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Raking at Triple-A, Stewart fine-tuning other skills

Callup may not be imminent, but Tigers prospect impressing amid latest tear
MLB.com

TOLEDO -- Christin Stewart slowed up at second base, took another look at his double, and pointed to the sky.

His hit parade through the International League has featured 11 home runs, including a drive to the upper-right-field seats at Fifth Third Field last month. His hit off Braves prospect Kolby Allard last Saturday was a slow grounder down an unoccupied third-base line and into left field. He couldn't help but smile about it afterward.

TOLEDO -- Christin Stewart slowed up at second base, took another look at his double, and pointed to the sky.

His hit parade through the International League has featured 11 home runs, including a drive to the upper-right-field seats at Fifth Third Field last month. His hit off Braves prospect Kolby Allard last Saturday was a slow grounder down an unoccupied third-base line and into left field. He couldn't help but smile about it afterward.

"I've beat the shift a few times this year," Stewart said. "I'm going down the line a lot more this year than I have in the past, and so those hits are always nice to have."

The left-handed-hitting slugger has faced the shift since last summer at Double-A Erie, when his torrid June caught notice. Everyone is noticing Stewart now. That includes the Tigers, who hope their 10th-ranked prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, is blossoming into the kind of impact hitting prospect they desperately need in their rebuild.

"He has a master plan here," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said last week, referring to general manager Al Avila, "and that kid's a part of it."

Stewart looks past it -- the shifts, the prospect buzz, all of it -- and keeps on hitting.

"We always talk about, 'Be here.' The more that you're here, the faster you go there," Mud Hens manager Doug Mientkiewicz said. "If you stay here, you'll work, you'll get better and you'll go. We're trying to get him to where he dots every 'i' and crosses every 't' so when he goes to the big leagues, he doesn't come back.

"Baseball's all about controlling the things he can control, and he can't control when they call him up. He can only do his job every day, and he's been doing a really good job at it. Right now, to me, he's the MVP of this league."

Stewart has had hitting tears in three years since the Tigers used their compensation pick from Max Scherzer's free agency on the University of Tennessee slugger. This feels different. For starters, it's longer: Stewart has a chance to post consecutive months with an OPS over .900 for the first time as a pro.

It has also come with a disciplined approach. Even Stewart's torrid months used to feature lots of strikeouts. He's on pace to finish with more hits than strikeouts in a league where older hurlers have enough serviceable pitches to make ambitious hitters chase.

"He makes the pitcher come to him," Mientkiewicz said. "He takes his walks. He uses the whole field, with power to all fields, and that's what separates him from everybody else."

That last part is just as impressive. The hits have fallen all over the field.

"You can't be scared to strike out -- it's part of the game," Stewart said. "It's more of a mental thing for me in the box, just trying to see the ball deeper and trusting that my hands are quick enough to get to something inside. I've just stuck with that."

This is the maturation the Tigers hoped to see, part of the reason they've been patient with Stewart. The other reason is defense, for which he has been scrutinized more than anyone in the system.

Stewart had 14 assists against five errors from 2016-17. The questions trend more toward reads, instincts or arm. He spent a season-plus playing a short left field in Erie, where the neighboring hockey arena impacts dimensions. Stewart has a bigger outfield in Toledo, one better resembling Comerica Park.

"You have room to run back on balls," Stewart said.

Stewart has been a focus for outfield instructor Gene Roof, but early-season weather in Toledo limited extra practice. A lot of Stewart's work has been on getting reads in batting practice and taking it into games.

"I've said this earlier: The industry itself always picks on somebody. If they're exceptional at one side, if they're not equal to that on the other side, they pick on it," Mientkiewicz said. "If he was good defensively as he is offensively, he'd be Torii Hunter defensively. It's a little far-fetched."

That's the balance. Stewart is too young, too good of an athlete, to be a designated hitter. Moreover, it's a tough task for a young hitter to sit between at-bats and not dwell on mistakes at the plate.

"He's got an accurate arm," Mientkiewicz continued. "When the ball's hit to him late in the game, he knows where to go with it, knows what to do with it. He's prepared. I've seen a lot worse in the outfield in the big leagues. That's not a knock on him by any stretch of the imagination."

The more Stewart hits, the better he'll look in the field, and the more Detroit fans will wonder when he'll arrive. It could happen near season's end.

"He has a lot of work to do," Gardenhire said. "We know he can hit, but there's a lot more to it. We want him to be a full player."

That patience was evident in Spring Training, when Stewart was not given a non-roster invite. He made a few appearances in Grapefruit League games as an extra player and made an impression on hitting coach Lloyd McClendon and others.

The way Stewart hits is a statement. He sees the speculation, he said, but he tunes it out.

"You can only control your attitude and effort in this game," Stewart said. "I believe everything else will take care of itself if you focus on those two things."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Christin Stewart

AL Central prospects who are this close to callup

MLB.com

Prospects remain the lifeblood of Major League teams, and it's apparent in the American League Central with the White Sox, Royals and Tigers all in a rebuilding stage, while the contending Indians and Twins have prospects who are close to reaching the big leagues and could help down the stretch as they compete for the postseason.

The division boasts 18 players ranked among MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospects, including eight from Chicago, five from Minnesota, three from Detroit and two from Cleveland. So it's clear that plenty of talent is going to make its way into the division in the near future.

Prospects remain the lifeblood of Major League teams, and it's apparent in the American League Central with the White Sox, Royals and Tigers all in a rebuilding stage, while the contending Indians and Twins have prospects who are close to reaching the big leagues and could help down the stretch as they compete for the postseason.

The division boasts 18 players ranked among MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospects, including eight from Chicago, five from Minnesota, three from Detroit and two from Cleveland. So it's clear that plenty of talent is going to make its way into the division in the near future.

With that in mind, here's a look at five prospects -- one from each team -- who could make an impact in 2018.

