Tigers' prospects hope to leave camp with job

Fulmer, Jimenez and Machado among Minor Leaguers who received Spring Training invites

February 13th, 2016

DETROIT -- The Tigers spent the offseason reloading rather than rebooting, rendering those deals for prospects at last summer's Trade Deadline more of a blip than a trend. The Tigers head to Spring Training looking to return to the American League Central race, but they believe some of those prospects could be a part of that run -- if not out of Spring Training, then perhaps around midseason.

That was one reason for new general manager Al Avila's offseason moves -- big and small free-agent signings, targeted trades and no highly rated prospects going out.

"We acquired nine new players for our 25-man roster, and we were able to hang onto our top prospects, which is amazing really," assistant GM David Chadd said last month at TigerFest.

• Spring Training previews: Tigers on the rebound | Offseason additions

That applies prominently on the pitching side, where Spring Training will be an exercise in long-term evaluation for several arms.

"I've always said the best closers sometimes come from your own system, if you can create them," Avila said earlier this offseason. "And I do believe that in not trading some of these guys away, we may be able to come up with a really, really good one at some point down the stretch if needed, not to mention moving forward in future years."

Several of those prospects will be part of big league camp. Some will have a chance to compete for jobs. Here's a look:

RHP Michael Fulmer: The Yoenis Cespedes trade to the Mets last July 31 turned Fulmer from a sixth-ranked Mets prospect to the top prospect in MLBPipeline.com's most recent Tigers rankings. A standout spring could turn him into a Tiger on Opening Day. He's a long shot for the fifth rotation spot, but Avila and manager Brad Ausmus have said they're open to considering him for a bullpen role like Joel Zumaya had 10 years ago.

RHP Joe Jimenez: Though Jimenez hasn't thrown a regular-season pitch above the Class A Midwest League aside from last summer's All-Star Futures Game, he's talented enough to be a contender for the Tigers' closer of the future, not to mention Detroit's 11th-ranked prospect. Thanks to his power fastball, good slider and a big arm, his future as a Tiger could be sooner rather than later, though probably not out of this camp.

SS Dixon Machado: One of the bright spots of Detroit's struggles down the stretch was Machado's work filling in for an injured Jose Iglesias at shortstop in September. The Tigers' 12th-ranked prospect looks ready for the big leagues right now defensively, but the 23-year-old still needs to mature at the plate. Detroit wants to keep him at shortstop rather than consider him for a utility role, but he'll be lurking if the injury bug stings Iglesias again.

OF Steven Moya: If a .240 average, .703 OPS and 162 strikeouts at Triple-A Toledo didn't sufficiently slow Moya's path to the big leagues, the Tigers' signing of Justin Upton blocked him, filling Detroit's outfield spots for the next two years. The Tigers would rather have their second-ranked prospect play every day and learn in Toledo than linger on the bench in Detroit.

INF JaCoby Jones: The return prospect from Pittsburgh in the Joakim Soria trade, Jones made enough of an impression at Double-A Erie in August to earn a spot in the Arizona Fall League. However, his suspension for a positive test for a drug of abuse will be a setback. While the versatile 23-year-old infielder -- ranked ninth among Tigers prospects by MLB Pipeline -- can play in Spring Training games, he'll miss the first 39 games of the regular season.

RHP Drew VerHagen: Though VerHagen still qualifies for prospect status, ranking 17th on MLB Pipeline's list, he pitched enough in the big leagues to make a major impression on management and gain an edge on a bullpen spot. Once among the Tigers' most promising starting prospects, the lanky right-hander found bullpen work not only more amenable to his previously injured back, but also more fitting to his quietly intense personality.

LHP Kevin Ziomek: One of several Vanderbilt pitching prospects in the Tigers system, Ziomek ranks highest of the group, placing sixth on MLB Pipeline's list. The big left-hander, a former second-round pick, pitched much better at Class A Advanced Lakeland than his 9-11 record would suggest, well enough to earn a non-roster invite after just two full seasons in the system and no action above Class A ball. He's still a little ways off from competing for a big league role, but his first camp should be a learning experience.