them unprotected. However, there is always a chance to pick up a useful role player who fits the front office’s preferences or stash a high-upside guy who would not be on a major league roster under other circumstances.
To get ready for this week’s draft, let’s take a look at the top group of hitters available, starting with five players who could feasibly help the major league club on Opening Day and another five who would likely ride the bench and be stashed in the minors after the year ends.
C Brett Cumberland, Baltimore Orioles
Cumberland is a defensive tweener; he’s less than agile behind the plate but his bat doesn’t play as well if a team prefers his glove at a less challenging position. However, with the seemingly inevitable rise of robotic umpires, the long-term value of receiving skills has become blurred. He will almost certainly do enough at the plate to hang onto some kind of a major league role eventually, though, and the Tigers could bet on his red-hot performance in 2019 at Double-A. The prospect team at FanGraphs is higher on Cumberland than the rest, praising his improved physicality and projecting above-average power. Acquiring an un-demotable catcher would also make it easier to justify giving Jake Rogers more reps at the Triple-A level after an ugly showing during the last couple months of 2019.
Steamer Projections: .223/.311/.372, 80 wRC+ (Video)
1B Roberto Ramos, Colorado Rockies
One of the more obvious holes on the Tigers’ major league roster as we approach the 2020 is the lack of options at first base. Longtime stalwart Miguel Cabrera’s health is failing him and he is no longer a viable everyday option in the field. There isn’t really an inspiring option between Jeimer Candelario, Brandon Dixon, and Frank Schwindel either. Fortunately, one of the most seasoned bats available in the Rule 5 this year is Ramos, a first baseman who has acquitted himself nicely against high-level arms. Pairing home-run power and a discerning eye, he would likely be one of the better hitters in an anemic Detroit lineup. He swings and misses too much, though, and is merely acceptable in the field.
Steamer Projections: .261/.329/.468, 90 wRC+ (Video)
IF Eli White, Texas Rangers
If the Tigers look to fill an immediate need with no in-house solution with their Rule 5 pick, they may turn to White. While the utility infielder doesn’t pack big-time pedigree or have any flashy tools, he is a multi-positional over-performer who leverages every bit of production from his slender frame and uninteresting swing. He has decent barrel control but doesn’t hit for much power, batting over .300 in 2018 before slumping somewhat at Triple-A this season. With enough range and arm strength to play any of the infield positions, though, he would provide cost-controlled depth at shortstop, second, and third, all positions of weakness on the Tigers’ roster.
Steamer Projections: .237/.300/.355, 65 wRC+ (Video)
3B/1B Cristian Santana, Los Angeles Dodgers
Like Ramos, Santana is a masher who plays the infield corners. Santana is able to play first and third base capably, and has a tremendous arm that serves him will in that position. “I like the body, the athleticism, the bat speed, current raw power, raw power projection, his plus arm and his natural defensive footwork over at third base,” wrote Eric Longenhagen in 2016. “I just can’t see this guy hitting at all unless there are serious changes made to his approach.” So far, that prognostication has yet to come to fruition, and Santana has yet to run into major issues despite an abysmal 3.86 percent walk rate. The Tigers are unafraid of players without much approach, though, and his power would be a nice addition.
Steamer Projections: .243/.269/.370, 67 wRC+ (Video)
OF Ka’ai Tom, Cleveland Indians
Unheralded as a prospect, Tom has thrived at the plate since turning pro and crushed high-level pitching in 2019. After putting up a 165 wRC+ in Double-A, he was afforded a second-half promotion and ran with the opportunity. Tom was a run-producing machine yet again, hitting a respectable .298/.370/.564. This is more of a performance bet than anything else — he has never been a favorite of prospect evaluators — but he would spice things up among a group of fourth outfielder types in the organization that has mostly grown stagnant and devoid of power.
Steamer Projections: .248/.315/.417, 88 wRC+ (Video)
2B Esteury Ruiz, San Diego Padres
San Diego suffered a roster crunch that forced them to leave Ruiz unprotected, who would certainly have been added to the 40-man in a different organization. His tools are undeniable, and he offers the potential to hold down second base for a long time. There’s quite a bit of risk involved with this pick — it isn’t based on performance. His offensive numbers slumped in 2019 in the pitcher-friendly environment of High-A. His glovework isn’t al that interesting and he is projected to be below average in the field. Despite that, he’s still a very interesting prospect with an exciting power/speed combination and a history of praise for bat control. He still has room to fill out his slender 6-foot frame. Once he packs on some more muscle and gets more reps (he’s only 20 years old), he could be a reliable bat-first middle infielder.
Steamer Projections: .200/.242/.288, 39 wRC+ (Video)
OF Moises Gomez, Tampa Bay Rays
An outfielder with plus power potential, Gomez probably would have been protected by most clubs, but the Rays left him exposed thanks to an enormous amount of players that merit a spot on their 40-man roster. He ended up as the odd man out because he’s more than likely two years away from MLB readiness and his performance took a bit of a dip in 2019. Despite that, he is interesting as a Rule 5 addition because he would immediately become a top-5 position player among Tigers prospects, and could be part of the meat of a lineup once fully developed. He could also provide some pop off the bench, albeit major league pitching will probably overwhelm his ability to make contact for the time being.
Steamer Projections: .184/.239/.309, 45 wRC+ (Video)
SS Wander Javier, Minnesota Twins
The ultimate when it comes to gambling on upside, Javier has done nothing remotely worth discussing at length in the minor leagues since signing for $4 million in 2015. Plagued by injuries in every season since inking his deal with the Twins, he just booked his longest season yet by playing 80 games in Low-A and hitting just .177/.278/.323. Scouts still like him, though, because he is basically the same player that earned a multi-million dollar bonus in 2015. His swing is aesthetically pleasing and his excellent frame still has room to grow. He’s 20 years old and will be expected to perform next year regardless of whether he is picked, but he’s not out of chances yet. I don’t like the idea of the Tigers taking him, but he’s probably the player with the best pedigree available this season.
Steamer Projections: .168/.216/.261, 22 wRC+ (Video)
C Ricardo Genoves, San Francisco Giants
Unlike most of the high-upside players available to teams in this Rule 5 Draft class, Genoves performed very well in 2019, albeit in the low minors. He wasn’t given a full season’s slate of games, but there is no record of injury, so there was probably an element of workload management in play. He is in no way prepared for a role in the majors and would likely be slaughtered by MLB pitching, but teams have been more willing than ever to carry three catchers on their roster. Also, Detroit may simply not care about his output; they have little to lose and they have proven willing to tolerate below-average production from a Rule 5 pick if they like a player’s tools (see: Victor Reyes). Genoves has an impressive amount of emerging raw power and some feel for the barrel. He’s a fringy receiver but his plus arm controls the running game well. In a game starved for offense from backstops, that might be enough for the Tigers to give him a shot.
Steamer Projections: .184/.227/.270, 32 wRC+ (Video)
OF Buddy Reed, San Diego Padres
A fan favorite as a Florida Gator and a scout favorite leading up to his draft cycle, Reed fell short of expectations during his draft year and hasn’t been able to establish himself as a potent offensive piece since. He had a blistering campaign in High-A that brought him back to mind in 2018, but cooled off in the high minors and wasn’t impressive with the bat in 2019. However, his glove should be able to float the profile, as he is a rangy and assertive defender with excellent instincts. The outlook? “Reed is likely to always disappoint at the plate,” wrote Tigers Minor League Report, “but his plus defense, 70-grade speed, average power, and plus arm could still make him a valuable bench piece.”
Steamer Projections: .209/.265/.331, 56 wRC+ (Video)