As the Detroit Tigers become fully engaged in their spring training schedule fans will start to get more and more excited about the new 25-man roster and upcoming season. One great byproduct of the spring is that fans will also get to see some up and coming Tigers trying to make an impression on management.
In honor of the Tigers having just the 25th ranked farm system in all of baseball I have pulled 25 prospects out of the heap that are worth keeping an eye on. 12 of these are down the road prospects while the other 13 are guys that we could actually see this season due to injuries on the 25-man roster, the inevitable September call-ups, or simply because the player forces their way into the framework of the big league’s plans sooner than anticipated.
Part 1 of this 2-part series will focus on the guys that could actually suit up for Jim Leyland’s team in 2013. Now mind you, the 25-man roster is pretty much set in stone. There are just a few spots that are up for grabs this February and March.
For purposes of these 2 articles, certain players won’t be considered due to having already made their mark in the majors, even if they do end up starting the year in Toledo. Players such as Darin Downs, Luke Putkonen, and Luis Marte will be excluded from the conversation as we have already received good looks at these guys.
For this piece, I will rank the players in the order that I think we might see them called up to the Tigers during the year, NOT in the order of their prospect ranking within the system.
Bruce Rondon – age: 22, RHP – Rondon is listed at 6’3’’ and 270 pounds. Every day he pitches might feel like one of those mid-afternoon games where the shadow causes the hitter trouble but this time it won’t be the stadium’s, it will be Rondon’s sun-blocking body. He is going to have to really fumble his appearances this spring to not make the Opening Day roster. If he acquits himself well, he will be the team’s closer. (2012 stats: 1.53 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 29 saves, 66 K’s in 53 innings)
Jeff Kobernus – age 24, utility – Kobernus is a talent that the Tigers scooped up in the rule 5 draft, which simply means that they think he has a really good shot of breaking camp with the big club. Kobernus will be able to play just about anywhere and is a true burner. He has stolen 95 bases over the past 2 seasons while working his way up through the Nationals’ system. In Kobernus, the Tigers would get a much more electrifying athlete out of their utility man than what they’ve had in recent years, though one with less pop in his bat. (2012 stats: .282 avg., 13 extra-base hits, 42 steals)
Kyle Lobstein – age 23, LHP – Lobstein was also plucked in the rule 5 draft out of Tampa’s system. Lobstein has the ability to be Detroit’s long reliever out of the pen and spot starter as necessary. He has pitched exclusively as a starter in his minor league career but won’t be doing that in Detroit barring injury. (2012 stats: 27 starts, 8-7 record, 4.06 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 129 K’s and 69 walks in 144 innings)
Casey Crosby – age: 24, LHP – The Tigers haven’t given up on Crosby just yet. He has had command issues since undergoing Tommy John surgery but that is not entirely uncommon. This is a very important year for Crosby’s career path. If he has a good spring and strong beginning in Toledo he will very likely be the first starter called upon for a fill-in day or a temporary gig while one of the rotation’s key members goes down due to injury, which will happen at some point. (2012 stats: 7-9 record, 4.01 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 112 K’s and 65 walks in 125.2 innings)
Avisail Garcia – age: 21, OF – Due to the playing time he logged in 2012, I could have left him off this list. But it’s my list and I wanted to talk about him. I find it disappointing that Garcia wasn’t listed on either ESPN or MLB.com’s top 100 prospect lists. I honestly can’t figure that one out. He has the body type (6’4’’, 240 lbs.) that projects as a big-time slugger in the coming years. Throw in excellent defense and unusual speed for a man of his size and he seems to have the whole package. He was impressive in a brief call-up with Detroit last year, including some big playoff RBI’s. Most impressive in 2012 was that in a similar number of minor league at-bats he struck out 37 times less than in ’11, which was his major hang-up coming into the season. He is most likely to start the year at AAA but if the Tigers need a right-handed bat for the outfield and can guarantee enough at-bats then Garcia is the man for the job. (2012 stats: .299 avg., 17 doubles, 8 triples, 14 homers, 58 RBI’s, and 23 steals)
