Detroit Tigers: Big Things Developing in Minor Leagues

Mar 11, 2016; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer (32) throws in the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2016; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer (32) throws in the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

Detroit Tigers minor league players had a big days at all levels. Fans saw Michael Fulmer make his Triple-A debut, while Christin Stewart and Mike Gerber have been on a tear to begin the season in Lakeland.

Detroit Tigers prospects have been rather underwhelming in the past. Names such as Daniel Fields and Hernan Perez were once some of the more promising players developing in the Detroit farm system. Other Tigers prospects, such as Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly and Danry Vasquez have been dealt away to other clubs and have yet to do anything of note in their careers. Prospects are not for everyone and in past years they haven’t been for the Tigers.

During the Dave Dombroski regime prospects were often discarded via trade and flipped for major league ready talent. This method, reminiscent of the New York Yankees in the late 80’s and early 90’s, did not pay off for the Tigers the way they wanted. With no world championships since 1984 the Tigers’ new general management may have a different way of thinking. Prospects drafted and acquired by the Tigers now hope to have a make an impact at the big league level in Detroit.

The Tigers’ consensus number one prospect Michael Fulmer made his Triple-A debut Tuesday after a series of rain-outs (or snow-outs) postponed his starts. Fulmer looked sharp pitching 5 2/3 innings of four hit, scoreless baseball. His vanilla delivery comes from an exaggerated over the top arm slot making his curve ball extra deceptive.

Fulmer also seemed to work at a quick pace in his start against Indianapolis Tuesday. The Tigers have not had a pitcher work deliberately quickly since Doug Fister was on the team, so it will be refreshing to see Fulmer in Detroit as long as he is also getting outs. With two plus pitches already in his repertoire Fulmer is trying to develop a third pitch in order to find success in the majors. His slider, the third pitch in his arsenal, was effective Tuesday and even notched him his seventh strikeout. Fulmer has never pitched more than 125 innings at any professional level so easing him into a starting role while be a mission for the Tigers.

Michael Fulmer was not the only story in Toledo Tuesday. The first inning started off with some excitement when Dixon Machado successfully stole home on a pitch from Steven Brault. One might think this one a rarity but die-hard Mud Hens fans will tell you former Toledo outfielder Xaiver Avery stole home just last season.

Detroit Tigers
Feb 23, 2016; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers shortstop Dixon Machado (49) fields a ground ball during the Detroit Tigers spring training camp at Joker Merchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

Cameron Maybin grounded into a double play and went 0-4 during his rehab assignment start. Alex Wilson, also rehabbing in Toledo, should see action Wednesday and will need to pitch in back-to-back games before making an return to Detroit.

A young player past his prospect prime also tossed a scoreless inning in Toledo on Tuesday. Bruce Rondon struck out two while surrendering one hit during his ninth inning save. Many fans have given up on Rondon regardless of his ability to throw 97+ mph mostly due to his inability to throw strikes at the big league level. Both young players should be due for an appearance in Detroit at least once this season.

In West Michigan former first-round draft choice Derek Hill showed off what he can do best. The young outfielder went 2-5 and struck out twice but scored three runs in the teams loss to Lake County. Hill put his number one asset on display Tuesday stealing three bases including his own steal of home.

Comparable to Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton, Derek Hill will steal bases if he can get on first. Getting on base will be an issue for the light hitting Hill who has hit .226/.300/.303 during his three minor league seasons after being selected 23rd overall by the Tigers in 2014.

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A few of the Tigers’ top prospects stayed back in Lakeland when they were assigned to the Lakeland Flying Tigers. Fans are now jealous of players such as Mike Gerber, Christin Stewart and Joey Pankake because they are professional athletes and because they play in sunny Lakeland, FL. Gerber and Stewart really jumped onto the scene last season thanks to their hot finish to the season at the plate.

Both young outfielders have kept their hot streaks rolling to start 2016. Stewart, selected 34th overall out of the University of Tennessee in 2015 is hitting a mere .208 this season but belted his third home run of his minor league campaign Tuesday. Stewart projects to fit best in a corner outfield spot and his power bat profiles nicely at the major league level.

Gerber, a 15th round selection in 2014, made a name for himself last season due to his .292/.355/.468 campaign. After roping a double Tuesday Gerber’s average is up to .259 on the season after already smashing two home runs. Gerber is the more athletic of the two players but might profile better in left field than center.

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While it is refreshing to see all this young players succeeding at the minor league levels the Tigers do not currently have many holes to fill. With an aging team at the big leagues the Detroit Tigers are in a unique position having a good mix of veteran and young talent. These players may still be a few years away while some could look to contribute in Detroit should a roster spot open up. It is just nice to know things are finally looking bright on the farm.