The Detroit Tigers are often criticized for having a poor farm system—stop me if you’ve heard that before.
Unlike most teams, the Tigers tend to use the team’s farm system to acquire stars, rather than develop them. Justin Verlander is the only player on the roster that came up through the Detroit system and is an elite player. Other than Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez, Jordan Zimmermann and Francisco Rodriguez were all acquired either through the free agent process or by trade.
Detroit’s brass has made a conscious effort to rebuild the team’s farm system to create a better outlook for the future. Injuries and inconsistency were two downfalls of the Tigers in 2015, but the lack of a farm system also played a part.
Because of a poor minor-league system (and a struggling team), Detroit traded away David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline. The prospects received for the trio have greatly improved the Tigers’ farm system.
However, due to the team being in contention, some prospects will be traded for upgrades. So far this offseason, general manager Al Avila has done a masterful job of flipping minor prospects for Major League additions like Rodriguez, Cameron Maybin and Justin Wilson. By doing so, Avila is improving Detroit’s present while keeping the future bright.
Here are eight prospects the Tigers should consider untouchable in trades.
Notable Omission: Steven Moya
Moya could be baseball’s next great home run hitter, but his free-swinging tendency is concerning. If he’s traded, the Tigers won’t sell low. However, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him moved if it helped the Tigers acquire, say, an elite left fielder.
Acquired in the Cespedes trade with the New York Mets, Fulmer is currently ranked as Detroit’s top prospect by both Baseball America and MLB.com. The right-hander has the look of a frontline starting pitcher thanks to a blazing fastball and two nasty off-speed offerings.
The front office achieved the rare feat of acquiring two future frontline starters in a single trade deadline in Fulmer and Norris. The duo have a chance to lead the Tigers’ rotation well after Verlander, Zimmermann and the rest of the veteran pitchers have retired.
Fulmer pitched to a 2.24 ERA and a 10-3 record in 22 starts last season. All but one of his outings came at the Double-A level.
Kinsler’s likely long-term successor at second base, Machado is a superb defender. MLB.com writes that the infielder “has plus hands and arm to go along with outstanding range.”
Machado also showed potential with the bat. In 127 games at Triple-A Toledo he hit .261 with 61 runs scored, 48 RBI, 22 doubles, four home runs and 15 stolen bases.
In 24 games with the big league club, the 23-year-old flashed similar promise thanks to a .235 batting average, five RBI, three doubles and a stolen base. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, the fact that the rookie drew seven walks compared to only 14 strikeouts is extremely encouraging.
On most clubs, Machado would be a great defensive shortstop, but in Detroit he’ll have to settle for second base. Jose Iglesias will likely hold down the fort at short for the next decade.
More from Motor City Bengals
- Detroit Tigers: Victor Reyes finding ways to get the job done
- The Detroit Tigers must cut their losses and release Jonathan Schoop
- Detroit Tigers: Garrett Hill’s new role and changed delivery are excellent
- Detroit Tigers: Joe Jiménez has rebounded in 2022
- Detroit Tigers: Is it finally time to move the fences in at Comerica Park?
Like Machado, Jimenez is a long-term replacement for one of the team’s top veterans. The 20-year-old is Rodriguez’ heir apparent at closer, and for good reason too.
In 40 Single-A games during the 2015 season, the right-handed pitcher finished 34 games while throwing 43 innings. Over the span of those 43 innings he only allowed two home runs while striking out 61(!) batters. Jimenez’ ERA was a sparkling 1.47.
If Jimenez is the Detroit Tigers’ closer of the future, than Paul Voelker is the team’s setup man of the same time period.
The 23-year-old reliever climbed three levels of the Tigers’ minor league system in 2015, making it all the way to Double-A. During the ascent, Voelker pitched to a 2.11 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 55.1 innings pitched. He also tacked on 18 saves across the three levels.
While Baseball America doesn’t rank him in the team’s top 10 prospects, MLB.com writes that Voelker “can touch the upper 90s with his fastball and can sit comfortably in the mid-90s. He complements the heater with a solid hard slider that has good late movement to it.”
What’s more, MLB.com projects his estimated time of arrival to be sometime in 2016.
Detroit isn’t alone in terms of having a positive evaluation of the player. BA ranks him as the team’s number five prospect ahead of the likes of Machado and Jimenez, while MLB.com ranks him as the ninth best prospect in the Detroit system.
Jones brings an intriguing mix of power and speed. In 2014, the 23-year-old hit .288 with 23 home runs, 70 RBI and 17 stolen bases. This season, he followed up with a .257 batting average, 16 home runs, 80 RBI and 25 stolen bases.
In addition to having tremendous offensive upside, Jones is extremely athletic and could wind up playing a number of different positions in the big leagues. The former fourth-round pick has played a considerable amount of shortstop as of late, but like Machado he’ll have to move off the position thanks to the presence of Iglesias.
Gerber’s name isn’t a household one among prospects, but the outfielder has potentially played his way into a future with the Tigers thanks to some strong numbers.
The 23-year-old stuffed the stat sheet in his first, full professional season. Gerber posted a .292/.355/.468 slash line in addition to 31 doubles, 10 triples, 13 home runs, 76 RBI, 16 stolen bases and only 97 strikeouts in 135 games played.
For his career in the minors, the former 15th-round draft pick is a .294 hitter with a sparkling .359 OBP.
If he continues to produce like he has, Gerber has a real chance to carve out a long-term roll with Detroit. Like Jones, he was invited to Major League Spring Training.
A recent first-round draft pick of the Tigers (2014), Hill profiles as a speedy table setter.
The outfielder was ranked as a top-100 prospect by Baseball Prospectus and has already made good on his potential on the base paths. In only 100 minor league games, Hill has accumulated 36 stolen bases, while only being caught nine times.
Hill figures to serve as the long-term centerfield solution in Detroit. When he reaches the big leagues, the 20-year-old’s base-stealing ability will give the Tigers the true leadoff hitter the team has been missing.
Another recent first-round pick, this time from the 2015 draft, Beau Burrows figures to slot into the future rotation right behind Norris and Fulmer.
In his first taste of professional ball, the 19-year-old made 10 appearances (nine starts) totaling 28 innings. Over the course of those innings, Burrows pitched to a 1.61 ERA, held batters to a .184 batting average and struck out 33 hitters.
Like most Detroit pitching prospects past and present, the former first-round pick has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s. His off-speed offerings are useable as well, including a power curveball with serious potential.
The Detroit Tigers routinely make sacrifices in the farm system to improve the big league club. This is fine in the pursuit of championships, but if the team wants to make any other significant trades, Al Avila must deem these eight prospects untouchable.