- C – Arvicent Perez – 22 yo
- 2.32/.593 – PAG/APPA (LoA West Michigan)
- 2016 stats: .303/.320/.391; .712 OPS; 16 doubles, .987 Fld%, 43% CS%
From a pure baseball standpoint, I have to say how good it was to see Tigers catcher James McCann become the staple behind the plate the organization was hoping for. Despite his career batting average of .244 in 228 major league games, he has some pop and provides the much-needed defense for the position (.995 Fld% and a 45% CS rate). This leaves room for several kids in the system to grow. Top catching prospect Grayson Greiner made a huge leap forward in the organization touching three levels in 2016. He posted a 91 game PAG/APPA of 2.58/.668 from HiA all the way to Triple-A Toledo. Since you already know that once a prospect hits Double-A and beyond, we no longer tab them as UTRs, which gleefully leads me to Arvicent Perez. The 5’10” – 180 lb. righty debuted in the Venezuelan Summer League and in two combined seasons (2012-2013) logged a 2.15/.657 combined PAG/APPA. Not anything to wow you. The following year Perez reached two levels and in 41 games saw an overall increase in his production with a 2.76/.819 PAG/APPA in the Gulf Coast League and (an aggressive move to) LoA West Michigan. To this day questions remain over a 2015 in which the organization wants to forget. Perez bottomed out scoring a 38 game P/A of 1.50/.393. Although he struggled in 2015, this season, Perez saw his batting average back and he brought power too. All this while steadily improving his already high-caliber defense. Perez has the skill-set to bypass Greiner, and could quite possibly unseat McCann in the future.
- 1B – Jose Quero – 17 yo
- 3.27/.804 – PAG/APPA (DSL Tigers)
- 2016 stats: .335/.459/.425; .884 OPS; 6 doubles, 2 home runs; .985 Fld%
It’s stat lines like those within the Tigers minor league first base vector that re-enforce my decision to create the PAG/APPA metric. Now, the list of future first base candidates within the organization admittedly isn’t the best grouping I’ve seen, but there are some fundamental bright spots. Namely Will Maddox. The 2014 – 18th rounder out of the University of Tennessee logged his first season of pro ball and led the Midwest League in hits with 173, while his 28 stolen bases ranked fifth. Maddox can’t be ignored, but at 24 years of age, he’s eight months away from being removed from UTR consideration. As is the (same) case for HiA Lakeland’s Ben Verlander (24 yo.); and has been the case for teammate, 27-year-old Wade Hinkle, who was one of the Florida State League leaders in extra base hits this season. So, this leads me to trusting the peripherals. This points me to 2015 – free agent signee out of Venezuela, Jose Quero. Now his peripherals don’t scream future first baseman, but there’s definitely something to build upon when a 17-year-old kid led all organizational first baseman in batting, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. Interestingly, the 6’0″ – 190 lb. lefty drew 36 walks in 55 Dominican Summer League games. The aforementioned Maddox? Drew 32 free-passes in 127 games. Quero is a long way away, but definitely worth watching as the older first base guard within the system begins to thin itself out.
- 2B – Joey Pankake – 23 yo
- 2.68/.649 – PAG/APPA (HiA Lakeland)
- 2016 stats: .215/.283/.370; .653 OPS; 10 doubles, 15 home runs; .985 Fld%
Pankake’s future in the organization could be that of a super utility player, as he’s played all over the diamond since his days at South Carolina University, where he began as a shortstop, then shifted to third base in his junior season. Upon being drafted in the 7th round in 2014, Pankake started his pro career splitting 2:1 time share between third base and shortstop. But in 2015 he made the full-time move to the keystone where he’s posted better defensive numbers on the right side of the infield versus the left. However, we all know the fantasy game isn’t based on the glove. The 6’2″ – 185 lb. righty’s offensive game has been as balanced as a marionette. In his 2014 debut, Pankake posted a 3.02/.723 PAG/APPA with Short Season Connecticut. In his sophomore season, he earned a promotion to LoA West Michigan, and despite hitting career highs in several offensive categories, his (pound-for-pound) production dipped to a 2.79/.670 PAG/APPA. This season is where the crookedness hit the stat line. Although his batting averaged dipped close to the Mendoza line, Pankake displayed his mid-range power with 15 home runs, which usually is evident when a kid slugs as many doubles as we’ve seen to date. Although he needs to polish his overall game, I think Pankake’s path is clear to Detroit. But a possible 2017 assignment to Double-A Erie will prove whether Pankake is for real or not.
