By Dave DeFreitas, Nick J. Faleris and Emily Waldon
Coming off an impressive run of free agent signings that bolstered their big league club, the Tigers are now left with trying to restock a completely decimated farm system. Thanks to several albatross-like contracts preventing them from potentially moving what’s left of their big league value, they have preciously little maneuverability when it comes to rebuilding.
CREAM OF THE CROP
Matt Manning, RHP, Rookie GCL Tigers West | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 65/55
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y, 11m
Player Stats | 2080 Spotlight (2016) | 2080 Video (2016) | 2080 Video 2 (2016)
The Tools: 70 fastball; 60 curveball; 50 changeup; 50 command; 60 control – Manning’s fastball gets excellent life in the zone with late tail to both sides of the plate. He sits in the low 90’s right now, but will get into the upper 90’s for stretches. He already has very good body control both for his size and his age, and he should start finding more consistent velocity as he gets stronger. He has a little bit of a long take-back, which will cause the arm to be late getting out front at times, but that, too, should smooth out as he matures. The 12-to-6 curveball is his go-to secondary offering, with tight rotation and snap. He can throw it for strikes now, but has it fall arm side a fair bit due to the aforementioned arm-action issue. However, the ingredients are there for this to be a plus pitch with swing-and-miss capability. The circle changeup gets hard fade and will be a weapon for him versus lefties. He is a plus athlete and does well repeating his mechanics already. He is consistently around the zone with some present feel to move around the zone and change eye level, aspects that should eventually translate to above-average command and plus control.
The Profile: With two plus to double-plus offerings and at least average command, Manning profiles as a very good number three starter with swing-and-miss capabilities. He has impressive body control for such a big kid and his ability to use his plus breaking ball in zone at just 19 years old sets him apart at this point in his development. He has some present strength, but will continue to get stronger, leading to that 70-grade heater. He throws a lot of strikes, and the feel with the secondary stuff, coupled with his margin for error in the zone allows him to dominate lower level bats. He gets a little loose in the zone with the fastball, but that is not uncommon for young, power arms. He has some crossfire in the delivery and the long arm action in back can create problems for the repeatability, making it harder for him to locate to the glove side on a consistent basis. He also has the ability to create great angle down through the zone and even with the 3/4‘s arm slot, he’s still able to pound the bottom of the zone, but tends to leak up in the zone when he isn’t extending and gets easier to lift. That said, he has already smoothed things out a fair bit since being drafted, and as he continues to do so he should see more heft to the fastball. Manning should stay in extended spring for the duration, but could see some time at short-season ball if things go well through the first part of the summer.
ON THE HORIZON
Quick Hit: Since being taken in the first round two drafts ago, Stewart has emerged as one of the more legitimate power prospects in the game. He is not an overly big guy, but he’s a solid 205 pounds with smooth, easy actions and plus bat speed. He works uphill a fair bit, but generates excellent carry and has juice to all fields as a future plus power bat. He does swing and miss a good bit (131 times in 443 at-bats between High A and Double-A) and will have some trouble with velocity up above his hands – he isn’t a wild swinger and has shown a knack for taking his walks and getting on base. That also means, however, that the swing and miss is in the zone and will make him more susceptible to expanding the zone as he advances and faces arms with more advanced command and off-speed stuff. Stewart hung in well versus lefties last year without much fall-off in the power department, an aspect of his offensive profile that is encouraging when it comes to his projection. The lack of contact started to show up upon his first taste of Double-A pitching last season, albeit a very small sample size. So far in 2017, the power has shown up even though the average has not, so its looking more and more like the profile will be one of low contact rates, walks, and above-average damage numbers. He moves well on the outfield grass, but is, hands down, a corner player and likely left field at that, due to the well-below-average arm strength. Stewart is already 23 years old, so this year should say a lot about the ultimate profile – he may not be a total three-true-outcome guy, but something close to that is probable.