Video: Top Prospects: Shane Bieber, RHP, Indians

Indians
Prospect: RHP Shane Bieber
MLB Pipeline rank: No. 8 (Indians)
Why you should keep an eye on him: Bieber excelled with Double-A Akron (1.32 ERA in four starts) and hasn't missed a beat since being promoted to Triple-A Columbus (1.16 ERA through five starts). Overall, the precision-based righty had a 1.23 ERA with 54 strikeouts against just three walks in 58 1/3 innings through his first nine outings.
ETA: Possibly later this season. Bieber was a blip on the organization's radar coming into 2018, but he has risen to the next-man-up region of the depth chart. If there were a setback in the MLB rotation, the righty now looks like a real possibility to be called.

Royals
Prospect: LHP Richard Lovelady
MLB Pipeline rank: No. 17 (Royals)
Why you should keep an eye on him: Lovelady is only 22 and is rising through the system at a quick rate. He has a plus fastball with late life and a slider that could be Major League-ready now. Lovelady is 2-1 with a 2.79 ERA in 15 games at Triple-A Omaha this season.
ETA: Lovelady is not on the 40-man roster, but that could change when spots open up after the non-waiver Trade Deadline. There's a decent chance you'll see him at the big league level this season.

Tigers
Prospect: OF Christin Stewart
MLB Pipeline rank: No. 10 (Tigers)
Why you should keep an eye on him: The Tigers need impact bats for their rebuilding project, and Stewart is about as impactful of a bat as they have in their system. But the power-hitting left-handed batter has been hitting for average, too, in Triple-A Toledo.
ETA: Stewart could make his debut late in the 2018 season, possibly as a September callup.

Video: Top Prospects: Nick Gordon, SS, Twins

Twins
Prospect: SS Nick Gordon
MLB Pipeline rank: No. 4 (Twins), No. 30 (MLB)
Why you should keep an eye on him: After hitting .333/.381/.525 with 18 extra-base hits and seven stolen bases in 40 games at Double-A Chattanooga, Gordon was promoted to Triple-A Rochester on Tuesday. The son of former MLB closer Tom Gordon, he's also worked to improve his defense and is considered a capable shortstop.
ETA: Gordon could make his debut late this year, potentially as a September callup. Minnesota has a crowded middle infield with shortstop Eduardo Escobar and second baseman Brian Dozier, as well as shortstop Jorge Polanco set to return from his 80-game suspension in early July. But Dozier and Escobar are both impending free agents, so Gordon could establish himself as a regular next year.

Video: Eloy Jimenez on working hard, preparing for Majors

White Sox
Prospect: OF Eloy Jimenez
MLB Pipeline rank: No. 1 (White Sox), No. 3 (MLB)
Why you should keep an eye on him: Every rebuild has a cornerstone player or two, and the right-handed-hitting Jimenez appears to be that sort of presence for the White Sox. The Cubs may not have reached a third straight National League Championship Series in 2017 without acquiring lefty Jose Quintana at the Deadline, but in Jimenez, the White Sox received in return a potential offensive force for the next decade.
ETA: The White Sox certainly aren't rushing prospects, so he conceivably could spend the 2018 season in the Minors. But as general manager Rick Hahn has said, the good ones have a way of forcing the issue.

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Shane Bieber, Nick Gordon, Eloy Jimenez, Richard Lovelady, Christin Stewart

These are the candidates to go No. 1 in the Draft

MLB.com

If Pablo Sandoval hadn't homered in the bottom of the ninth to win a seemingly meaningless game on the final day of last season, the Giants would own the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 Draft.

Instead, the Tigers will make the first selection on June 4. That's an important distinction in an unusual year in which only one player has separated himself from the pack with barely a month to go before the Draft.

If Pablo Sandoval hadn't homered in the bottom of the ninth to win a seemingly meaningless game on the final day of last season, the Giants would own the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 Draft.

Instead, the Tigers will make the first selection on June 4. That's an important distinction in an unusual year in which only one player has separated himself from the pack with barely a month to go before the Draft.

By this point in 2017, MacKenzie Gore, Hunter Greene, Royce Lewis, Brendan McKay and Kyle Wright had established themselves on the upper tier of Draft prospects -- and they ultimately were the first five players chosen. This year, Casey Mize stands out from the field.

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

The Auburn right-hander might have the most unhittable pitch in the Draft with his diving mid-80s splitter, and he also has two more plus offerings in a running 92-97 mph fastball and a mid-80s slider. Mize leads NCAA Division I in K/BB ratio for the second straight season, improving from 12.1 in 2017 to 14.9 this spring. His health was a concern after he was shut down twice last year, first with a tired arm and then with a flexor strain in his forearm, but he has had no issues through 11 starts in '18.

"I think the consensus is that everyone thinks it's Mize at 1-1," Tigers vice president and assistant general manager David Chadd said. "He has performed statistically and done it for three years. Some years there's a lot of separation in the Draft, but this year there's not that much."

Detroit had the No. 1 overall selection just once in the previous 53 Drafts. The Tigers signed Matt Anderson for $2,505,000 in 1997, and he posted a 5.19 ERA with 26 saves in 257 big league appearances. The club obviously is hoping to do better the second time around.

Video: Draft Report: Casey Mize, College pitcher

General manager Al Avila was the Marlins' scouting director and Chadd was one of their crosscheckers when they popped Adrian Gonzalez with the first choice in the 2000 Draft. There also was little consensus that year and Gonzalez was considered a signability pick by many clubs and a mid-first-round talent by most -- yet he went on to make five All-Star Games and win three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers.

While Mize is the front-runner, Chadd said Detroit will monitor several options up until Draft day.

"We have some ideas who the top five or six guys [will be]," Chadd said. "It's kind of cleared itself up a little bit. Still, a lot can happen in the next four or five weeks, so we'll continue to watch all of them."

If the Tigers wind up going in a different direction than Mize, Waukesha (Wis.) West High outfielder Jarred Kelenic has been mentioned most with the No. 1 overall selection. One of the best high school hitters available, Kelenic also has solid all-around tools and has drawn comparisons to J.D. Drew and a more athletic Mark Kotsay.

