March 14, 2011; Viera, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers shortstop Cale Iorg (19) during a spring training game against the Washington Nationals at Spacecoast Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers Top Prospects In Review


I often hear from fans that so-and-so (nowadays typically Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia) is the Tigers’ future and should be absolutely untouchable. Yeah, we’d love to add Justin Upton – but if it meant parting with Garcia? No thank you. Dude’s gonna be a star. Well I suppose that’s possible – odds have got to be better than winning the Powerball. But he probably isn’t. I’d put the odds of him being as good as Upton at 5-10%…

Fans of a team tend to look at a lot of the guys on the big league roster and especially prospects with rose-colored glasses. Garcia did some decent hitting in high-A and AA last year at a fairly young age – but to be honest that does not make him remarkable. I’d suggest taking a careful look at the guys that we Tigers fans pinned our hopes on in years past (but I won’t go so far back as to dredge up Mike Drumright, Kyle Sleeth or Kenny Baugh). Below you’ll find BAs top-10 prospects lists for the Tigers following the trade that brought Miguel Cabrera here (and sent the cream of the organization to flounder in Florida), following the 2008 season and following the trade that followed the 2009 season.


Baseball America top Tigers prospects (post-2007-season) – also post-trade

1. Rick Porcello, rhp
2. Cale Iorg, ss
3. Scott Sizemore, 2b
4. Michael Hollimon, 2b/ss
5. Yorman Bazardo, rhp
6. Jeff Larish, 1b
7. Matt Joyce, of
8. Danny Worth, ss
9. Francisco Cruceta, rhp
10. Brandon Hamilton, rhp

Baseball America top Tigers prospects (post-2008-season)

1. Rick Porcello, rhp
2. Ryan Perry, rhp
3. Cale Iorg, ss
4. Casey Crosby, lhp
5. Jeff Larish, 1b/3b
6. Wilkin Ramirez, of
7. Scott Sizemore, 2b
8. Cody Satterwhite, rhp
9. Dusty Ryan, c
10. Guillermo Moscoso, rhp

Baseball America Top 10 Tigers Prospects (post-2009-season)

1. Jacob Turner, rhp
2. Casey Crosby, lhp
3. Austin Jackson, of
4. Andy Oliver, lhp
5. Daniel Schlereth, lhp
6. Alex Avila, c
7. Gustavo Nunez, ss
8. Wilkin Ramirez, of
9. Daniel Fields, ss
10. Scott Sizemore, 2b

First: the guys that have already “done something” as major leaguers. That list is not long. We have Rick Porcello, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila and (to a certain extent) Matt Joyce. Jackson didn’t work his way through the system and was only a Tiger prospect for a few months. He is a success, but he isn’t one of the guys that we watched advance through the system and “planned” on seeing in action in Detroit for years to come. Avila kind of came out of nowhere – an advanced prospect who went in the 5th round and jumped to the bigs after a strong AA (which is what got him pegged as a Tigers top-10). Porcello was touted as a future ace – he has won a fair number of games and eaten a fair number of innings since 2009 but he now looks more like a solid #4. Joyce got dealt, but he has been an above average corner outfielder (.810 career OPS) for the Rays.

Second: we have guys who have seen some big league action, but haven’t yet distinguished themselves. This should really be broken into two subgroups: we have guys who have basically washed out (though time can heal all wounds) and guys who are only just getting a shot. Jacob Turner would be a prime example of the latter – he did not fare well in a handful of starts for Detroit, but did alright at the end of last season for Miami and is assured a rotation spot for them in 2013. Ryan Perry and Dan Schlereth would be prime examples of the former – they got ample opportunities to turn that potential into something, struggled and are now out of the organization. This is the likely fate of all “closers of the future” – especially ones who struggle with control. Scott Sizemore stunk it up in Detroit, got dealt to Oakland for a human-shaped box of paraffin, and had a little success on the west coast before missing 2012 due to injury.

