Detroit Tigers Farm System Drought About to Hit Home
By Tom Pollin
This year’s Detroit Tigers can be formidable as they have demonstrated the first two weeks of the season but they’ve also begun to show vulnerability to the injury bug. With no help on the horizon from their minor league system, ranked dead last before the start of the season by Baseball Prospectus, the end to the team’s four year reign atop the American League Central Division will be over.
Over the past four seasons a weak minor league system wouldn’t matter much to the big league club but in those years the team was one of the healthiest in major league baseball.
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From 2010 to 2013 the Tigers ranked 31st out of 32 teams in average number of disabled list stints and average number of days per season lost to the disabled list. Those numbers rose a bit in 2014, mostly due to pitcher injuries, but the lineup stayed surprisingly solid. This team is showing potential of ending that trend.
The pitching staff received a big blow before the season even began with the saga of iniings-eater Justin Verlander and his mystery ailment /injured/fatigued right arm. Right-hander Buck Farmer made an impression on Tigers’ management in spring training but after a three level jump from A to Triple-A in 2014 he’s nowhere near ready to start for a team in win-now mode.
Kyle Lobstein was brought north out of spring training as a last minute replacement but has only gone as far as seven innings once in his nine major league starts. That’s going to stretch a bullpen already weakened by the losses of Joe Nathan and Bruce Rondon to the breaking point.
Nathan, now out for the season, still gave the Tigers career-long effectiveness as a late-inning reliever even if Joakim Soria had eventually beat him out for the closer role. Joba Chamberlain, Al Alburquerque nor anyone else on the Tigers’ staff can duplicate Nathan’s ability and experience.
Currently, the only possibility for the Tigers’ farm system to fill the bullpen void is if they are willing to surrender a couple of mid-level prospects for another team’s salary dump. Jonathan Papelbon of the Philadelphia Phillies is one pitcher who comes to mind a possibility in this scenario.
Besides the pitching staff difficulties, what has the potential of ripping an iceberg-sized hole in this Tigers’ season is the left knee problems of designated-hitter Victor Martinez.
Martinez has been recovering since February from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and he’s already further aggravated the area since the start of the season. According to numerous reports, Martinez doesn’t have problems when hitting right-handed but the knee bothers him when he’s hitting from the left-hand side.
Also according to reports, manager Brad Ausmus will be asking Martinez every time the Tigers face a right-handed pitcher how he feels from the left-side of the plate. In other words Martinez is day-to-day and isn’t hitting with his usual authority when he does take his clean-up position in the lineup.
The only prospect currently in the minor league system who could have any possibility to replace the run-generating power that Victor Martinez provides is Steven Moya, just not in 2015.
Moya is a 6 foot, 7 inch left-handed outfielder who has recently finished a rehab assignment in High-A and is joining the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens this weekend. He has incredible power but no plate discipline. If he does show up in Detroit this year it’s because the season imploded and general manager Dave Dombrowski is making early plans for 2016.
While it may be easy to blame Dombrowski and the team’s scouting department for the current state of the minor league system the Tigers have developed talent but mostly to use in trades for proven major league players. Where that has placed the team in 2015 is in the middle of a perfect storm, no prospects who can help win this year and not enough to trade for a difference maker they’ll need to put them over the top.