A reminder that I cobbled together a lame letter/number system as a method of ranking each prospect, with the letter indicating what the player's ultimate ceiling is, and the number indicating the odds of him reaching his potential, with 1 being very likely, and 5 being not so much.
A - MVP and Cy Young candidates. Aces, and guys who are All-Stars every year.
B - Above-average players, #2 Starters, and Closers.
C - Average regulars, #3-4 starters, setup men. Might back into the AS game.
D - 5th starters/swingmen, specialists, extra outfielders, backup catchers, and utility men.
E - Quad-A players, pinch-hitters, emergency starters.
Top 20 Position Prospects
1 - Nick Castellanos - 3B - GCL - 6'4, 200 (19) - A/3 – Castellanos was a consensus top-20 player in the 2010 draft, and many considered him the among the best high-school bats in the draft. He has terrific hands and bat speed, and has shown a willingness to wait on pitches and take them the other way. He projects for at least average power, with a chance to hit 25-30 homers a year in his prime, and though he currently has average speed, he’s likely to be below average as he fills out his frame. He has more than enough arm strength to stick at third, and though he’s still raw defensively, he possesses the athleticism to be at least an average MLB third sacker. At this point, the main question about his game is what kind of hitter he’ll become. He’s Don Kelly thin right now, with skinny legs and broad shoulders, but his frame can easily handle 15-20 pounds of muscle. If and when he gains weight, it will be interesting to see if he maintains his line-drive approach, or if he begins to sell out for a bit more power. He figures to begin his first full season of professional ball in West Michigan.
2 - Daniel Fields - OF - High-A - 6'1, 200 (20) - B/3 – Fields is a very intriguing prospect who offers the most complete set of skills in the entire system. Despite those tools, and the pedigree of being the son of a former Major-Leaguer, most scouts felt Fields was a bit raw due to playing his prep ball in the North. So it was a shock to see him begin his professional career in high-A Lakeland. Perhaps even more shocking was that he held his own, despite switching positions and being the second-youngest regular in the league. He’s a legit five-tool kid, with plus power potential, plus to plus-plus speed, an above average arm, and the ability to play plus defense. The hit tool remains Fields’ biggest question mark, as he swings-and-misses frequently, and he struggles with breaking balls. However, Fields shows a very patient approach at the plate, and he finished the season with the second-highest walk rate in the FSL. Fields is still learning when to jump on pitches, his plus arm hasn’t fully translated to the outfield, and his baserunning skills remain very raw. He projects to begin the year back in Lakeland, and he could produce multiple 20-20 seasons in the Majors in his prime.
3 - Francisco Martinez - 3B - High-A - 6'1, 180 (20) - B/3 – The Tigers are extremely excited about Martinez, made evident by the fact that he skipped over low-A ball entirely, and after the season he was sent to the Arizona Fall League, where he was the youngest player this side of Bryce Harper. Given his age and lack of professional experience (117 games before this year), his performances in both Lakeland and the AFL are encouraging. Martinez projects for at least average tools across the board, with the chance of being a true five-tool talent. His knack for centering the ball and willingness to go the opposite way give him the potential to perhaps be a .300 hitter in his prime, and he has above-average speed that plays up thanks to very good baserunning instincts. Defensively, he has an above-average arm, good range, and soft hands, giving him the potential to be a plus defender overall. The main question at this point is whether Martinez will ever turn his above-average power potential into usable game power. If he does, he has legitimate All-star potential. The Tigers will continue to push him, and the generous home park in AA Erie may help him realize that power sooner than later.
4 - Rob Brantly - C - Low-A - 6'3, 205 (21) - B/3 – Heading into 2010, Brantly was considered by many to be the best College backstop after Bryce Harper, thanks in part to winning the batting title in the wood-bat Northwoods League in 2009. But a couple of college catchers broke out in a big way in 2010, while Brantly remained merely solid, and thus the Tigers were able to grab him in the third round as a draft-eligible sophomore. Brantly’s strength right now is his bat, where he uses quick hands and a short swing to spray line drives around the park. He also shows good pitch recognition and plate discipline, and he has solid power down the lines, with the potential to add more. Like most catchers, he is a below-average runner, but he isn’t the kind of guy who will clog the basepaths. His arm strength is average, but he has a quick release, and while he still has to work on his blocking and receiving skills, he projects as a possible plus defender. If he gets enough time to develop, Brantly has legitimate All-star potential. He should probably get at least another 60 games in at West Michigan, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers push him to Lakeland.