Video: Draft Report: Jarred Kelenic, High School outfielder

Avila and Chadd were on hand Thursday to watch Florida right-hander Brady Singer match up against Mize. Singer, who entered the year as MLB Pipeline's top-rated Draft prospect, pounds the strike zone with a lively low-90s fastball, a bat-missing slider and a solid changeup. Some teams don't like Singer's lower arm slot and wanted him to take a step forward this year, but he's posting the best numbers of his stellar three-year career and beat Mize while allowing one run with eight strikeouts over seven innings.

Video: Draft Report: Brady Singer, College pitcher

"Singer's stuff isn't super sexy, but he can really pitch," a scouting director with an American League club said. "He has a good fastball, he changes speeds and he's savvy. I think he gets to the big leagues pretty quick. How many guys have put together that body of work in the Southeastern Conference for three years?"

The other college pitcher in the mix is South Florida left-hander Shane McClanahan, who can battle his control at times but also can reach 100 mph with his fastball. The lone high school arm is Mountain Ridge High (Glendale, Ariz.) lefty Matthew Liberatore, who's extremely advanced for an 18-year-old and has the potential for four solid or better pitches. No prep right-hander ever has gone No. 1 overall, and none appears under consideration by Detroit.

Video: Draft Report: Matthew Liberatore, High School pitcher

The best college position player is Oregon State second baseman Nick Madrigal, who missed nearly two months with a broken left wrist that won't affect his stock. He offers the best combination of hitting and speed available, not to mention a stellar track record of performance. While Madrigal might have the highest floor of anyone in the 2018 Draft crop, he's also a 5-foot-7 second baseman who doesn't have the power of a Jose Altuve or Dustin Pedroia and doesn't fit the profile of a typical No. 1 overall pick.

Video: Draft Report: Nick Madrigal, College 2B/SS

Georgia Tech catcher Joey Bart, Wichita State third baseman Alec Bohm and South Alabama center fielder Travis Swaggerty are three more college bat candidates. Far and away the best backstop in the Draft, Bart has plus raw power and arm strength. Bohm also has big raw pop and controls the strike zone better than most collegiate players, though many scouts believe he's destined for first base. Swaggerty is a legitimate center fielder with an intriguing combination of power and speed.

Video: Mayo on the top college bats in 2018 MLB Draft

While money plays as big a factor as ever in the Draft because of bonus-pool restrictions, Chadd said the Tigers' decision will focus on talent.

"You can't outsmart yourself and try to save money to sprinkle throughout the Draft and not get the best guy," Chadd said. "In our minds, we're going to take the best guy available based on what's right statistically, analytically and scouting. However the money falls, the money falls. In my mind, if you pick 1-1, you better get the best player."

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Detroit Tigers

Go behind the scenes as Tigers prepare for Draft

MLB.com

The Tigers began their season three weeks ago, but for some, the most important moment of 2018 will come on June 4, when Detroit picks first in the MLB Draft. The team is giving fans a chance to go behind the scenes and follow the process as it prepares to make its pick.

It's not a scouting hire or a sweepstakes, but an online documentary showing the meetings and the decisions involved in making the first overall selection. The video, which went online Monday, introduces the decision-makers from general manager Al Avila to assistant GM David Chadd, amateur scouting director Scott Pleis and senior director of baseball analytics Jay Sartori. It includes a look inside the scouting meetings that took place at the Tigertown complex in Lakeland, Fla.

The Tigers began their season three weeks ago, but for some, the most important moment of 2018 will come on June 4, when Detroit picks first in the MLB Draft. The team is giving fans a chance to go behind the scenes and follow the process as it prepares to make its pick.

It's not a scouting hire or a sweepstakes, but an online documentary showing the meetings and the decisions involved in making the first overall selection. The video, which went online Monday, introduces the decision-makers from general manager Al Avila to assistant GM David Chadd, amateur scouting director Scott Pleis and senior director of baseball analytics Jay Sartori. It includes a look inside the scouting meetings that took place at the Tigertown complex in Lakeland, Fla.

While Detroit is picking first overall for the first time since 1997, the club is no strangers to the process. Avila was the Marlins' scouting director and Chadd a Marlins scout when the team selected Adrian Gonzalez with the top overall pick in 2000 after selecting Josh Beckett with the second overall pick a year earlier.

Video: Mayo on if Kelenic would be a reach for the Tigers

They explain the decisions and factors that went into the Gonzalez pick -- projecting the high school first baseman getting stronger despite his relatively thin frame as a teenager -- while Chadd reflects on his experience as the Red Sox's scouting director when Boston used a second-round pick in 2004 on an undersized infielder and future American League MVP Award winner named Dustin Pedroia.

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

"Adrian was a high-risk kind of player because he was a high school first baseman," Avila said. "If you look at the history of the Draft, very few high school first basemen have made it to the big leagues, much less made a big impact. Back then, the question was: Is he going to have enough power to play first base in the big leagues?

"He was a very slim guy. If you look at his history and his family, they were big, strong guys, and you could see him developing into a much bigger, stronger player."

Gonzalez has hit 313 career home runs to go with a .288 batting average and an .846 OPS over a 15-year Major League career with the Rangers, Padres, Red Sox, Dodgers and now the Mets. The Marlins traded him as a prospect to Texas to acquire closer Ugueth Urbina during their 2003 run to the World Series.

"The important thing is to do everything you can to know the player on the field, off the field, how he competes, how he handles adversity and get as many looks as you can so you can make the best decision you can at that moment in time on June 4," Pleis said.

The video also examines the role analytics will play, from grading the current field to looking back on top picks throughout history to finding common tendencies of success.

"You have a chance to maybe take a player that's going to have an impact in your organization for many years to come," Chadd said.

