It's getting closer! Spring training games have been under way for a little over a week now, and that means baseball season is around the corner. While a few Tigers from the big league squad (Miguel Cabrera, Omar Infante, Octavio Dotel, and Anibal Sanchez) have left camp to play in the World Baseball Classic, the rest of the squad will continue playing as scheduled. I've watched a good majority of the spring training games, and have come away with a few early observations about the Tigers' prospects. Remember, it's only been a handful of games, so there is no reason to jump to irrational conclusions, or even to yell and scream. Remember, most of the players that have driven you crazy the last few years (Inge, Raburn, Delmon, Valverde) have all moved on. Kelly likely won't make the squad. All is good in Tiger land for now, and agonizing whether or not Jeff Kobernus or Danny Worth is a better candidate for a 25th man, or Drew Smyly or Rick Porcello are better suited for a 5th starter spot means that the team that Dombrowski and company are going to put out is damn good.
Let's see how some prospects are doing thus far, starting with the hitters:
Nick Castellanos- Ah, yes. The Tigers' pride and joy. If Castellanos isn't the best pure hitter in the minor leagues, he's in the top 3. Nick has started off hot, going 6 for his first 11, good for a .545/.667/818/1.485 triple slash. He's drawn 4 walks in 15 plate appearances, and only struck out twice. He also had an opposite field home run against Jon Papelbon, which is extremely impressive. He's looked a bit lost in the field, but there's potential for Nick to become an average fielder in a corner OF spot. I'd say that Nick needs about 500 more minor league PA, and by next spring, should be ready to put himself in the mix to play LF. Personally, I'd start him back at AA and see how he does. It's not like he tore up AA pitching last season.
Tyler Collins- This guy is a gamer. While he draws some comparisons to Andy Dirks, Collins is his own player. He's started off with 4 xbh in 18 AB, with a .333/.368/.667/.1035 triple slash. He should start at AA this season, and could hit his way onto the big club by September. If Tyler just keeps doing what he's doing, the Tigers are going to have to make room for his bat on the roster.
Dixon Machado- After hitting less than .200 last season, Dixon has 3 hits in his first 5 at bats, including 2 doubles. Wow!!! What a power surge. Machado took a bad hop off his face in one of the first few games, but continues to flash his plus glove and absolute rocket arm. He also looks a bit bigger. If Machado can continue to eat a few cheeseburgers, his line drive swing may help him exceed his glove only utility profile. He's got great actions at short, and brings a little bit of swagger that you like to see in a young kid.
Argenis Diaz- Argenis continues to plod on as an org player for the Tigers. He's 4 for his first 10. Hopefully he can help some of the young guys in AAA learn to play some middle infield.
Jeff Kobernus- I, for one, was interested to see Kobernus play. He's essentially been as advertised. Fast. Very fast. However, I'm struggling to see the consistency with the glove that some prospect evaluators discussed. In the game that I saw him play 2B, he looked a bit out of place, and let two ground balls ‘play him' meaning that he wasn't aggressive towards the grounder, and the ball ate him up. He made two errors on two chances in a row, one with the infield in. Hopefully, it was just a bad day. I haven't had the chance to watch him play the OF yet, but I'm sure that the Tigers will give him plenty of chances, because it's pretty obvious they'd rather Kobernus than Kelly or Berry on this roster. At the plate, Kobernus has started .318/.348/.500/.848 with two triples. If he can hit an empty .270 and walk, the speedy rule 5 pick will help out the big club this year.
Avisail Garcia- Avi has struggled a bit in the early spring, but it's only a handful of at bats. He's hitting .211/286/.421/.707 but he does have two walks and a home run, which is inspiring. I'd guess that the Toledo OF with he and Castellanos at the corners in the early to mid summer should be pretty frightening to AAA pitchers. I'm higher on Garcia than others, but he may be the odd man out of the Tigers sneaky dearth of OF depth. If a need becomes apparent, I think that Garcia is an interesting trade chip, as the Tigers could deal from a position of strength.
Curt Casali- I saw a few of Casali's swings, and he had some good cuts. He's probably going to be a career backup, but has the potential to be a decent one. Keep an eye on him this season.
Daniel Fields- Fields hasn't impressed at the plate so far (0/9 with 4 K), but he's looked solid in CF. Although he doesn't have a strong arm, his routes have improved tremendously, and he's taken to the OF well. As an infielder his entire prep career, the OF looks as if it's come naturally to him. If he can take some swing and miss out of his game, and let his power show through, he walks enough, and runs well enough to get by as a mid .200's hitter.