5 - Wade Gaynor - 3B - Low-A - 6'3, 225 (22) - C/3 – Gaynor’s professional career began with a thud when he posted a .192/.281/.282 triple-slash for the Tigers’ short-season A–ball affiliate. But Detroit’s 3rd round pick in 2009 out of Western Kentucky started to tap into his potential last year at West Michigan, where he posted a .789 OPS. Gaynor’s best tool is probably his above-average raw power, which could push into plus territory in his prime. He shows the potential to be an average hitter, though he’s more likely to hit in the .250-.260 range. Gaynor is extremely athletic, and despite his big frame, he shows above-average to plus speed. Defense is the biggest question mark for Gaynor. He has a strong arm and makes all the plays he needs to, but he shows awkward actions and most scouts think he’ll have to move to the outfield in the Majors. He has the ability to handle such a move, but his power will have to fully develop for him to stick. He’ll stay at 3rd until he’s forced to move though, and that’s where he’ll play in Lakeland this year.
6 - Avisail Garcia - RF - Low-A - 6'3, 190 (19) - B/4 – Garcia has as much potential as anyone in the entire system, but I’m skeptical of him ever actualizing that potential. He has a knack for consistently making contact, but his free-swinging ways will likely prevent him from being more than an average hitter in his prime. He has plus raw power, but it hasn’t translated to games yet because he tends to jump on the first pitch he can hit, rather than waiting for something he can truly drive. He’s an above-average runner with the potential to steal 15 bases a year in the early part of his career, and his defense ranks at the very top of the system, thanks to a plus arm, good range, great jumps, and terrific instincts. Garcia’s lack of plate discipline (43 BB, 224 K in 272 career games) worries me quite a bit, but he is extremely young, so there’s always a chance he figures things out. He’ll begin next year as Lakeland’s starting right fielder.
7 - Danry Vasquez - NA - RF - 6'2, 170 (17) - A/5 – The Tigers absolutely love the potential in Vasquez’s bat, as evidenced by the fact that his $1 million bonus is the largest the club has ever given to an international free agent. His track record is thin, because of his age, but he held his own in the Venezuelan Parallel league this fall/winter. His hit tool is very advanced for such a young kid, with very good bat speed and a level swing that keeps the barrel in the zone. He also shows better plate discipline than most of the Tigers Latin American prospects, and he makes adjustments well. There is already a fair amount of power in his left-handed swing, and as he fills out his frame, he could have some real pop in time. He’s athletic and has enough speed to handle CF now, but he’s certain to move to RF once he finishes growing. He shows the potential for a true plus-plus arm, and his defense should be solid. All the tools are there for this kid to succeed, but he’s so young, and he has so far to go that anything can happen. From the looks of it, the Tigers are considering letting him begin his career in the Gulf Coast League, which is an aggressive assignment.
8 - Ryan Strieby - OF/1B - AAA - 6'5, 235 (25) - C/3 – I feel bad ranking Strieby this far down the list, because his raw ability should have him as the 2nd or 3rd player, but after struggling with the same hand/wrist injury for the last three years, I can’t trust him to reach his potential. When he’s right, Strieby has the most power in the entire system, with the ability to hit 30 homers a year in the Majors in his prime. He’s also a solid hitter, who could bat .250-.280 in the Bigs, and his solid plate discipline should allow him to post an on-base percentage in the .340-.370 range. Strieby has below-average speed, and he offers little in the way of defensive ability, where his range is subpar at both 1B and LF, and his arm is merely average. Tigers fans should root for this kid to get healthy, because he could actually turn into the power threat we thought Boesch was last year, albeit in a DH role. He’ll compete for that chance in spring training, but he’ll probably begin the year as Toledo’s starting 1B.
9 - Andy Dirks - OF - AAA - 6', 195 (25) - D/2 – An 8th-round pick in 2008, Dirks had perhaps the best season of any position prospect in the system last year, hitting .296 with 15 homers and 22 steals across AA Erie and AAA Toledo. He continued his success in the Dominican Winter League, where he posted a .906 OPS and swiped 10 bags. Dirks is the epitome of a 4th outfielder, because while he does everything well, he doesn’t have one particular skill that stands out. He has a nice left-handed swing, and projects to be a solid-average hitter with average pop and decent plate discipline. He has above-average speed and is a quick accelerator, and his arm, range, and instincts are all good enough for him to man any of the outfield positions. Dirks is stuck behind Casper Wells, Clete Thomas, and Ryan Raburn at this point, so he’ll head back to Toledo to begin the year, but he’s a lock to see time in the Majors at some point.
10 - Cale Iorg - SS - AAA - 6'2, 180 (24) - C/4 – Iorg has been much-maligned for his inability to show any progress at the plate, but the remainder of his tools are so good that if he gets the bat clicking, he could be a special player. He has the hands and bat speed to hit, but he has little to no plate discipline, very little pitch recognition, and he can’t hit breaking balls. He has above-average power, and when he makes contact he generally puts a charge into the ball. He’s a plus runner, with the speed to swipe 20 bases in the Majors. And Iorg is one the very best defenders in all of the minor leagues, showing excellent range, terrific instincts, soft hands, and a very strong arm. He has true Gold Glove potential, and the Tigers aren’t going to write him off until they’re absolutely certain he can’t play in the Majors. At this point, it appears that his ceiling would be as an Adam Everett type with more power and speed, but I’m still not sure he will hit enough to be a regular anywhere. He’ll return to Toledo to begin the season, but he was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, so don’t be surprised if he makes his MLB-debut this year.