Tigers radio broadcaster Dan Dickerson narrates the mini-doc. For hardcore baseball fans, it's an insightful look at the scouting considerations and careful projections that make the MLB Draft different than its counterparts in other sports. For casual fans, it's an introduction of sorts to the Draft and its role in the player development pipeline that is expected to fuel Detroit's return to chasing a title.

"It's just like a batter coming up to bat with the bases loaded," Avila said. "You have that adrenaline going, you get some butterflies, but it's more that type of excitement than pressure."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers

Tigers DFA VerHagen; prospect Gerber recalled

MLB.com

DETROIT -- Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said at the end of Spring Training that he and his staff would be testing relievers in different situations early in the season to see where each fits best. The club's first major decision appears to be on Drew VerHagen, who was designated for assignment on Monday.

The move opens a roster spot for outfielder Mike Gerber, who was recalled from Triple-A Toledo. Gerber will serve as an extra left-handed bat and outfielder off the bench for the Tigers' upcoming Interleague series at Pittsburgh, where the lack of a designated hitter will put pinch-hitters and double-switches at a premium. MLB Pipeline ranks Gerber as the No. 11 prospect in Detroit's farm system.

DETROIT -- Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said at the end of Spring Training that he and his staff would be testing relievers in different situations early in the season to see where each fits best. The club's first major decision appears to be on Drew VerHagen, who was designated for assignment on Monday.

The move opens a roster spot for outfielder Mike Gerber, who was recalled from Triple-A Toledo. Gerber will serve as an extra left-handed bat and outfielder off the bench for the Tigers' upcoming Interleague series at Pittsburgh, where the lack of a designated hitter will put pinch-hitters and double-switches at a premium. MLB Pipeline ranks Gerber as the No. 11 prospect in Detroit's farm system.

The Tigers have several relievers with Minor League options who could have been sent down to make room. They chose VerHagen, who's out of options. When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster, and 25-man roster if he was on that as well. Within seven days of the transaction (it was previously 10 days), the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.

VerHagen, Detroit's fourth-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2012, owns a 3-5 record and a 5.04 ERA in 73 Major League appearances over five seasons. The 27-year-old right-hander entered the season with a chance to claim a middle-relief role as a situational righty, using his hard sinker and mid-90s fastball to induce ground balls.

Though VerHagen, a former starter, struck out 11 batters over 10 innings this season, he also allowed seven runs on six hits and seven walks. He took the loss in Sunday's 8-5 defeat to the Royals, walking two of the three batters he faced to begin the seventh inning and throwing just five of his 15 pitches for strikes.

"He almost hit two guys in the head, and that's scary," Gardenhire said after the loss. "We needed him to get a couple of outs, and it didn't work out."

VerHagen's struggles in a close game mirrored his performance on Opening Day, when he allowed a walk and a hit in trying to protect a two-run lead over the Pirates in the eighth. While he has been dominant in low- and medium-leverage situations, holding opponents to a .138 average with four walks and nine strikeouts, VerHagen retired just two of seven batters he faced in high-leverage scenarios.

Video: WSH@DET: Gerber slugs a solo homer to right-center

Gerber rejoins the Tigers after making his Major League debut as the 26th man in Friday's doubleheader split against the Royals, pinch-running for Miguel Cabrera in the ninth inning of the nightcap. Though he was optioned back to Toledo after the game, the 26th man rules allow him to be recalled without the normal 10-day wait.

Gerber's return gives Gardenhire a five-man bench for the upcoming series, including DH Victor Martinez and switch-hitters Niko Goodrum and Victor Reyes.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Mike Gerber, Drew VerHagen

Gerber grateful to be Tigers' 26th man in DH

Outfielder motivated by short stay as he returns to Triple-A
MLB.com

DETROIT -- The callup was just for a day. For outfielder Mike Gerber, the Tigers' 26th man for Friday's day-night doubleheader against the Royals, it was a long time coming.

"You work your entire life for this, and this has been the goal since Day 1," said Gerber, who entered in Game 2 as a pinch-runner for Miguel Cabrera after his two-out single put the potential tying run on base in a 3-2 loss. "Every kid dreams about playing up here in the big leagues."

View Full Game Coverage

DETROIT -- The callup was just for a day. For outfielder Mike Gerber, the Tigers' 26th man for Friday's day-night doubleheader against the Royals, it was a long time coming.

"You work your entire life for this, and this has been the goal since Day 1," said Gerber, who entered in Game 2 as a pinch-runner for Miguel Cabrera after his two-out single put the potential tying run on base in a 3-2 loss. "Every kid dreams about playing up here in the big leagues."

View Full Game Coverage

Gerber had to work harder than most. A 40th-round Draft pick out of high school, he went undrafted after his junior season at Creighton, but an outstanding senior season made him a 15th-round Draft pick by the Tigers in 2014. From there, Gerber had to prove himself at every level, providing consistent production until a .304 average and a .869 OPS last year at three Minor League levels landed him on the 40-man roster this past offseason.

"I knew once I was drafted, I was going to have to put up numbers and perform," Gerber said.

Gerber did not get off to a great start this month at Triple-A Toledo, batting .229 (11-for-48) with three doubles, two home runs, five RBIs and 19 strikeouts in 11 games. But with the Tigers looking for an extra position player rather than another pitcher for the doubleheader, and Gerber providing a badly-needed left-handed bat against Royals right-hander Jakob Junis, he got the call.

"My stomach just kind of dropped," Gerber said. "I'm still kind of speechless, still a little bit in shock, but I'm excited."

Maybe it was fitting, then, that Gerber had to endure a similar wait to get into a game.

"I told him, 'Just think about telling your grandbabies a long time from now, after your big league career of 10 years, that you pinch-ran for a Hall of Famer,'" manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's a pretty good bubble-gum card."

It was a brief stint for Gerber, who was optioned to Toledo after Game 2. At least the call came with enough advance notice that it became a celebration. Everyone from family to friends to former Minor League teammates made plans to fly to Detroit, resulting in more than a dozen guests on hand at Comerica Park. Gerber's uncle was set to travel to Orlando, Fla., and he changed his flight at the last minute. Even Gerber's younger brother David, a pitcher in the Mariners' farm system, received permission from his manager at Class A Clinton to be on hand.