- 3B – Jorge Ynirio – 18 yo
- 2.54/.698 – PAG/APPA (DSL Tigers)
- 2016 stats: .267/.356/.397; .753 OPS; 15 doubles, 2 stolen bases
One of the joys of the UTR model is seeing hitters/pitchers we promote here ascend through the minors and make some/several major publication prospect lists. Detroit third baseman Zach Shepherd is a good example. Coming of his 2014 debut season, I tabbed him a Tigers Organizational All-Star. This season he sits within the Tigers top 20 at MLBPipeline.com as well as Baseball America’s previous two Prospect Handbooks. This helps assure that Jim and I are on the right track. Now, if the 6’3″ – 185 lb. Shepherd carries this earned distinction, our job is to keep digging; and I didn’t have to dig far to find recently-turned 19-year-old Jorge Ynirio. The 5’11” – 170 lb. teen brings incredible athleticism to the organization. He debuted in 2015 posting a 27 game PAG/APPA of 2.07/.629 for the DSL squad. This season in a repeat of the level, he improved on all fronts highlighted by his .457 extra-base percentage. Scouts say he has a loaded bag of tools and his athleticism will help sort them out. The third base OAS race also gave heavy consideration to fellow Dominican Luis Laurencio, who brings big natural power and a canon arm to the field. Both Ynirio and Laurencio have plenty of work to do defensively, but the bats will be quite the intriguing follow.
- SS – Isrrael De La Cruz – 19 yo
- 2.75/.722 – PAG/APPA (GCL Tigers)
- 2016 stats: .247/.344/.337; .681 OPS; 3 doubles, 6 triples; 22 stolen bases
Detroit offers up a nice bevy of shortstop prospects throughout the minors; and sorting through it wasn’t easy. Top shortstop prospect Dixon Machado made his major league debut in 2016, eight years after his pro debut in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2009. Next up is 2015 – 14th rounder A.J. Smicox, who some say his future defensive position depends on how well he can hit. Then we have three-time draftee Daniel Pinero. First, the huge 6’5″ – 210 lb. Canadian was drafted by Houston in 2013, but didn’t sign. He was then taken by the Tigers in 2015 out of the University of Virginia, but chose to stay in school. The Tigers called again in 9th round of this years draft and he was assigned to the GCL, then headed to the Connecticut of the New York-Penn League. He led all UTR-qualifying shortstops in batting with an overall seasonal .271 average. Chad Sedio, a 2016 – 27th rounder out of Miami of Ohio (OH) posted a combined 2.84/.700 PAG/APPA over two levels (GCL/SS Connecticut). He also led all all shortstop prospects with a .400 extra-base percentage. However, despite falling ever-so-slightly behind in PAG/APPA, the OAS nod goes to toolsy Isrrael De La Cruz. The 6’0″ – 150 lb. Dominican debuted in 2014 and ran a 47-game PAG/APPA line of 2.64/.721. He repeated the DSL in 2015 and logged strikingly consistent numbers in comparison with his debut. This season, in a promotion state-side to the Gulf Coast League, De La Cruz, again, maintained his consistency, and led all short-season prospects in stolen bases. I think De La Cruz needs challenged with an aggressive assignment (possibly to either Short Season Connecticut or LoA West Michigan) to see if he can sustain his consistency or better yet, improve his overall line.