Now let’s look at the other guys, the guys who never made the big leagues or just got a cup of coffee. Now, since we’re looking at top prospect lists that aren’t all that old it’s entirely possible (even desirable) that some younger low-minors guys would still be in the minors but should still be top prospects if they’re progressing well. I’m not sure there is anything to gain by going through these in detail – suffice it to say that the fact these names don’t ring a bell (or you aren’t sure “where they are now”) tells you all that you need to know. Crosby is still a prospect – though he has had worrying problems with command in AAA. Andy Oliver is still in Toledo – but it’s getting very hard to call him a prospect at this point. Gustavo Nunez – despite an injury in 2012 – is still a prospect, but after being left off the 40 he’s a prospect in Pirates organization. The rest? They are not. Some of them got a big league opportunity, some didn’t. Some are out of baseball, some aren’t. At most, these guys are like the Quintin Berrys and Kevin Russos of the world – failed prospects somebody might be willing to take a flyer on as a minor league free agent.

I’m pretty sure that if I, prior to the 2009 season, had suggested that the Tigers put together a package to deal for Cliff Lee (and Cliff Lee did get dealt midseason in 2009 for Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson and Jason Donald) and suggested that the Tigers send Rick Porcello AND Ryan Perry AND Cale Iorg AND Wilkin Ramirez AND Scott Sizemore – a lot of people would have flamed the comments section of this page with outrage and invective. Are you !@#$% crazy??? Giving away the farm??? And – though we have the benefit of hindsight now – and we know that Cliff Lee has been good for 22.4 WAR over the past 4 years while the five prospects have combined for 3.9 (both WAR figures using BR calculations) bear in mind that this is far, far from the worst kind of fleecing a prospect deal can result in. Porcello is a legitimate big-league starter and Perry and Sizemore did at least occasional good things as major leaguers. That package is probably a better batch than the one that the Indians actually got (in retrospect – Knapp & Carrasco got hurt, Donald & Marson stunk). But does it seem, now, like that kind of deal would have been a good use of those prospects? I think so.

Most prospects fail. Most prospects that don’t fail, have mediocre careers. Obviously every productive major leaguer was once a prospect, but there are far, far more prospects (and here I’m speaking only about the guys that actually get some hype) than there will be productive major leaguers. I know that it’s tempting to imagine that Nick Castellanos will be the next David Wright (as it was tempting to imagine Rick Porcello as the next Justin Verlander) but he’s probably more likely to be the next Gabe Alvarez. Bruce Rondon is more likely to be Ryan Perry than Jonathan Papelbon. Avisail Garcia is more likely to be Wilkin Ramirez than Alex Rios. There are obviously risks involved in trading away your top prospects – but holding onto them is plenty risky too. The big appeal of those prospects is – after all – not their future productivity but the chance to get solid contributors for low, low salaries for at least a few years.

The Tigers farm system over the past several years has not produced all that many notable major leaguers. It has – as has been mentioned here before – gotten us Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Doug Fister, Edwin Jackson (who was effectively converted into Max Scherzer), Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez. Lets just say that if the organization had actually produced all of those players over the past 5 years (or guys who did what they have done over the past 5 years) Detroit would be getting the same kind of praise that the Rays do.

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  • http://tomaroonandgold.blogspot.com Matt Snyder

    Can Cale Iorg pitch? Asking for a friend.

    • chrisHannum

      He can hit like a pitcher…

    • John Verburg

      He has a strong arm, but I don’t know anything of him having a pitching background.

  • John Verburg

    By the way, I like this article very much. I love a strong farm system as much as anyone, but the players are commodities and using promise to get actual major league production is a good idea.

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  • http://sidelionreport.com/ Zac Snyder

    I fear the Tigers are reaching a tipping point in which they need to strike a balance between big money starts and cheap young talent. They are (rightly) locked into big money deals with Cabrera, Verlander and Fielder but have had the benefit of team-friendly contracts with Scherzer, Jackson, Avila and Porcello. Those go away as they get through their arb years and the Tigers will need cheap young talent to fill in behind them or the back-end of the roster will just be filled in with “cheap”.

    Really, it doesn’t come down to a Castellanos or Garcia debate as this article correctly points out the poor success rate of prospects, particularly coming out of the Tigers’ system. It comes down to the Tigers needing a deeper farm system to ensure their success in the long-term.