"I'm so excited to be here," Gerber said. "Getting up here makes you not want to leave, so it's good motivation for getting back. It's an experience I'll never forget, and hopefully I'll have many more like it."

Gerber is the 22nd Creighton baseball product to play in the Majors, a list that includes Hall of Famer Bob Gibson and former Tigers outfielder Kimera Bartee.

Video: KC@DET: Saupold retires Soler to seal the win

Saupold called up
A week and a half after Warwick Saupold was the odd man out in the Tigers' bullpen mix, the Aussie right-hander is back in, having been called up as a long reliever. He replaces Chad Bell, who was optioned to Toledo after Thursday's win over the Orioles

Saupold tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings on three hits and a walk in four appearances with the Tigers, but he was optioned to Toledo on April 7 when Detroit decided to keep Daniel Norris in the bullpen. The Tigers needed a fresh arm after Bell pitched 1 2/3 innings and yielded three runs Thursday.

Quick hits
• Right-hander Matt Manning, the Tigers' No. 2 prospect (No. 55 in baseball) according to MLB Pipeline, was added to the Class A West Michigan roster on Friday for his season debut. The former first-round Draft pick missed the start of the season with an oblique strain.

• Former Tigers coach Gene Lamont returned to Comerica Park for Friday's doubleheader. He's working as a special assistant with the Royals.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Mike Gerber, Warwick Saupold

Where Tigers' Top 30 prospects are starting season

MLB.com

With the 2018 season getting started, here's a look at where the Tigers' Top 30 prospects are projected to start the season:

1. Franklin Perez (MLB No. 39), RHP -- Erie SeaWolves (AA) - DL
2. Matt Manning (MLB No. 55), RHP -- West Michigan Whitecaps (A) - DL
3. Alex Faedo (MLB No. 59), RHP -- Lakeland Flying Tigers (A Adv)
4. Beau Burrows (MLB No. 78), RHP -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
5. Jake Rogers, C -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
6. Kyle Funkhouser, RHP -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
7. Isaac Paredes, SS -- Lakeland Flying Tigers (A Adv)
8. Gregory Soto, LHP -- Lakeland Flying Tigers (A Adv)
9. Daz Cameron, OF -- Lakeland Flying Tigers (A Adv)
10. Christin Stewart, OF -- Toledo Mud Hens (AAA)
11. Mike Gerber, OF -- Toledo Mud Hens (AAA)
12. Dawel Lugo, 3B/SS -- Toledo Mud Hens (AAA)
13. Derek Hill, OF -- Lakeland Flying Tigers (A Adv)
14. Sam McMillan, C -- Extended spring training
15. Grayson Long, RHP -- Toledo Mud Hens (AAA)
16. Bryan Garcia, RHP -- Out for season
17. Victor Reyes, OF -- Detroit Tigers (MLB)
18. Jose Azocar, OF -- Lakeland Flying Tigers (A Adv)
19. Tyler Alexander, LHP -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
20. Sandy Baez, RHP -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
21. Joey Morgan, C -- West Michigan Whitecaps (A)
22. Reynaldo Rivera, 1B -- West Michigan Whitecaps (A) - DL
23. Jason Foley, RHP -- Out for season
24. Matt Hall, LHP -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
25. Sergio Alcantara, SS -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
26. Troy Montgomery, OF -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
27. Jacob Robson, OF -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
28. Gerson Moreno, RHP -- Erie SeaWolves (AA) - DL
29. Alvaro Gonzalez, SS -- Extended spring training
30. Kody Eaves, 2B/3B -- Toledo Mud Hens (AAA)

With the 2018 season getting started, here's a look at where the Tigers' Top 30 prospects are projected to start the season:

1. Franklin Perez (MLB No. 39), RHP -- Erie SeaWolves (AA) - DL
2. Matt Manning (MLB No. 55), RHP -- West Michigan Whitecaps (A) - DL
3. Alex Faedo (MLB No. 59), RHP -- Lakeland Flying Tigers (A Adv)
4. Beau Burrows (MLB No. 78), RHP -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
5. Jake Rogers, C -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
6. Kyle Funkhouser, RHP -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
7. Isaac Paredes, SS -- Lakeland Flying Tigers (A Adv)
8. Gregory Soto, LHP -- Lakeland Flying Tigers (A Adv)
9. Daz Cameron, OF -- Lakeland Flying Tigers (A Adv)
10. Christin Stewart, OF -- Toledo Mud Hens (AAA)
11. Mike Gerber, OF -- Toledo Mud Hens (AAA)
12. Dawel Lugo, 3B/SS -- Toledo Mud Hens (AAA)
13. Derek Hill, OF -- Lakeland Flying Tigers (A Adv)
14. Sam McMillan, C -- Extended spring training
15. Grayson Long, RHP -- Toledo Mud Hens (AAA)
16. Bryan Garcia, RHP -- Out for season
17. Victor Reyes, OF -- Detroit Tigers (MLB)
18. Jose Azocar, OF -- Lakeland Flying Tigers (A Adv)
19. Tyler Alexander, LHP -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
20. Sandy Baez, RHP -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
21. Joey Morgan, C -- West Michigan Whitecaps (A)
22. Reynaldo Rivera, 1B -- West Michigan Whitecaps (A) - DL
23. Jason Foley, RHP -- Out for season
24. Matt Hall, LHP -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
25. Sergio Alcantara, SS -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
26. Troy Montgomery, OF -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
27. Jacob Robson, OF -- Erie SeaWolves (AA)
28. Gerson Moreno, RHP -- Erie SeaWolves (AA) - DL
29. Alvaro Gonzalez, SS -- Extended spring training
30. Kody Eaves, 2B/3B -- Toledo Mud Hens (AAA)

Tigers prospect coverage | Tigers Top 30 prospects stats

Team to watch
An even dozen of the Tigers' Top 30 will be in Double-A Erie in 2018, once everyone is healthy. No. 1 prospect Franklin Perez is a couple of months away from getting there, but Nos. 4-6, right-handers Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser will be there from the get-go, throwing to catcher Jake Rogers.