Eugenio Suarez- I haven't had the pleasure of watching Suarez yet, but he's 0/8 so far in spring training. I'm interested to see how Suarez handles AA ball this season, should be a big step in his development.
Moving on to pitchers:
Al Alburquerque- he looks like he's starting to get over that injury. 3 scoreless innings so far for Al, with that sharp slider spinning as hard as ever.
Duane Below- Mr. Below, you're slowly falling on the depth chart. 7 runs in 3 innings is no way to ensure the "7th starter" spot.
Casey Crosby- Casey has only had one outing, but he walked two in two innings. His stuff looked good, but he needs to throw the ball over the plate. Until he starts throwing it over with regularilty, I, for one, am not going to get too excited. He's got a big ceiling, but can't yet repeat his mechanics. While he's still young in terms of innings (injuries to start his career), he's no longer a young prospect in terms of age.
Kenny Faulk- I liked what I saw out of this young man in the outing I saw. He's got a nasty change, with both pronation and supination movement. He's not afraid to throw it in any count, any time, anywhere. His fastball has a little bit of life, even though it barely breaks 90. If Faulk wants to be any more than a tough LOOGY, he's going to have to develop a breaking ball, even if it's just a ‘show-me' offering. I'd hate to see a guy with seemingly a bulldog mentality and an above average changeup go to waste. However, I don't see the "future MLB closer" that MLB.com's John Mayo sees.
Shawn Hill- Nope.
Kyle Lobstein- In 3 appearances, Lobstein has pitched 5.2 innings, given up 9 hits and 6 runs. Luckily, he's also struck out 5 and hasn't walked anyone yet. The Tigers got rid of Adam Wilk this offseason and essentially replaced him with... well, Adam Wilk Jr. I'd like to see Lobstein throw a couple more times, but I'd be surprised if he made the team over Darin Downs. The Tigers will probably work something out to keep Lobstein, or they could always send him back- no harm, no foul.
Melvin Mercedes- Let's get this out of the way. Mercedes is a large, large man. He's bigger than Rondon. In 2 appearances, he's walked 4 and struck out none. This guy is someone to keep an eye on, but he's going to need to throw the ball over the plate.
Jose Ortega- for some reason, Ortega still believes that ‘pitching' means going to the state fair and throwing the ball as hard as you can into that mat, and the guy turns to you with the gun and goes
"WOW! 96!". He's yet to give up a run this spring, but he's still a thrower, not a pitcher. He walked 51 guys in 62 AAA innings last year. Talk to me when his walk rate is under 5.
Luke Putkonen- Since Andy Oliver is gone, I need a new whipping boy. And, who better to choose than Putkonen? When I see Luke, I see Ryan Perry. Straight as a string fastball, a sporadically good breaking ball, and no fastball command. He throws 95. That's cool. You can see the ball the entire way out of Putkonen's hand, and the batter has no trouble picking it up. Some see a 7th or 8th inning arm in there, but I think that even if he threw 105, hitters would still have no problem with him. He's given up a hit an inning wherever he's been, and I don't see that improving going forward.
Finally, what we've all been waiting for:
Bruce Rondon- Now, I can understand the panic. Trust me I do. But, what was everyone expecting? That he'd suddenly become Cliff Lee and paint the corners or something? The kid has just been handed the keys to a Bentley. It's been four appearances. Four bad ones, sure, but guess what? They don't count. Not even for a little bit. I'm more anxious to see how Rondon responds to being hit for the first time in his life. He gave up a home run! Rondon has only allowed 5 HR in 196 minor league innings. It's always been between he and the catcher, not he and the hitter. Now... well, it's still between he and the catcher. If Rondon throws the ball over the plate with any regularity, he's going to get people out. His fastball moves a ton, and his off-speed pitches are ahead of anything Joel Zumaya ever had. Let's see how this shakes out, but I'm willing to give him another month with Jeff Jones and company getting on him every single day, and see how he responds. For one, I'm glad he's failing, because if he is ‘the truth' like the organization makes him out to be, the big right hander should be better for it in the long run.
Let's see how the next few weeks of spring training shake out. There are some intriguing battles for depth position spots, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Tigers made a move before it was all said and done. As always, thanks for reading!