This offseason we have been hearing a bit now and then about the weakness of the Detroit Tigers minor league system, especially on the positional side. In the latest ‘top-101’ list from Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, the Tigers landed two. All in all – not good but not really that bad. The Royals, of course, score much better with 5 in the top 101 but the White Sox, Indians and Twins are in no better position than Detroit. Rather than express dismay over the Tigers barren farm system, we should be thrilled that it is not the worst in baseball.
In addition to paying the typical price of an organization that focuses on drafting pitching, career-derailing injuries like those to Sleeth, Baugh, Rainwater, etc… This is, after all, a franchise making every effort to win now – sacrificing draft picks by signing type-A free agents (while less frequently receiving compensatory picks) and trading away prospects for players who can help now at the big league level. I won’t go back all the way to the beginning of Dombrowski’s tenure, but I will go as far as the deals made during the failed pennant drive in 2009 (which, of course, caused the unforeseeable failure of said drive) to look at prospects the Tigers have dealt away that would otherwise be in the organization today and/or chasing major league roles with the club this spring.
For Jarrod Washburn:
Luke French and Mauricio Robles. With a 5.37 ERA in 125 innings for the Mariners in 2009 and 2010, the -1.0 WAR the M’s got from lefty French matched the -0.9 that the Tigers got from Washburn. After an awful season in Tacoma at age 25, French got the boot and signed a minor-league deal with the Twins this January. Robles is 22 now and you could say that his career is in jeopardy now after his control issues were dialed up to 11 in 2011. He’s still a prospect, but walking a batter an inning is the kind of thing that would keep even a AAA manager from handing you the ball.
For Aubrey Huff:
Brett Jacobson. Jacobson was traded pretty early in his Tigers career. Though he was a 4th round pick for us in 2008, and his numbers in the minors have been decent (prior to 2011, at least), they haven’t been anywhere near as impressive as a minor league relief pitcher has to be. He’s now 24 and likely to be repeating AA next season.
For Jhonny Peralta:
Giovanni Soto. We’re all happy to have Jhonny, but the Tigers didn’t get him for free. Soto, a left-handed starter, posted a 3.23 ERA with 9 strikeouts per 9 innings as a 20-year-old last season in high A. He’s still a ways from the majors, but he’s not chopped liver.
For David Purcey:
Scott Sizemore. Sizemore wasn’t exactly a prospect, though he might still be in AAA if he hadn’t been dealt. You all know how this one panned out for the Tigers, and whether or not you’re upset to see Sizemore doing everything that the Tigers had needed him to do elsewhere you have to be disappointed by the abject failure of Purcey.
For Wilson Betemit:
Antonio Cruz & Julio Rodriguez. Cruz is and was an interesting lefty swingman pitching at low-A at age 19. Rodriguez is a light-hitting catcher, an area of depth among position players in the Tigers organization. It’s a bit of a stretch to imagine Rodriguez ever making a major league roster – though he’s still young at 22 he has a career minor-league OBP of only .298 and 6 home runs in almost 300 minor league games. Cruz might be another story – though the sample is small, his strikeout rate spiked after his move to Kane County in the Royals organization and his ERA dropped further to 1.80.
For Doug Fister & David Pauley:
Casper Wells, Francisco Martinez, Charles Furbush & Chance Ruffin. With the exception of Martinez, these guys (among the top Tigers prospects heading into 2011) had hit the big leagues in Detroit prior to the trade and did not see any minor league action after heading to Seattle. Ruffin and Wells would be locks for the 2012 25-man with Furbush in the running for a rotation spot. Martinez would, on the other hand, be the second-best positional prospect in the Tigers system. Martinez was the kind of prospect that I tend to dislike (not as a person, obviously, but one I don’t have a great deal of optimism about) – a toolsy kid who’s young for his level but doesn’t actually put up good numbers. In Erie at age 20 he was hitting a fairly empty .282, but he turned it up a notch in Jackson after the deal. Maybe it’s just luck, maybe they tweaked his swing or maybe he’s just growing up. Regardless, he’s definitely made steps in the direction of converting tools to results and now looks more worthy of that top-tier rating he’s always had as a prospect.
For Delmon Young:
Lester Oliveros & Cole Nelson. Oliveros was a top-20 prospect for the Tigers in relief going into the 2011 season, Cole Nelson was a throw-in. Still only 23, Venezuelan Oliveros struggled both in Toledo (with hits and control) and in the Majors for the Tigers and Twins (just with control). Were he still in the organization, he would be fighting to earn a bullpen spot out of spring training but would likely need to prove he could throw strikes to AAA hitters and get outs doing so before he would be given another chance. Tall 22-year-old lefty Nelson struggled as a starter in Lakeland and was used exclusively as a reliever in the Minnesota organization. I’m not sure he’s much of a loss, but the Twins love their homers and they must have asked for this Minnesota product specifically.
The loss of those first-round picks from the Jose Valverde and Victor Martinez signings don’t look all that bad, so far. [Though clearly, we’d love to have those first rounders back.] With the Tigers 19th pick in the 2010 draft, the Astros picked HS pitcher Mike Foltynewicz who put up a 4.97 ERA with unimpressive peripherals in low-A last year. BA has Foltynewicz listed as the Astros 9th best prospect. They also say, and I quote “The most obvious reason for Houston’s collapse is it’s failures in scouting and player development” so perhaps being the #9 prospect in that system doesn’t mean all that much. With the Tigers 19th pick of the 2011 draft (how does it just keep working out that way?) the Red Sox picked hard-throwing RHP Matt Barnes, who has yet to throw an inning in the minors. BA currently has him listed as the 8th best prospect in the Red Sox system.
During that time period, Dombrowski also dealt away Armando Galarraga, Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson for youngsters – so it’s not a purely uni-directional drain on the Tigers farm system. Still, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Tigers farm system would look a bit deeper if these trades had never happened (though the big league club might look less impressive).