11 - Brandon Douglas - 2B - AA - 6', 185 (25) - D/3 – Douglas is almost the complete opposite of Iorg, as he’s the system’s best pure hitter, but he shows little in the way of secondary skills. His hit tool is remarkably good, and he shows terrific pitch recognition, the ability to work counts, very good plate discipline, and a ridiculous ability to make solid contact with the ball – in his three years in the minors, he has hit .328, .322, and .345. Douglas has the pop to hit 20-25 doubles a year, but power isn’t really a part of his game, and it would be a shock to see him ever hit more than 5 homers in a year. He has slightly above-average speed that plays up a bit because of good instincts, but he’s probably not a guy who can swipe more than 10 bags a year. Douglas has the chance to be an average defender, with decent range to both sides, and an average arm. If things work out for Douglas, he could develop into a Polanco-type hitter, albeit with less defensive ability. He has little room for error though, and with Guillen, Rhymes, and Sizemore ahead of him right now, he’ll have to return to Erie to get his ABs in 2011.
12 - Bryan Holaday - C - High-A - 6', 205 (22) - D/3 - Holaday was the best senior catcher in college last year, and the Tigers grabbed him in the 6th round because they loved his leadership and defense. After leading his TCU team to within one win of the College World Series final, Holaday made a quick splash in Lakeland, posting a .365/.494/.540 line in 18 July games. He then fell off a cliff, and managed only a .094/.179/.153 triple slash in 22 August games. His true hitting ability lies somewhere in between, as he was likely worn down after a long year. Holiday made big strides with his bat as a senior, but most scouts still don’t see a guy who will hit above the .240 range. He does have some decent pop in his bat though, and could potentially hit 10-15 homers a year in his prime. He’s a below-average runner, even by catching standards. Holaday’s ticket to the Majors will be his defense, where he calls a good game, shows terrific arm strength, is adept at blocking balls in the dirt, and displays tremendous leadership. He’s the sort of kid who has a career in managing after his playing days are over. The Tigers want him to wait on that for a while though, and they’ll send him back to Lakeland to begin the season.
13 - Gustavo Nunez - SS - High-A - 5'10, 170 (23) - C/4 – The gap between Nunez’s raw ability and his performance is nearly as maddening as Cale Iorg’s. In the past, Nunez has shown the ability to hit for average, but his batspeed is a bit lacking, and he may not be able to catch up with good fastballs. On top of that, he has almost no power, to the point that some scouts joke about him getting the bat knocked out of his hand when he makes contact. What Nunez does have is elite speed, consistently garnering scores of 70 and 80 from scouts, and if he can refine his instincts a bit, he could steal 40-50 bases in the Majors with relative ease. His speed also helps on defense, where he has ridiculous range, soft hands, and a very strong arm. Overall, his defense ranks just a tick behind Iorg’s. Nunez struggled to hit above .220 in Lakeland, so 2011 is going to be a very important year for him. He’ll be the everyday SS in Erie, and his performance will likely determine if he has an MLB future, or if he’s just organizational fodder.
14 - Audy Ciriaco - 3B/SS - AAA - 6'3,195 (23) - C/4 – Ciriaco had enough raw ability for the Tigers to add him to their 40-man roster following the 2009 season, but the strides he made in 2009 didn’t translate in 2010, partially because he battled a lingering hand injury all year. He’s an aggressive hitter, which will probably keep him from ever hitting for a high average, but he has enough hand-eye coordination to avoid racking up exorbitant strikeout numbers. His above-average raw power started to show up as his body filled out, though that also turned his above-average speed into solid-average speed. Ciriaco had the range, hands, and arm strength to be an above-average defender at SS, and he can also handle third quite well, though he tends to rush at both positions, leading to errors. This promises to be a pivotal year for Ciriaco, because success makes him an injury away from being a starter at SS or 3rd for the Tigers, but failure could mean the end of his run in the organization. He’ll likely begin the year as the everyday 3rd baseman for Toledo.
