Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Tigers.
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The 2017 season ushered in an era of change for the Detroit Tigers, as a sub-.500 first half combined with a roster of older, veteran players prompted the front office to launch a rebuild in earnest at midseason, as they traded off many of the franchise's premier (and most expensive) talents in deals both for high-ceiling and high-floor prospects.
• Tigers' Top 30 Prospects list | Q&A with Alex Faedo
As with the Cubs and Astros in recent years, the Tigers are optimistic that their rebuilding efforts could yield ahead-of-schedule success in the big leagues. Based on some of the young, talented players they acquired last season, adding to a system that already was top-heavy with high-ceiling pitchers, that could very well be how things play out in the coming years.
:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::
No trade improved the Tigers' system as immediately as the Aug. 31 waiver deadline blockbuster that sent ace Justin Verlander to the Astros for a prospect package of right-hander Franklin Perez, catcher Jake Rogers and outfielder Daz Cameron. Perez enters the season as Detroit's No. 1 prospect, with Rogers (No. 5) and Cameron (No. 9) also ranking inside the Top 10.
"We feel like we got some really good players in trades that will help our system, and so far so good on really all the guys. They all look good, and we're expecting good things out of them," said Tigers director of player development Dave Owen.
"We have a group of guys who recognize that they have an opportunity. With the organization going through a bit of a transition, they know it's a good time to be a ballplayer in this system."
The addition of Perez, MLB Pipeline's No. 39 overall prospect, gives the Tigers yet another durable pitching prospect with front-of-the-rotation potential. Pitching most of the 2017 season at age 19, he posted a 3.02 ERA with a .220 opponents' average over 86 1/3 innings between Class A Advanced Buies Creek and Double-A Corpus Christi, reaching the latter level before his 20th birthday. In doing so, Perez demonstrated advanced command of a four-pitch mix, highlighted by a plus fastball-curveball pairing, that only will improve as he gains experience with his new organization.
Beyond Perez, the Tigers' system boasts three more right-handed pitchers ranked in the Top 100 in Matt Manning (No. 55), Alex Faedo (No. 59) and Beau Burrows (No. 77), the club's first-round picks from 2016, '17 and '15 Drafts.
Both Manning and Burrows made strides in their development last season, with the latter reaching Double-A at age 20, and Faedo -- who made his professional debut this spring in Tigers big league camp -- has the ability to jump on the fast track to the Major Leagues when he makes his professional debut in 2018.
"We feel like we have a group of guys that have the ability to be Major League pitchers who can eat innings," said Owen. "They're big, strong, durable, so you feel like they can be a force in your rotation. Doing that, of course, strengthens the bullpen. Needless to say we have a really good group."
Future battery mates?
The Tigers' emphasis on rebuilding their system around a host of promising hurlers made their acquisition of Rogers, a defensive-minded backstop who broke out offensively in 2017, all the more important. A third-round pick out of Tulane in the 2016 Draft, Rogers enters the season ranked No. 5 both on Detroit's Top 30 as well as MLB Pipeline's list of the Top 10 catchers. Across two organizations and three levels last season, the 22-year-old slashed .261/.350/.467 with 18 home runs and 25 doubles while throwing out 46 percent of attempted basestealers.
"What we see so far with Jake we really like," said Owen. "We had him in instructional league for a little bit, and he spent most of the spring in big league camp. So far, everything with him really looks good. He can catch, throw, swing the bat -- he has tools that allow you to project him as a starting catcher in the big leagues."
Another intriguing catcher to keep an eye on is No. 11 prospect Sam McMillan, whom Detroit selected in the fifth round last June out of the Florida prep ranks. He proved an advanced hitter during his professional debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, batting .288/.441/.432 with more walks (19) than strikeouts (17) at age 18. McMillan's defense, however, is a work in progress.
"Sammy swings the bat, and so far he's shown us that he looks like a guy who can make an impact offensively. He's a young kid as far in terms of his defensive skills, but he's working hard in all defensive aspects. He knows that he has to be a defensive catcher," Owen said.
The Tigers on Tuesday optioned outfielder Mike Gerber to Triple-A Toledo, though not before the No. 11 prospect opened eyes with his performance in big league camp. Appearing in parts of 15 Grapefruit League games, he produced a .350 average (7-for-20) with one home run and three doubles and impressed club officials with his ability to play center field.
The performance was a continuation of what has been a steady progression through Detroit's system for the 2014 15th-rounder, who batted .304/.373/.496 with 14 home runs and 26 doubles across three levels including Triple-A in 2017. Though he may not have a high ceiling like some other players on the Tigers' farm, there's little doubt within the organization about Gerber's capacity to contribute in the Major Leagues.
"If you see him for one game, you can see that he's a good player," Owen noted, "but if you watch him play over the course of a couple weeks or a month, you realize that he's a very good player. He has some pop from the left side, runs better than you think, can handle center field -- he has a chance to be a nice complement to a big league team. We really expect good things out of Gerb."
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.