Where baseball's top prospects are starting the 2018 season

Teams on MiLB.TV
Toledo MudHens
Erie SeaWolves
West Michigan Whitecaps

New faces
After a long season at the University of Florida, Tigers 2017 first-rounder Alex Faedo didn't pitch over the summer, so the first pitch he makes for Lakeland this season will be his first official professional offering. Outfielder Victor Reyes was picked up via the Rule 5 Draft and stuck on the big league roster, though he got banged up in an outfield collision during his Major League debut. Troy Montgomery, who will play in Erie, came over via the Ian Kinsler deal with the Angels. Finally, Alvaro Gonzalez, who was No. 19 on MLB Pipeline's Top 30 international prospects list, signed for $1 million last July and will make his pro debut at some point later this summer.

On the shelf
The disabled list is pretty full of Tigers prospects currently, starting with Perez, who suffered a lat strain early in Spring Training that will keep him from joining Erie for an extended period of time. Fellow right-hander Matt Manning has a minor oblique strain, something that shouldn't keep him out of West Michigan's rotation for very long. Relievers Bryan Garcia and Jason Foley are out for the year as they work their way back from Tommy John surgery, while fellow bullpen piece Gerson Moreno is also on the DL.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Detroit Tigers

Reyes exits with arm laceration after collision

MLB.com

DETROIT -- The thrill Tigers outfielder Victor Reyes experienced over his Major League debut Sunday night was tempered by eight stitches he received in his right forearm, the result of a collision with shortstop Jose Iglesias on a fly ball in the fifth inning of their 8-6 loss to the Pirates in the second game of a doubleheader.

Reyes left the game for pinch-hitter Mikie Mahtook after Iglesias made the catch to end the top of the inning. Reyes is listed as day to day with a right forearm laceration.

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DETROIT -- The thrill Tigers outfielder Victor Reyes experienced over his Major League debut Sunday night was tempered by eight stitches he received in his right forearm, the result of a collision with shortstop Jose Iglesias on a fly ball in the fifth inning of their 8-6 loss to the Pirates in the second game of a doubleheader.

Reyes left the game for pinch-hitter Mikie Mahtook after Iglesias made the catch to end the top of the inning. Reyes is listed as day to day with a right forearm laceration.

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Reyes said after the game that he feels fine, but manager Ron Gardenhire said they'll check with him, as well as Iglesias, on Monday morning before figuring out if they need to make any roster moves.

"If it's only a few days, it's OK," Gardenhire said, "but other than that, then we have to do something. But the kid was playing pretty good out there, got a little aggressive on that one, but had a good day."

Reyes, who made Detroit's Opening Day roster after being selected with the top pick in last December's Rule 5 Draft, started Sunday's nightcap in left field and made a highlight diving catch to rob Jordy Mercer in the first inning. He saw a flurry of activity in the early innings and seemingly had his eyes on another play when Gregory Polanco hit a fly ball with two outs in the fifth.

Iglesias, however, was also going after the ball, retreating from his position at shortstop.

"I don't know if Reyes really understands how good [Iglesias] is at going back on pop flies," Gardenhire said. "He probably hasn't played enough with Iglesias out there. He's one of the best at going back on pop flies. … If they played more together, he would probably see that and realize that. That's just him not being as familiar playing out there with Iglesias and knowing how good he can do those things."

Reyes said through translator Bryan Loor-Almonte that he neither saw Iglesias nor heard him call for the ball. Reyes tried to dive at the last second, but the ball kept Iglesias backtracking. Iglesias toppled over Reyes as he made the catch, and his cleats caught Reyes' arm, opening a gash.

Iglesias held onto the ball, but was hobbling after getting up. Reyes was still on the ground, but eventually got up and headed toward the dugout under his own power. Mahtook pinch-hit for Reyes leading off the bottom of the inning, then stayed in the game in left.

"We'll check on Iglesias in the morning," Gardenhire said. "His calf was pretty sore. I think he [turned] his ankle a little bit, but he wanted to finish the game. And Reyes took a pretty good slash across the arm."

The Tigers must keep Reyes on the active roster or the disabled list all season or offer him back to the D-backs, his previous organization. Reyes' performance in Spring Training convinced the Tigers to keep him on the roster as an extra outfielder in hopes of adding a young hitter to the organization.

"Hopefully the kid will be OK," Gardenhire said. "He was pretty exciting out there."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Victor Reyes

Tigers know No. 1 Draft pick a game changer

MLB.com

DETROIT -- Tigers players hadn't yet officially reported to Spring Training when the biggest meetings in Tigertown were taking place. A couple of weeks before workouts began, general manager Al Avila had gathered scouts together. Ilitch Holdings CEO Christopher Ilitch was there, too, having asked to take part.

One big topic was the MLB Draft.

DETROIT -- Tigers players hadn't yet officially reported to Spring Training when the biggest meetings in Tigertown were taking place. A couple of weeks before workouts began, general manager Al Avila had gathered scouts together. Ilitch Holdings CEO Christopher Ilitch was there, too, having asked to take part.

One big topic was the MLB Draft.

"As far as I'm concerned, our scouting staff, our player development staff, have the very most important work in the entire organization," Ilitch said earlier this month.

Flash forward to the final days of Spring Training, as bags were being packed in the clubhouse, and Avila was asked about the role the Tigers' recently expanded analytics department is playing in the team's decisions.

"I would say 80 percent of their time, they're spending on the amateur Draft," Avila said earlier this week.

It's also about to occupy a good chunk of Avila's time, as the former scouting director and college coach makes plans to travel and see top prospects firsthand.

"We have the first pick," Avila said, "so it's not like I'll have to see 25 guys. I might have to just see five guys."

