From 2002 to 2015 the Detroit Tigers farm system was ravaged by Dave Dombrowski. Now, in the short time that he has been gone, it appears to be bouncing back. So much so that the Tigers organization is planning on adding another Gulf Coast team to fill with minor leaguers.
Unfortunately, the new Gulf Coast team will be a replacement for the shuttering Venezuelan Summer League, but the fact that the league was so successful shows that the Tigers farm system is on the up and up. Of course, it is impossible to completely refill a farm system in five short months. But, there are signs that the farm is refilling with quality players who should be able to make an impact in the minors and eventually in the majors.
Earlier in January, Baseball America looked at the top ten prospects in the Tigers organization. The list included players like Michael Fulmer, Mike Gerber, Christin Stewart, and JaCoby Jones. Several of these prospects were playing at Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps. Steven Moya was not on the list, but Dixon Machado was. Fans have already seen that Machado should be on the list with his performance at the end of 2015.
Several of young minor-league players, like Mike Gerber and JaCoby Jones, had successful fall leagues in Arizona. Jeff Ferrell also had a successful minor league fall season in Arizona. Gerber could quickly become an asset to the Tigers simply for the fact that he is a left-handed batter, but the fact that he plays right field could keep him in the minors a bit longer. Jones plays a variety of positions, which could make him a solid utility player who can hit for power; in 2014-15, he hit 33 home runs.
The 2015 trade deadline acquisitions have also helped to beef up the farm system, too. That deadline added JaCoby Jones, Michael Fulmer, and Luis Cessa. Fulmer was one of the top prospects in the New York Mets system before he was traded to Detroit for Yoenis Cespedes. Cessa was added when the Pittsburgh Pirates traded for Joakim Soria, but he was traded to the New York Yankees in exchange for Justin Wilson. The word on Fulmer is that he could easily become a #2 0r #3 started in the near future. Of course, the Tigers will need a handful of starters in any given season. They have a few already that will be visiting Lakeland in a few weeks, like Daniel Norris, Kyle Ryan, Drew VerHagen, Montreal Robertson, and Shane Greene. These young pitchers need some more seasoning, but could become regular pitchers as time moves on.
The Tigers farm system is still not perfect, but it has definitely improved since Al Avila took over the general managerial duties in the front office. The hiring of Lloyd McClendon as the manager of the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens shows that those in charge have some interest in improving the minor league system. The fact that the West Michigan Whitecaps won the Midwest League Championship in 2015 shows that there are players in the system who know how to win. Many of those players, like catcher Kade Scivicque, second baseman Joey Pankake, and pitcher Spencer Turnbull showed promise in 2015. As they move on to the next level, they should continue to prove their worth to the organization.
The biggest problem for any player in the Detroit Tigers farm system is the fact that there are so many good starters on the Tigers team. Right now, no player in the minor league system is going to outperform Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, or James McCann. So, if a player wants to move up to the major leagues, it can be difficult to do in the Detroit system. Many of the top players are locked down for several more years, but since time is the only constant in life, it is certain that those top player will need to be replaced, eventually. If Al Avila can come up with creative ways to acquire players, the farm system should only get stronger.
Don’t forget that the Tigers also have the ninth draft pick this year, which will only help them add to their farm system. It might be time to start attending games to watch the Mud Hens, Flying Tigers, Whitecaps, Erie Seawolves, and Connecticut Tigers.