- LF – Christin Stewart – 22 yo
- 3.77/.889 combined – PAG/APPA (HiA Lakeland – 3.80/.894; Double-A Erie – 3.63/.870)
- 2016 stats combined: .255/.386/.517; .903 OPS; 24 doubles, 30 home runs; 22 stolen bases
I’ve made it clear to readers of UTRMinors that I’m not a huge fan of rankings. Saying one player is better than this player is a huge matter of preference. Stats should play the biggest part, not simply draft stratus or player potential. But rankings do exist, therefore, I’m putting this out there. 2015 – 1st rounder out of Tennessee Christin Stewart should be the #1 prospect in the Tigers system. In a 3-level pro debut, the 6’0″ – 205 lb. lefty rolled out a combined PAG/APPA of 3.47/.815 that began with six games in the Gulf Coast League, 14 games with Short Season Connecticut then concluding with LoA West Michigan. The Tigers felt his performance at LoA was enough to challenge him with a 2016 Opening Day assignment to HiA Lakeland; and he didn’t disappoint posting a career high 3.80/.894 PAG/APPA in 104 games. Stewart received a much-deserved promotion to Double-A Erie in early August and never slowed down. In his final 24 games of the season he posted a 3.63/.870. His numbers continue to climb as he ascends through the minors; and it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Stewart could reach Comerica Park in 2017.
- CF – Juan Ramirez – 17 yo
- 3.63/.775 – PAG/APPA (DSL Tigers)
- 2016 stats: .297/.408/.396; .804 OPS; 12 doubles, 5 triples; 7 stolen bases
I’ll continue the top-prospect narrative and say that sitting beside my opinion that Christin Stewart should be Detroit’s #1 prospect, is another top outfielder in Derek Hill. Do I think he’s as good as Stewart, no. No I don’t. However, Hill, a 2014 – 1st rounder out of Elk Grove HS (Elk Grove, CA) certainly belongs in the top organization prospect discussion. But Hill wasn’t my choice, mostly because we here have the luxury of mixing production with potential (in that order of course), and 5’9″ – 160 lb. Dominican Juan Ramirez achieved the production to earn him my OAS choice. I know he’s a 17-year-old coming off his debut season, but he posted the top PAG/APPA score among organizational center fielders including Hill. The lefty swinging Ramirez ranked third in the DSL in triples and his 39 walks (to only 21 Ks) ranked second only to Mets middle infielder Andres Gimenez‘ 46. The Tigers love Ramirez because of his budding power, powerful lower half and strong arm in the outfield. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ramirez either begin 2017 back in the DSL or with the Gulf Coast League squad. Either way, he has the potential to be an exciting player.
- RF – Mike Gerber – 24 yo
- 3.36/.789 combined – PAG/APPA (HiA Lakeland – 3.46/.812; Double-A Erie – 3.15/.757)
- 2016 stats combined: .276/.345/.466; .811 OPS; 30 doubles, 18 home runs; 8 stolen bases
It will be interesting to see what the Tigers organization does with the major league portion of their outfield. Left fielder Justin Upton is on the books until 2021, however, centerfielder Cameron Maybin and (former UTR) J.D. Martinez are in the final year of their contracts. So, what direction do the Tigers go? I’ve discussed top outfielders Christin Stewart and Derek Hill, but next in line is Mike Gerber. The 2014 – 15th rounder out of Creighton University (Omaha, NE) was a UTR 2014 Organizational All-Star after his 2-level pro debut for Short Season Connecticut and LoA West Michigan. The 6’0″ – 190 lb. lefty spent all of 2015 with the White Caps, logged a 3.37/.780 PAG/APPA and led the Midwest League in total bases (240), while ranking within the league’s top 5 in hits (150), doubles (31), home runs (13) and RBi’s (76). This season, the Illinois-native picked up where he left off beginning the season for HiA Lakeland, and finishing with the Double-A Sea Wolves. With the collection of skills Stewart and Hill have, I believe Gerber could be equally as valuable. Despite playing more games in right field, Gerber is a plus-defender in all outfield positions, which could make the organizations decisions about the current major league portion a little easier to make.