The Tools: Acquired by the Tigers from Pittsburgh in exchange for reliever Joakim Soria (RHP, now with Royals) at the trade deadline in 2015, Jones has already proven a multi-faceted addition to the Detroit farm system, spending time at just about every position defensively. The 24-year-old has his athletic, physical makeup working in his favor. He has excellent footwork on both sides of the ball – a credit to his past as a two-sport standout in high school – as well as natural feel and strong route-running ability in the outfield. Jones works above-average to plus speed, as well as an above-average outfield arm. At the plate, Jones shows the ability to drive the ball with quick hands and good extension, although flashing an occasional lack of polish with his approach, and inconsistency with the mechanics of his swing – he gets efforty and violent at times, causing the barrel to move in and out of the zone too quickly. The 30%-plus strikeout rates he has posted since debuting in Triple-A in 2016 are a direct result of that inconsistency, and it highlights the main issue with Jones’ overall profile. When he is on, the swing is short and the actions are easy – the ball jumps off his bat and gets excellent carry to the right-center field gap. It is when he muscles up and tries to do too much, he becomes much easier to pitch to and loses his feel for the barrel. The .286 ISO he posted in Double-A last season before his promotion is a glimpse into the type of damage he can do when he is right.
Because of Jones’ versatility defensively, both Pittsburgh and Detroit have tested him with assignments all over the field. While Jones seems to have settled in center field for now, all the jumping around may be partially to blame for the aforementioned inconsistencies. That said, he’ll have to clean up the swing and miss in order for his potentially-potent bat to have a chance to play in the major leagues. Jones should get every opportunity at the big league level in 2017, but the window for the soon-to-be 25-year-old won’t stay open forever. Jones has all-star potential, but the consistency will ultimately keep him from hitting his ceiling.
Quick Hit: Since signing with the Tigers in 2013, the question surrounding the future of Jimenez has never been a matter of if, as much as when. The Puerto Rico native is best known for a power, 70-grade fastball, which shows above-average late life and gets up into the upper 90’s regularly. Second, Jimenez possesses a plus slider with a vicious 11-to-5 break, sitting in the middle 80’s, proving equally dangerous to hitters on either side of the plate. Jimenez has feel to add and subtract from the pitch, based on the situation. His changeup is the newest addition, sitting in the mid-to-high 80’s. Jimenez didn’t begin to fully focus on the offering until 2016, but he has shown some feel for it, and it has a chance to get to fringe-average at maturity.
Despite an occasional struggle with command over the last few seasons, Jimenez showed off his potential by going 31 1/3 innings between the second half of the season with High A Lakeland in 2015 on into the 2016 season with Double-A Erie before allowing a run. Since 2013, Jimenez averaged 12-to-15 SO/9 until his promotion to Triple-A Toledo where he still managed to post 9.6 SO/9 over 15 2/3 innings for the Mud Hens. The biggest area for growth for Jimenez is simply going to be his command in the zone and execution, both of which should come with time and with consistent exposure to more advanced bats. Detroit, desperately in need of pitching help, has shown remarkable restraint to not rush Jimenez. At the major league level, Jimenez fits the bill for a very good set-up man with the potential to eventually take over for the Tigers’ current closer Francisco Rodriguez (RHP).
Quick Hit: A touch-and-feel lefty, Alexander leans on his above-average fastball command and feel with his fringe-average to average secondary stuff to keep hitters off balance and generate soft contact. He has an athletic delivery with easy arm action through his 3/4 ’s slot. He has some athletic effort to his actions, but stays fairly smooth, and he repeats his delivery well. The frame is slender with some wirey strength, however the physical projection is limited so there likely isn’t any kind of big velocity spike coming over the 50-grade heater he currently has. The breaking ball is fringe average, but plays up due to his feel, and the circle changeup will get some late dive, making it and average weapon versus righties. Early returns from his first year-and-a-half in pro ball have been good, with him living up to the billing of a command guy – 20 walks through 136 1/3 innings pitched in 2016. The swing and miss, or lack thereof, is a mild concern, as only 6.03 SO/9 is a lot of contact to skate around, however he only surrendered 123 hits over that same span and posted a 1.46 GO:AO ratio. So while it would be nice to see more strikeouts, he limits the traffic on the bases and keeps the ball out of the air. That said, the majority of his 2016 innings were at High A. Once in Double-A, he started giving up a little more hard contact as his margin for error shrunk versus more advanced bats. He is back at Double-A in 2017, and he will have to be surgical around the zone while throttling up and back to consistently get that weak contact on the ground. With Alexander not likely to make a big jump physically, if he can show the consistency he did at High A in 2016, he could be a guy who moves quickly and becomes an option for the Tigers as early by the end of this summer. Ultimately, he settles in as a nice option in the number five spot in the rotation.