15 - Dixon Machado - SS - Rookie - 6', 140 (19) - C/5 – Like Iorg and Nunez, Machado appears to be another glove-first shortstop with some offensive upside. Despite hitting only .205 in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2009, Machado impressed the Tigers enough to earn a trip stateside last year. He doesn’t project to be more than an average hitter, but he’s also unlikely to be a liability with the bat, because he knows how to make contact, and he has shown the ability to work counts and draw walks. As a slap hitter, he doesn’t figure to ever post eye-popping power numbers, but he still has a bit of growing to do, and he could be a guy who hits 20-25 doubles a year in his prime. Machado has above-average to plus speed that should allow him to steal 20-30 bases a year once he refines his instincts. And like Iorg and Nunez before him, Machado projects to be a true plus defender, with terrific range, soft hands, a plus arm, and improving footwork. He’s a long way from the Majors, but the tools are all there for Machado to develop into a legitimate big-league player. He’ll start his journey as the everyday shortstop at West Michigan.
16 – Rawley Bishop – 1B - AA – 6’2, 211 (25) – D/4 – As a 25-year-old in AA, Bishop doesn’t exactly scream prospect, but he has some skills that may get him a look in the Majors. He projects to be an average hitter, because he makes consistent contact and he does a good job of staying inside the zone. He has a tendency to swing and miss on breaking balls, but he takes enough walks to keep it from being a serious issue. Bishop’s power is below-average, and he’s likely much more of a doubles guy than a homer guy. He has below average speed, but terrific instincts that allow him to steal bases when pitchers lose focus. Bishop has a terrific arm that plays well at 3rd, and he’s the best first base defender in the entire organization, with terrific hands and solid range. He can play 3rd in a pinch, though he lacks the range to stick there, and he could probably also handle a outfield corner. He’ll probably return as the everyday first baseman at Erie in 2011.
17 - Billy Nowlin - 1B/DH - AA - 6'1, 210 (24) - E/3 – Nowlin was a 25th round pick in 2008 out of Golden West College in California, and he has been a solid organizational bat thus far. Unfortunately, his bat is the only thing that really stands out, and it probably doesn’t stand out enough for him to be anything more than a pinch-hitter in the Majors. His numbers were down a bit last year, but he projects to be at least an average hitter, with above-average potential. He has quick hands, strong wrists, and he recognizes pitches well, giving him the ability to hit the ball hard all over the field. He also has average to above-average power, though his pursuit of pure contact often prevents him from hitting for more power. And that’s about it for Nowlin. He’s a below-average runner, and he’s an awful defender with no defensive home. With that lack of defense, he would need a tremendous bat to stick in the Majors, and it’s just not at that level. He’ll probably return to Erie next year, with a chance to move to Toledo at some point.
18 – Corey Jones – 2B – Low-A – 6’, 190 (23) – D/4 – Drafted in the 7th round last year, Jones is one of the better pure hitters in the system, and he could probably be accurately described as a left-handed Brandon Douglas. He can seemingly put the ball in play whenever he wants, though he does strike out a bit more than expected. He does have a little bit of power, but doesn’t project to ever hit more than 10 homers in a season. He has average speed, but it shows up more in his defense than it does on the basepaths. He shows decent range at second base with good hands, and though his arm is fringy, he could be an average defender in time. He’ll open up the year as the everyday 2B in Lakeland, and his performance there will determine whether he moves up the list or falls off completely.
19 – Jamie Johnson – OF – Low-A – 5’9, 180 (23) – D/4 – The Tigers drafted Johnson out of Oklahoma in the 7th round in 2009, and he’s a classic scrappy outfielder with the skills of a leadoff man. Johnson is a fringe-average hitter, but his skills play up a bit because he has the best plate discipline in the entire system. He has well below-average power, to the point that he may not be able to drive the ball against more advanced pitching. Johnson has plus speed that is readily apparent when he runs down the first-base line, and when he roams the outfield, but he doesn’t use it very well once he’s on base. He has an above-average arm with solid accuracy, and he’s plus defender in Center. There’s an outside chance that he develops into a 4th outfielder, but he’ll be 24 shortly after he begins this season in Lakeland, and unless he develops a little more pop, he probably won’t make it past AAA.
20 - James Robbins - 1B - Short-season A-ball - 6', 220 (20) - C/5 – The Tigers went over slot to lure Robbins away from college in the 30th round back in 2009, and the results have been mixed so far. Robbins has some real ability with the bat, but he’s an extremely aggressive, dead-pull hitter who pays the price for his indiscriminate hacking. He stings the ball when he makes contact, and he could be an average hitter if he can learn when to alter his approach, but after striking out 91 times in just 259 ABs last year, I have some serious doubts. Robbins does have legitimate plus power from the left side, and he can put on real shows in batting practice, but it hasn’t really translated to games yet. As a high-school pitcher, Robbins could run his fastball up to 90mph, but that plus arm strength isn’t terribly important at 1B. He’s more athletic than his body would suggest, and he shows the potential to be at least an average defender at first. He’ll begin the year as the everyday first sacker at West Michigan, but if he doesn’t make some strides with pitch recognition and plate discipline, he may not advance much further.