Melvin Mercedes – age: 22, RHP – Mercedes is another big relief arm in the Tigers’ system. The bullpen carousel usually starts sometime in April and doesn’t stop until the season is over. With that in mind, and with the upside Merdeces possesses, he is almost assuredly going to see the field for the Tigers this season. Mercedes got roughed up in his first outing of spring training but has a skill-set that the Tigers are excited about. (2012 stats: 2.76 ERA, 9 saves, 43 K’s in 65.1 innings)
Jose Ortega – age: 24, RHP – Ortega is yet another arm that intrigues the Tigers but he has had two bad seasons in a row at the minors and is in danger of falling off the grid if that continues. If he can reel in the strike zone, he’ll be dangerous. He walked a disturbing 51 hitters in just 62.2 AAA innings last season. Despite all of his struggles, the Tigers like him so much that he did get a brief cameo during the 2012 season. He has already impressed Leyland this spring, who said: “I know one thing: Of the guys I watched today, I would not have wanted to be hitting off of Ortega. He’s throwing great. Oh boy, he’s got nasty stuff”. (2012 stats: 5-8 record, 5.74 ERA, 2.03 WHIP, 68 K’s and 51 walks in 62.2 innings)
Hernan Perez – age: 21, 2B – Perez got a sniff of the big leagues last year but spent the majority of the year at high-A Lakeland. Perez has a chance to make his way to the big leagues in a few years on a regular basis. His status as a 40-man roster guy does make him one of the odds-on-favorites to get the call should the Tigers have injury trouble up the middle. He will likely start the season in AA Erie. (2012 stats: .261 avg., 20 extra-base hits, 27 steals)
Nick Castellanos – age: 20, OF – Castellanos is one of two players who I believe will definitely become September call-ups. Castellanos is the #1 prospect in the organization but has been shifted to the outfield. His bat could play in the big leagues right now but from a defensive standpoint he is a ways behind Garcia. At some point the Tigers are going to give him the call, but it’s likely not until September 1 unless he is absolutely on fire in Toledo. Castellanos is no doubt the future, but Detroit doesn’t feel pressured to rush him, which is a good thing. (2012 stats: .320 avg., .365 on-base %, 32 doubles, 10 homers, and 57 RBI’s)
Tyler Collins – age: 22, OF – Collins has had a great run in his early minor league career and is already making his mark in spring training. The most common comparison I have heard is that he is an Andy Dirks-type of player with more pop in his bat. We’ll take that! He has been roaring up the Tigers’ minor league ranks since being drafted two years ago and will be banging on the door come September call-up time. (2012 stats: .290 avg., .371 on-base %, 35 doubles, 5 triples, 7 homers, 66 RBI’s, and 20 steals)
Dean Green – age: 23, 1B – Green has also had a rapid rise since being drafted in 2011 along with Collins. The left-handed hitting first baseman finished 2012 at high-A Lakeland and has hit at every level he’s seen. He projects as a potential 20-homer guy in the majors if things go his way. He shares one problem with player #12 on this list though, he plays first base. Another big year of production from Green and he might get the September call-up and could become prime trade bait in the offseason since Prince Fielder is going to be here for a while. (2012 stats: .304 avg., .375 on-base %, 27 doubles, 12 homers, 79 RBI’s)
Jordan Lennerton – age 27, 1B – Lennerton has been slowly working his way up through the Tigers’ system for 5 years now. He has shown improved power, evidenced by knocking out 21 homers at AA Erie a season ago. Remember when Brad Eldred got called up last year? Lennerton would have to follow a similar path of hitting the ball hard in the early going, coupled with an unlikely offensive slump in Motown. If that doesn’t happen, then injury to Fielder would be his only other way, and Prince never gets hurt. (2012 stats: .269 avg., .368 on-base %, 34 doubles, 21 homers, and 82 RBI’s)
Argenis Diaz –age: 26, SS – Diaz has been the regular shortstop in Toledo each of the last 2 years but has yet to be given the call. If Detroit has injury issues up the middle, Diaz might be among the first to get a look. He doesn’t offer much at the plate and likely won’t be an impact player at the big league level at any point in his career, but could become a decent fill-in guy. (2012 stats: .253 avg., 12 extra-base hits, 12 steals)