Quick Hit: After being criticized for bypassing a first-round selection (35th overall) in the 2015 MLB draft, Funkhouser saw his stock drop and fell to the Tigers in the fourth round last year. The stocky righty sports a plus fastball and an average slider, the primary offerings in his four-pitch mix. With his fastball sitting at 93-to-95 mph, and getting as high as 97 mph, it has good late life in the zone that helps to keep it off barrels when located. Funkhouser has good arm speed, but is just okay in repeating his mechanics, and he’ll struggle to keep his fastball down. With command being one of the larger concerns surrounding Funkhouser since his days at Louisville, making strides there will be a key to him having success against the more advanced competition he will face. The slider is average and could be a tick above if he is able to find some consistency with the action. As it stands now, he has trouble executing, but is able to use to both righties and lefties when he is on. The change and curve are both below average, so Funkhouser will need to slider to be the out pitch if he is going to remain in the rotation. He has had mixed results thus far in A ball, striking out 20 through only 11 2/3 innings, but also giving up two bombs. However, he has only walked three and has done well to keep the ball on the ground. Ultimately, Funkhouser will need to continue to pound down in the zone and develop more consistent feel with the slider. If he can find some feel with even a fringe-average changeup, it will give him something going away from lefties and help him find his way into the number four slot in a big league rotation.
Quick Hit: Relatively older than the typical prospect profile, Gerber is a bit of a late bloomer, who began to make some noise with High A Lakeland in 2016. At the plate, Gerber generates average raw power with a smooth left-handed stroke that keeps the barrel in the zone to go with above-average bat speed. Gerber shows a natural feel in the strike zone, though he had some difficulties against lefties last season, hitting .162 versus lefties with Double-A Erie in 2016). Gerber has generated a .280-plus average in his first year-and-change as a pro – the average took a hit after his promotion to Double-A Erie, dropping then to .261 in 2016, but he was able to more or less maintain the power production (.199 ISO in High A and .181 ISO in Double-A). His ability to continue to make hard contact indicates some ability to adjust to the increasing level, and it could be representative of what is still to come as he continues to advance. On the verge of turning 25 years old this summer, the Creighton alum should be able to leverage his consistent, quality defense as he works to repeat his 2016 power production.
Defensively, Gerber is a natural athlete who won’t wow you with his tools, but is consistent and makes the routine plays. He has zero errors on his resume since 2015, a streak that has continued into the 2017 campaign. As far as tools go, Gerber is an average runner with an above-average arm and a good first step that has produced solid routes in right field. You won’t see Gerber flashing a ton of emotion, but the wheels are always turning as he keeps his head down and goes about his business. Expect Gerber to continue to make steady progress and should have value as a second-division regular on the corner in Detroit at some point in 2018.
Adam Ravenelle, RHP, Double-A Erie | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 24y, 2m
Player Stats | 2080 Report | 2080 Spotlight (2016) | 2080 Video (2016)
Quick Hit: Drafted as a reliever, Ravenelle’s high-octane stuff and swing-and-miss capabilities give him intriguing potential as a back-end bullpen piece. He has a loose, quick arm through his low-3/4’s slot along with some mild crossfire action. The fastball sits in the mid-to-upper 90’s with tail to both sides, but it does tend to stay on plane and will leak into the barrel of lefties when he misses out over the plate. The slider is a fringe-average pitch that can be effective when he locates, but it lacks much depth and tends to work more as a gradual cutter than true slider. The arm action will play it up slightly, but it can back up on him and gets very easy to lift when out over the dish. The changeup is out the same as the fastball and will show occasional dive, but it too tends to stay on plane and while the velocity separation is good at about 10 mph, it is still not a true swing-and-miss offering. Ravenelle does a good job keeping the ball on the ground however, as he can dial up some hard sink when he extends, but even when the arm drags a bit and his heater flattens out he keeps it down. So while the velocity is double-plus and the secondary is serviceable, the command is well-below average and the five BB/9 he posted between High A and Double-A in 2016 is a lot of traffic he is creating for himself o the basepaths, and will make it hard for him to consistently be trusted in high-leverage situations. That said, the actions are pretty smooth and even though he is almost 25 years old, the lanky frame still has some room for him to get stronger and better position himself to repeat his release point. If he can limit the walks, the profile will have significantly more value and present a very nice combination of soft contact and swing and miss. The upside is a quality seventh- or eighth-inning arm.