Assistant GM David Chadd, who served as the Tigers' scouting director for years, chuckled as he listened.

"Five or 45," Chadd said.

"Maybe a few more than that," Avila said with a smile.

Those two scenes demonstrate how critical the Tigers view the upcoming Draft to be -- as well as the first overall selection they hold. As the team's rebuilding effort moves ahead, the Draft is arguably the most important part. Unlike the Tigers' trade talks over the past eight months, their only limitations are the Draft pool.

But that could present the Tigers with a conundrum.

The top three players in MLB Pipeline's Draft rankings are pitchers. University of Florida right-hander Brady Singer was a teammate of last year's Tigers top pick, Alex Faedo, on the Gators' College World Series championship team. He tops the list, followed by high schoolers Ethan Hankins and Matthew Liberatore. Two other college pitchers, Auburn's Casey Mize and South Florida's Shane McClanahan, are on the rise.

The top three position players in the rankings are all high school infielders, with Arizona slugger Nolan Gorman (fourth) and shortstops Nander De Sedas (sixth) and Brice Turang (seventh). The top college position player ranked is Oregon State middle infielder Nick Madrigal at 11th, whose 5-foot-7 frame has drawn comparisons to Jose Altuve.

The Tigers already have a stockpile of pitching in their system. Their top four prospects in MLB Pipeline's rankings are starting pitchers, and all four landed in Pipeline's rankings of Top 100 Prospects across baseball.

Detroit doesn't have a hitter in the Top 100, and while it has potential impact hitters in its system, it doesn't have an elite position player. The Tigers could desperately use the type of position player that has topped Drafts in other years. So far, though, that doesn't seem to be there. Don't expect Detroit to make a reach for a lower-ranked prospect to try to get that. The Tigers, under Avila and his former boss Dave Dombrowski since 2002, have always drafted for the best player available rather than areas of need. That philosophy will continue, Avila said.

"You put the names on the board and you rank them, and you basically have the pick of what the best player is on the board that's next," Avila said. "Sometimes it's a pitcher, sometimes it's a position player. I will say that generally speaking, all things being equal, in most cases you would take a position player over a pitcher. In Draft history, that's usually what people want to do. But the thing is, if you've ever been in a Draft room -- and I can guarantee you all 30 Draft rooms would look similar -- the majority of the names on the board are pitchers, and the majority of them are right-handed pitchers."

That's based on history, and the Tigers have invested heavily to learn lessons from it, including years of data and storage capacity to stockpile it.

"We've invested in years and years of video scouting information, statistical information of NCAA, summer baseball, postseason," Avila said. "We have years and years of history that we've purchased as far as statistics, reports, video, that's going into this new system. That in itself is a tremendous advance that we've never had before."

The Tigers have also invested in technology for their scouts, equipping them with tablets to input reports and get up-to-the-minute information on lineups and pitching assignments, including who's pitching where on a given day so they can adjust their travel itineraries.

They have a lot of travel ahead.

"I can't say we've narrowed anything down," Avila said, "but we have a running list. It's really still early. There still might be guys that come into the picture a little bit later. But right now, I would say there's probably two or three guys out there that have caught our eye, but certainly there's a long list there, and we'll have to see how it all pans out in the next two months."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers

Tigers prospect Manning out with oblique strain

Right-hander expected to rejoin Class A team in a couple of weeks
MLB.com

LAKELAND, Fla. -- For the second time in three days -- and the third time this year -- the Tigers have lost a highly regarded pitching prospect to injury. Much to the team's relief, Matt Manning isn't expected to miss much time.

Manning, the Tigers' No. 2 prospect and baseball's No. 55 prospect ranked by MLB Pipeline, will miss at least two weeks after being diagnosed with a low-level oblique strain in Spring Training. He'll be shut down until he's pain-free, the team announced, but is expected to be ready to return to action for Class A West Michigan in a couple weeks around the end of Minor League Spring Training camp.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- For the second time in three days -- and the third time this year -- the Tigers have lost a highly regarded pitching prospect to injury. Much to the team's relief, Matt Manning isn't expected to miss much time.

Manning, the Tigers' No. 2 prospect and baseball's No. 55 prospect ranked by MLB Pipeline, will miss at least two weeks after being diagnosed with a low-level oblique strain in Spring Training. He'll be shut down until he's pain-free, the team announced, but is expected to be ready to return to action for Class A West Michigan in a couple weeks around the end of Minor League Spring Training camp.

Manning's injury comes on the heels of news that Tigers top prospect Franklin Perez will miss at least 12 weeks with a lat strain. Closer prospect Bryan Garcia, Detroit's 16th-ranked prospect, underwent Tommy John surgery last month and is expected to miss the season.

Much like Perez, the Tigers are thankful Manning's injury does not deal with the arm, so they expect him to be back pitching in due time. The 20-year-old Manning is the youngest of Detroit's four top-ranked starting pitching prospects, having been drafted with the ninth overall pick of the 2016 Draft. The lanky right-hander is also the most raw of the prospects, having just been pitching the last couple years of high school amidst a budding basketball career that he passed up to go into professional baseball.

Manning completed his first full pro season last year with a late-season stint at West Michigan, leading the Whitecaps into the Midwest League playoffs. He posted a 4-2 record and a 3.71 ERA in 14 starts between West Michigan and Class A Short-Season Connecticut.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Matt Manning

Gardenhire impressed by Rule 5 pick Reyes

Outfielder notches 3 hits in win over Yankees
MLB.com

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Ron Gardenhire still has to sit down with his bosses in the Tigers' front office and his colleagues in analytics to decide who makes the Opening Day roster next week. Among their topics will be the possibility of an eight-man bullpen, the choice of a super utility player and the final spots in the rotation.

But after Victor Reyes churned out three hits in Tuesday's 8-3 win over the Yankees, the veteran manager sounds like he would like to bring the Rule 5 Draft pick north to Detroit with him.

