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Detroit Tigers: Prospects Who Could Debut in 2016

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Feb 23, 2016; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Joe Jimenez (77) warms up during the Detroit Tigers spring training camp at Joker Merchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 23, 2016; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Joe Jimenez (77) warms up during the Detroit Tigers spring training camp at Joker Merchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Detroit Tigers have a veteran-laden roster, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for young players. James McCann, Nick Castellanos and Daniel Norris have all debuted in recent seasons and figure to be around for a long time. Here are some other young players, specifically prospects, who could debut in 2016.

The Detroit Tigers have quietly rebuilt the team’s minor league system. A losing campaign and midseason trades had a lot to do with that, but general manager Al Avila refused to trade away his best young players during the offseason.

Keeping hold of the acquired prospects and recent high draft picks should help the Detroit Tigers significantly in the future. While players like Beau Burrows, Derek Hill, Christin Stewart and Michael Gerber are likely still a year or more away, there are players who could contribute to the Tigers end product this season.

So which prospects could debut for Detroit this season?

I’m glad you asked.

Michael Fulmer

The obvious jewel of the system, Fulmer has the potential to be a frontline pitcher thanks to a fastball that MLB.com writes “easily reaches the mid-90s.” What’s more, the same publication writes that his slider is “a swing-and-miss pitch.” In terms of repertoire, Fulmer can also throw a curveball and changeup.

Thanks to the presence of Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Shane Greene, Fulmer is unlikely to start the season as a starter in the Major Leagues. However, there are bullpen spots up for grabs, and a relief role would make sense for the top prospect. Not only would the former Mets farmhand get experience against elite opposition, he’d also have the chance to be extremely successful.

Fulmer’s fastball/slider combination will, in time, allow him to pitch at the top of Detroit’s rotation. However, the same nasty offerings will play—perhaps even better—out of the bullpen.

A workload similar to Drew Smyly’s in 2013 (when the former posted a 2.31 FIP in 76 innings of relief) is probably out of the question, but a similar level of success isn’t.

Motor City Bengals ranked Fulmer as the Tigers’ best prospect.

JaCoby Jones 

Mar 1, 2016; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers shortstop JaCoby Jones (79) throws to first for the double play as Pittsburgh Pirates Jason Rogers (15) slides into second during the seventh inning at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 1, 2016; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers shortstop JaCoby Jones (79) throws to first for the double play as Pittsburgh Pirates Jason Rogers (15) slides into second during the seventh inning at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

You can read more about Jones here, but the moral of the story is that the 23-year-old can play a number of different positions and has the potential to achieve a 20/20 or a 30/30 season in terms of home runs and steals.

Think Ben Zobrist, but with more raw power and speed.

Motor City Bengals ranked Jones as the Tigers’ fifth-best prospect.

Joe Jimenez 

While the Tigers have failed to produce any bullpen talent that has stuck at the Major League level in recent seasons (Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy came from Boston and Kansas City, respectively), the team has something special in Jimenez.

At only 21 years of age, the reliever has progressed to Single-A in the Tigers’ system. Based on his numbers, he doesn’t look like he’ll be in the minors.

The right-hander owns a stellar 1.64 ERA in 87.2 innings. He has only walked a paltry 23 batters over that span in addition to 16 career saves. Perhaps the most staggering statistic is Jimenez’ strikeout totals.

In those 87.2 innings, the future closer of the Tigers has 126 (!) strikeouts, good for a career 12.9 strikeouts-per-nine-innings.

For this season at least, Detroit has Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe, Justin Wilson, Blaine Hardy and Alex Wilson locked into bullpen jobs. Fulmer, Drew VerHagen and Bruce Rondon are other names to watch. Based on all this depth—and the fact that Jimenez hasn’t pitched above Single-A—it wouldn’t be surprising to see the reliever start the year in the minors.

One silver lining of 2015 was that it forced the Tigers to improve the team’s depth. In other words, more than 25 players will be needed over the course of a season. Jimenez could be one of those extra pitchers. Should he perform well in the minors, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him reach the Major Leagues by August.

Motor City Bengals ranked Jones as Detroit’s fourth-best prospect.

Wynton Bernard

Bernard would have had a much better shot at making the Tigers out of Spring Training had Justin Upton signed elsewhere. With Upton, J.D. Martinez, Cameron Maybin and Anthony Gose locked into the outfield, Bernard may open the season in the high minors.

Even if he doesn’t make the team at first, the outfielder stands a good chance to contribute at some point this year thanks to his impressive speed and on-base skills.

Next: Buck Farmer Player Profile

The outfielder has hit .323 and .301 in two seasons since joining the Detroit organization. In those two years, he’s made the jump from Single-A to Double-A and didn’t miss a beat. Over the two seasons, he’s also stolen 88 bases. As an added bonus, Bernard has shown potential in the power department, with 83 extra-base hits since the start of 2014. Skill wise, he seems like a natural successor to Anthony Gose and or Cameron Maybin as the team waits for Derek Hill.

At worst, the outfielder can provide a serious impact as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. He may just get a chance to do that this season.

Motor City Bengals ranked Bernard as the organization’s 12th-best prospect.

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