Drew Smith, RHP, High A Lakeland | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/50
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 23y, 3m
Quick Hit: It’s no secret that the Tigers have a soft spot for high-octane right-handers, and their 2015 third-round selection of Smith was no exception. The product of Dallas Baptist University works a three-pitch mix, including a plus fastball resting 92-95 mph and known to flirt as high as 99 mph. Despite the big velocity, the heater tends to be flat and lacks the life in the zone to be a true double-plus offering. Following that up, the 23-year-old features an occasionally above-average curveball with an 11-to-5 break – but while it will show some snap, it lacks consistency. Smith’s changeup currently sits as a below-average offering that could easily develop to average if he can get regular extension.
Even with all the inconsistencies, the effort righty actually saw a spike in his swing-and-miss rates from his college days – 7.5 SO/9 during his junior year to 11.6 SO/9 in his first full season assignment to Class A West Michigan in 2016. For Smith, the development stands as a two-fold task in the form of strength to the frame, and then making that translate to consistency of execution as a setup man at the High A level this season. At 6-foot-2, Smith lacks a bit of the natural downhill plane you would find in a lankier pitcher, creating greater urgency to clean up the command issues. Smith has a reliever profile with a decent amount of effort, so he will likely always battle command issues to some degree. But the raw stuff will continue to afford him some margin for error in the zone, and ultimately give him value as a seventh-inning guy in the big leagues.
Mark Ecker, RHP, High A Lakeland | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/180 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 21y, 7m
Quick Hit: Drafted as a reliever last summer, the max effort Ecker has the ingredients to develop into a three-pitch back end guy if he is able to maintain the solid average feel he shows with his secondary stuff. While Ecker does have some funk the arm action and there are a good deal of moving parts to the delivery, the actions are athletic and he generates excellent arm speed while creating significant downhill angle. There isn’t a ton of projection at this point even though he will pitch most of 2017 at age 22, but the fastball has more than enough zip to it at 91-to-95 mph and he is able to work it to both sides of the dish. The changeup is his best offering and should be his out-pitch going forward, showing almost splitter type bottom. The arm action and effort really sell it and should be effective versus both righties and lefties. The slider is a bit more inconsistent, but flashes above average at times with some bite, but he is more reliant on the deception in his motion playing it up and generating chase than it being a true 55-grade offering.
Ecker was dominant in short stints at both short-season and full season ball after the draft, but that was to be expected for a guy coming from the high-end college ranks at Texas A&M. He will have to continue to pound the zone and utilize that great angle he gets in order to have success as he advances. Bullpen guys who have some feel with three average-or-above offerings tend to get tested quickly, so don’t be surprised if Ecker sees significant time at Double-A this summer on his way to becoming a nice piece out of the bullpen in the sixth- or seventh-innings in Detroit.
Quick Hit: Acquired in the middle of the 2016 AFL season for outfielder Cameron Maybin (OF, Angels), Alcantara brings a big arm and big inconsistency to the Tigers’ bullpen depth chart. His 60-grade heater gets very good life in the zone and sports significant heft when he can locate down. Easier said than done, however, as Alcantara has exhibited the control issues one might expect when they see his efforty, high-maintenance mechanics. Over the last four seasons respectively, he has walked 5.3, 4.3, 3.8 and 4.6-per-9 innings, while also averaging 9.2 H/9 over that same period. Not great numbers overall, and to make matters worse his swing-and-miss rate took a significant dive in 2016 – to 6.4 SO/9 from 8.3 SO/9 in 2015. There have been reports that he sits in the upper 90s with the fastball, however in two looks this fall, he was sitting 90-to-94 mph.
That all said, there are things to like here, especially if he stays in the bullpen. First off, he has big effort in the arm action, and the delivery hides the ball a bit, which plays up the already above-average movement he gets on the fastball. While his command is below average, his misses tend to be down and he seems to make a concerted effort to show the hitter the top half of the ball—so he keeps the ball on the ground. His 1.60, 1.76, 1.50 and 1.63 ground ball rates each of the last four years shows that. Secondly, he has a plus slider with tight rotation at 87-to-90 mph that is inconsistent right now, but should make for some uncomfortable at-bats and generate some chase in shorter stints. The arm action/effort also adds some deception to the circle changeup, giving him a weapon vs. lefties. All in all, Detroit got some value in return here – he could work his way into leverage situations if he finds some consistency now that he is a fulltime pen guy. He is comparable to former Tigers and Angels reliever Al Alburquerque (RHP, Royals).