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Ron Gardenhire still has to sit down with his bosses in the Tigers' front office and his colleagues in analytics to decide who makes the Opening Day roster next week. Among their topics will be the possibility of an eight-man bullpen, the choice of a super utility player and the final spots in the rotation.

But after Victor Reyes churned out three hits in Tuesday's 8-3 win over the Yankees, the veteran manager sounds like he would like to bring the Rule 5 Draft pick north to Detroit with him.

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"He's had plenty of opportunities, and he's taken advantage of them," Gardenhire said. "I think he likes it here. We like him here. So big decisions, but I don't see anything wrong. I really like this kid."

Such an endorsement is meaningful. While general manager Al Avila has emphasized that the Tigers are rebuilding around young talent, Gardenhire has been focused on trying to find ways to win as many games as they can this year. Those goals can coexist, but they can be tricky with Rule 5 picks, who must remain on the roster for the season or be offered back to their original team.

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Detroit carried out-of-options infielder Dixon Machado in a similar role on a win-now team last year, but he already had Major League experience. Reyes has yet to play above Double-A ball. Moreover, the Tigers had a four-man bench last year; Gardenhire is considering opening the season with eight relievers, which would reduce Detroit's bench to three players.

If the Tigers keep Reyes, their No. 17 prospect per MLB Pipeline, he's going to have to play.

"The kid's playing really well, pretty much every day, no matter where I put him," Gardenhire said. "I put him out in all the different fields, and he's running the balls down out there. You see him swing, and he's staying on the ball [with a] nice short swing and beating it around.

"I think he's comfortable here. I think he feels comfortable, and that was the goal, to get him comfortable and see what he can do."

As for the idea of stashing Reyes on the bench, Gardenhire said: "We're not going to stash him anywhere. He's going to get playing time. I play everybody. I know that I can put him in any spot in the outfield. There'll be days when you can DH [Nicholas] Castellanos and put [Reyes] in right, and days when you give [Leonys] Martin a day off in center. We have multiple outfielders that we can play around with, if they all stay on the club."

On the bullpen scenario, Gardenhire said: "If our starters can do what we hope they can do, they'll get into the second half of ballgames, and we could go with just 12 [pitchers]. We're talking about it. It's still not a finished product, but we're working on it. I'd love to go with 12 so I can keep an extra [position] player."

Easier being Greene
Shane Greene's late-season stint at closer last year included some four- and five-out save opportunities as he transitioned from his previous role as a multi-inning reliever. Now that Greene enters this season as the closer, Gardenhire would prefer to hold him to standard one-inning appearances and avoid sitting him down between innings.

"Closers have a tendency: You put them in the game, they close the game out, and they go that one inning," Gardenhire said. "I know in the playoffs people stretch them out, but some of the guys I had [in Minnesota], they didn't know what to do when you sat them down between innings. You bring them in, they get an out, then they have to sit there, and you look at them and they don't know what they're doing. They start getting fidgety. We tried that with Glen Perkins, and he had no idea what to do."

Green light for Martin
Leonys Martin had two steals, both of second base, in Tuesday's win, bringing the speedy center fielder's total to three so far this spring. Gardenhire didn't want him running early in the Grapefruit League schedule, but he has given him the green light recently, a trend that could carry into the regular season even if he bats leadoff.

That particular spot has been tricky for speedy players for years with the prospect of either running into an out with Miguel Cabrera looming, or opening first base for a pitcher to walk Cabrera.

"When Miggy's up at the plate, I don't want guys getting thrown out trying to steal bases," Gardenhire said. "Let's get the base if we can get the base, but I want them to be smart about it. Some of those guys, I don't want them making silly outs trying to do too much with those guys up. But I still want to be aggressive. I don't want people to say we're predictable. If they give it, you take it."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Victor Reyes

Tigers' top prospect Perez out with lat strain

MLB.com

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers' highly-regarded crop of starting pitching prospects has its first major injury. Top prospect Franklin Perez suffered a right lat strain during a Minor League Spring Training game on Sunday and is expected to miss at least 12 weeks.

The injury is not expected to require surgery, but essentially sidelines the gifted 20-year-old right-hander for the first half of the 2018 Minor League season. Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard suffered a right lat strain at the end of April last year and returned in September.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers' highly-regarded crop of starting pitching prospects has its first major injury. Top prospect Franklin Perez suffered a right lat strain during a Minor League Spring Training game on Sunday and is expected to miss at least 12 weeks.

The injury is not expected to require surgery, but essentially sidelines the gifted 20-year-old right-hander for the first half of the 2018 Minor League season. Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard suffered a right lat strain at the end of April last year and returned in September.

"It's a little unfortunate, but he'll bounce back," Tigers vice president of player development David Littlefield said Monday night. "It'll take some time."

Perez was pitching in a Double-A game against the Braves when he felt discomfort around his right armpit on his final pitch of the second inning, Littlefield said. He was promptly removed from the game. An MRI exam on Monday confirmed the diagnosis.

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Perez ranks 39th on MLB Pipeline's list of baseball's top prospects and first in the Tigers system, a group that has been heavily stocked through trades over the last eight months. Perez was the top prospect in the return package Detroit received from Houston in the Justin Verlander trade last August. Ironically, Verlander suffered a similar injury on his rise up the Tigers' farm system.

Perez went 6-3 with a 3.02 ERA in 19 appearances in the Astros system between Class A Buies Creek and Double-A Corpus Christi. He was expected to open the season at Double-A Erie as part of an impressive starting tandem with Beau Burrows, the 77th-ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline's overall list.

Perez will stay in Lakeland and rehab at the recently-upgraded workout facility in Tigertown once camp breaks, under the watch of Tigers medical services director Kevin Rand. Perez could still end up pitching in Erie this year, but the Tigers are likely to exercise patience with him.

Perez is the second pitching prospect in the Tigers' rankings to suffer a major injury this year. Closing prospect Bryan Garcia, ranked 16th on the list, underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last month and is expected to miss the entire season.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Franklin Perez