With one of the lowest rated farm systems in all of baseball, the Tigers farm system could use it’s fair share of good news. It’s getting some right now in the form of Drew Smyly at the major league level, who is exceeding expectations, despite MCB’s preseason ranking of Smyly as the 3rd best prospect in the Tigers system. Some of the other pitching has gotten off to a tough start, but to the surprise of many, one sector of the Tigers farm system has shown very strong in the early going this season, the outfield.
While the upper minor league levels of AAA and AA are severely lacking in real positional prospects (except Rob Brantly), the Tigers improvements in Latin America, particularly Venezuela, are starting to pay off. The Tigers Lakeland and West Michigan affiliates are starting to become stocked with talent, and in particular, five young outfielders are flashing skills that should give Tigers fans hope.
Daniel Fields, CF (Lakeland)
Fields, who is repeating Lakeland for the 3rd consecutive year despite being just 21 years old, has begun to show some flashes why the Tigers were willing to spend 7 figures on the young man in the 2009 MLB draft. After a strong spring in which Fields showed well in some major league at-bats, Fields begin the year strongly in Lakeland. While Fields has struggled in his last 10 games, hitting just .171, he is still hitting .250 on the season with an OPS of .704. Two things it looks like Fields is improving on, hitting the ball with authority, and getting better at stealing bases. So far on the season, Fields is slugging .395, his highest mark ever, and he has been successful on 8 of 9 steal attempts. Fields especially seems to be excelling with runners on base, where he has 13 RBI in 18 games played this season, hitting .414. His multi-tooled abilities still give the Tigers and fans some reason for optimism as a guy who could eventually play in the big leagues.
Tyler Collins, LF (Lakeland)
Drafted out of Howard JC in Texas last season, Collins came into professional baseball with the reputation of being able to hit, and he has done nothing but live up to that billing. At 21 years old like Fields, Collins started his pro career in short season Connecticut last season, and showed his bat was going to be something to be reckoned with. Collins hit .313, posting an impressive OPS of .902. The Tigers decided to skip West Michigan with Collins and instead challenge him with an assignment to high A ball Lakeland. Collins has taken on that challenge, and showed he is quite capable of handling it so far.
Collins is currently hitting .342 for Lakeland thus far, getting on base at a .411 clip, and posting an OPS of .841. While the power in the form of home runs hasn’t come yet, Collins has been delivering with doubles. He hardly strikes out, just 11 times so far this season, and he has even stolen 3 of 4 bases so far. There have been comparisons to Brian Giles, the old Pittsburgh outfielder, for Collins, and that would be tremendous if he could become that type of player. So far, so good for Collins, who looks like a guy who could make his way to Erie by the end of the year.
Avisail Garcia, RF (Lakeland)
Garcia, despite being just 20 years old, is on the Tigers 40 man roster. Why? Well, he has been in the organization since he was 16. Still young for the Florida State League, and repeating it, Garcia is showing why the Tigers are excited about the young man so far in 2012. His mammoth frame invites comparisons to other right fielders like Nelson Cruz, and his game allows fans to drool over a guy that could hit for power, run and play plus defense from a corner position.
Garcia is hitting .395 for the Flying Tigers, and posting an OPS of .968. While some of that is undoubtedly luck due to BABIP, Garcia has made some real strides in terms of cutting down his strikeouts at this point. While he has struck out 17 times in 81 at-bats, that number is significantly lower than the previous season in Lakeland. One area Garcia is still going to have to improve is drawing bases on balls. His BB% is essentially the same as previous seasons, and until he improves it, people may be skeptical in his big league ability. Still, the start so far for Garcia has been impressive.
Steven Moya, RF (West Michigan)
What a difference a year makes for some guys. Moya, who is a mammoth in his own right at 6’7″, has seen marked improvement since 2011. Currently on the DL with a hamstring issue, Moya went to the DL leading the league in hitting at .377. His OPS stands at a robust .928 as well. The real impressive thing for Moya is the strikeout rate. Last season, Moya struck out 127 times in just 323 at-bats. This season, it’s just 10 times in 69 at-bats, and he is drawing walks too. Moya has half as many walks this season in about 20% of the at-bats. These kind of improvements in K/BB ratios are telling signs in guys making the proper adjustments.
Moya will play the entire 2012 season at 20 years old. I don’t think he will get moved up, but the potential is there if he continues to prove too good for the Midwest League.
Danry Vasquez, LF (West Michigan)
As gaudy as some of the stats for the other guys, the stats are as meek for Danry Vasquez. So, why would I put him on this list? Simple, Vasquez is 18 years old, and holding his own in a pitchers league. Now, normally I wouldn’t call hitting just .182 as holding someone’s own, but when looking at player development, you have to look past just batting averages. The real question should be, is Vasquez being dominated by competition that is 2 or 3 years older? His 14 strikeouts in 66 at-bats would suggest that he is not. In fact, his BABIP is just .224 thus far, and with a K rate of 18.8%, one could imagine his numbers going up.
The real thing to look for with Vasquez is his improvement over the course of the season. There might be some wearing down issues because his frame isn’t near full development at this point, but we should get a good idea of him by August.
Other minor league notes:
*Since moving down in the order in Lakeland, Hernan Perez has been on a tear with the stick. Perez, while still just hitting .263 overall, has hit .343 in his last 10 games, and overall has just been better. He has walked 3 times in those 10 games, which doesn’t sound great, but with Perez, those are his only 3 walks on the season.
*I haven’t talked about him much, but Erie catcher Rob Brantly is having himself a heck of an offensive season so far. Brantly is hitting .365 so far, showing some pop, and showing plate discipline as well, striking out 7 times and walking 5 times.