Quick Hit: An athletic righty with some present strength throughout his wirey frame, Lewicki creates very good angle and arm speed through his high-3/4’s slot. There is some effort to his mechanics, but he stays relatively compact and online as he drives toward the plate. Lewicki features a 55-grade heater with late two-seam tail to both sides of the plate that consistently shows hitters the top half of the ball. He gets some riding life up in the zone as well, though doesn’t work upstairs by design all that often. The slider is an above-average offering with tight, 3/4’s break, that while not a true swing-and-miss offering, will elicit some chase when he is up in the count. He has good arm speed with the curveball and can throw it for strikes, but it has some hump and the good snap is inconsistent. He also lacks a real weapon going away from lefties, as the changeup is a below-average offering right now. That said, Lewicki is around the zone consistently and does not walk many (1.74 BB/9 in 67 1/3 Double-A innings in 2016). He did however give up right around one hit per inning over that same stretch and as he advances, will need a way to put hitters away once he gets to two strikes. This may seem counter intuitive, but the bullpen could be a fit for Lewicki, as his stuff would likely play up a fair bit over shorter stints – the effort he has coupled with the delivery work to add some deception, so not having to pace himself would likely lead to an uptick in average fastball velocity and more consistent bite on the slider. Should he stay in the rotation, the contact rates and lack of a weapon versus lefties likely hurts his value there and makes him a swingman – but in the pen, he could have value as an eventual bridge to the seventh- and eighth innings.
Quick Hit: The big-bodied Greiner has moved fairly quickly since being drafted in the third round of the 2014 MLB draft despite his fairly limited offense output. Greiner is a good athlete and naturally very strong, however that strength and athleticism is yet to translate into the game power Detroit might have been expecting when they plucked him from the University of South Carolina. He has average to just-above-average bat speed, but even though he is not overly lanky, the levers are long enough to be an impediment to him consistently getting to velocity on the inner half. When he gets extended, the above-average raw power translates in-game. The approach is mostly to the pull side and that, coupled with the issues on the inner half make him relatively easy to pitch to, as evident by the jump in the strikeout rate and drop in walk rate from High A to Double-A (21.1% strikeout rate at High A and 24.4% at Double-A / 9.8% BB rate at High A and 4.4% at Double-A). At age 24, Greiner is unlikely to see a huge jump in hand speed, however he does still have some baby fat on the frame and could see the body firm up, leading to more consistent strength in the actions. That said, unless he starts to utilize the middle of the field more often, he will struggle with the more advanced breaking stuff as he advances.
On the defensive side, Greiner offers a bit more upside with his 55-grade arm and agility behind the dish that is surprising given his size. He has soft hands with quiet actions, two aspects that suggest he will be at least an average receiver going forward. It takes him a little bit of time to uncoil on throws, but the arm action is compact and he is accurate. If Grayson can find the barrel a little more often, he stands to be an enticing backup-catcher option with A.J. Ellis (C, Marlins)–type pop and arm strength.
Dixon Machado, SS, Detroit Tigers | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 40/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/170 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 24y, 10m
Quick Hit: Machado’s plus glove work and plus arm at a premium position will always give him value at the major league level. However, the light bat and lack of raw power will prevent him from getting to that everyday role up the middle. Machado has excellent body control and a good game clock with easy 60-grade arm strength that translates when he is making throws on the move. The bat speed, however, is below average and while the plane is level and the overall stroke is fairly compact, Machado doesn’t sting the ball enough to keep pitchers from consistently challenging him in the zone. He has some plate discipline and will take his walks, but that doesn’t seem likely to hold up at the big league level due to the aforementioned lack of fear pitchers have of his damage potential. He is an above-average runner and has enough foot speed to pressure the defense and make his presence felt on the bases, but it isn’t the elite-level speed that it would take to make up for the lack of punch. Machado will bring defensive value for certain, and he can move around the infield, which adds utility value. He is a wirey kid, so there could be some more strength to come, but the most likely outcomes is that he will be a backup at the big league level and late-inning defensive replacement around the infield.
Quick Hit: The Tigers’ 20-year-old righty brings a plus fastball and present above-average curveball to the table along with a changeup that should get to average given how the arm works and the good downward angle he gets to home plate. Burrows has some athletic effort in the delivery plus some crossfire action, but he stays on line and has good body control for his age. The fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90’s with some two-seam tail to both sides of the plate. He will get some riding life up in the zone, but much of the effectiveness of the pitch is reliant on his ability to generate good angle, as it will get hittable up above the belt. The curveball is his best secondary offering and could get to plus – as he gets stronger, he should be able to get more consistent with that good snap and see some gains in his ability to use it to both righties and lefties. He generates below-average swing-and-miss numbers right now (6.22 SO/9 in 2016), but should see that tick up as his fastball command and feel for his secondary stuff develops. That said, Burrows doesn’t necessarily project to be a huge strikeout guy – while the arm speed is good, it isn’t great, and the life on his stuff reflects that. Going forward, Burrows will have to be better hitting his spots in order to get into favorable counts more often so that his breaking ball and changeup can generate more chase.
Burrows has also been easy to lift so far in his pro career, with a 0.72 GO:AO ratio in 2016 and a 0.88 mark after the draft in 2015. He doesn’t walk too many, but the without at least average swing-and-miss rates, the contact levels combined with the fly balls will eventually hurt him as he advances and faces better bats. Burrows has shown well thus far at High A Lakeland, but it may be a slow burn for him. Ultimately, Burrows settles in as a nice number four starter.
Quick Hit: At the time he was traded to the Tigers in the David Price (LHP, Red Sox) deal, Labourt was thought to be the next great lefty pitching prospect. The big Dominican has always had big velocity, with a lively fastball sitting in the middle 90’s with excellent life in the zone. To go with that heat he sports a 60-grade, 3/4’s slider with late bite that the quick arm action sells. The main problem for the young lefty thus far has been his ability, or lack thereof, to command said plus stuff. The swing and miss is there, with 8.35 SO/9 in 2016 for High A Lakeland, but so are the walks. They have come in bunches for Labourt, who averages 6.54 BB/9 since 2011 and bumping up to 7.21 BB/9 last season.
Naturally, the inconsistencies have led to Labourt being moved to the bullpen, where his already plus stuff should play up even further and lead to a spike in strikeout rates going forward. He still gets good angle despite his 3/4’s arm slot and other than his 2015 season, has kept the ball on the ground (0.90 GO:AO in 2015 between Lakeland and Dunedin – 1.29 in 2016 for Lakeland). In 2016 he split time between the rotation – where he posted a 7.48 ERA in 43 1/3 innings with 42 walks – and the bullpen, where he put up a 3.07 ERA and 1.36 SO:BB ratio. This season Labourt will be solely a bullpen arm, and the early reviews are quite good – to the tune of 11 strikeouts through 7 2/3 innings and only one walk. In his new role, Labourt looks to be one of those power arms with matchup stuff who can give you multiple innings out of the pen late in the game.
Dellin Betances (RHP, Yankees) and Andrew Miller (LHP, Indians), are two big-name relievers who had many of the same struggles are young starter, but who found another gear once they didn’t have to turn over lineups multiple times and worry about a third pitch. The ingredients are there for Labourt to work himself into that sort of mold. Obviously those two names are not direct comparisons, however, now that he is in the pen full time, if he shows success early this summer he could move very quickly and be a factor in their pen when rosters expand in September.
Quick Hit: Tigers’ 2014 first-round pick, Hill has solidified himself as a human highlight reel in the outfield since the start of his minor league career. Hill combines a plus arm with a near-elite run tool that allows him to cover above and beyond the normal boundary lines of a center fielder. Hill also works a natural athleticism and maturity that allows him to recognize routes matching that of a veteran outfielder. With an awareness of the speed he embodies, Hill occasionally flashes a need for polish, posting a career-high five errors in 2016 with Class A West Michigan. The occasional defensive misread from Hill is hardly a red flag, however, when you factor in the lack of active playing time for Elk Grove High School alum.
At the plate, Hill has a smooth stroke with above-average bat speed that should generate significant gap power as he continues to mature and build strength. He is a natural athlete with some present strength, but remains fairly raw and still searching for the coordination that will help him put it all together. That said, Hill has had issues with the injury bug, hitting the DL six times between 2015 and 2016 with various minor ailments. While the injuries themselves are not an enormous concern, the missed developmental time is – Hill is still a very raw talent overall and will need at-bats in order to see him deliver on the potential. With double-plus caliber defense, a polished offense profile would push Hill into all-star territory. However, it will be a slow burn for the youngster, and ultimately the overall offensive inconsistency will hold him to the role of a second-division regular at the big league level.
Quick Hit: Moreno has a simple, compact delivery and does not need a ton of effort to generate significant arm speed and a 75-grade heater. His fastball gets some late tailing life in the zone with occasional sink to the arm side. Given how easy his arm action is, he should be able to dial up some hard sink as he gets stronger and develops more body control. The slider is a future plus pitch, with 3/4’s bite that shows the ingredients of a swing-and-miss offering. The changeup is a work in progress, as he lacks feel right now and tends to slow his whole motion when using it – but Moreno is an athletic kid with repeatable mechanics, so it’s not a stretch to think that he will be able to at least get it to fringe average. With the velocity he can generate, if he is around the zone, even a 45-grade changeup would be very effective.
Already being in a late-inning relief role, Moreno stands to move quickly if he can make strides with his command and control. The swing and miss is already there, with 9.8 SO/9 between Class A and High A – but the walks bit him last season when he posted a 7.30 BB/9 mark after being promoted to High A, giving him a 4.4 BB/9 mark through his young career. That said, Moreno does keep the ball on the ground (1.30 GO:AO career ratio) and he’s hard to square up when he is down in the zone. He doesn’t have to be surgical given how good his raw stuff is, however, he does need to work ahead and pound the fastball down in the zone where it is very hard to square up. Provided he can do that, the slider generate significant chase and give him a very real weapon as a high-leverage, late-inning arm.
|1. Matt Manning, RHP, Rk.||6. Tyler Alexander, LHP, AA||11. Drew Smith, RHP, High A|
|2. Beau Burrows, High A||7. Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, A||12. Michael Gerber, OF, AA|
|3. Christin Stewart, OF, AA||8. Jairo Labourt, LHP, High A||13. Adam Ravenelle, RHP, AA|
|4. Jacoby Jones, OF, MLB||9. Derek Hill, OF, High A||14. Mark Ecker, RHP, AA|
|5. Joe Jimenez, RHP, AAA||10. Gerson Moreno, RHP, High A||15. Victor Alcantara, RHP, AA|
While the Tigers would love to be able to bring on big league talent to supplement their aging roster, there isn’t a lot of coin left in the purse to land names that will help them compete with a now-invincible Indians’ squad. They do have the likes of Matt Manning and Beau Burrows, but neither of those names are to the point yet where they could command a high-end return – making it a better option to hold on to those pieces and any other talent they have while attempting to acquire value another way. Their big league roster does house several significant pieces, but dealing from the 25-man roster would mean going full on into rebuild mode.
With the prospect tank much closer to empty, it will be difficult for the Tigers to improve their big league roster by giving up prospects. If they are going to improve via the trade, they will have to swallow a lot of medicine in order to recoup prospect value worthy of names like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. With about $296 million still owed to those two players a sunk cost, El Tigre is faced with an interesting proposition – they can try to compete with the guys they have and continue to find mid-level fixes in the free agent market this winter, or they can cover large amounts of their super-stars’ salaries in return for high end prospects. Obviously, the latter route requires a fair amount of foresight and patience from a fan-base that is used to being in the hunt for the A.L. Central division title. However, in the long run, that may be the quickest way for Detroit to stock their pond with big-game fish and position themselves to compete again by 2020. But while they may want to bide their time and see if they can compete again this year and next, Cabrera is 34 years old and starting to run into nagging injuries that happen when most people get to that point in their lives. So while eating that money now is a painful option, the alternative won’t feel much better – just have a look at what the Yankees suffered through the past four seasons.
Like we mentioned before with the Diamondbacks and their slugging first baseman, there is a significant market for a high-end bat at the number three position — the Red Sox, Phillies, Rangers, Cardinals, Marlins, and even the Indians (if first baseman Carlos Santana leaves via free agency this winter) have a need at first base to go along with significant prospect wealth from which to deal. When it comes to Verlander, everyone needs pitching, so it comes down to who gives you the best package. It might be hard to pay two studs to beat up on you for the next two or three seasons, but the talent they could recoup by making those two names affordable would likely blow past what their division foes did on the South Side this past winter.