Hello again, everyone. ‘Tis the season for ranking prospects, so I figured I’d come back and try my hand at ranking the top 20 Tigers prospects for 2015. This is going to be a depressing exercise, especially after the trade of Devon Travis (my heart will go on…), but we’ll give it a try anyways.
Usual caveats apply here. This is a subjective list, meaning that it’s my opinion. I’ve seen the vast majority of the prospects I’ll be ranking, and therefore all of the information written here (unless otherwise noted!!) will be my own. If you disagree, agree, whatever, that’s wonderful. I do hope this will spark a discussion. Feel free to use the comments section or Twitter to do so.
Further caveat: I don’t know anything about the guys the Tigers have in the DSL or VSL. I just don’t. I could conceivably glean scraps of scouting info from various sources about them, but I don’t believe that’s enough for me to justify ranking them. Therefore, these guys won’t be included in my rankings. I don’t know if any of them are top 20 guys anyways–they might not be–but I just don’t know enough about them, so I’m excluding them from my rankings due to lack of info.
I’m going to start these rankings off with a “just missed” segment. These are just a handful of guys who I consider “prospects”, but didn’t fall into my top 20. They are not ranked here, I’m just writing about them in alphabetical order.
Endrys Briceno, RHP
Briceno is not a new name to Tigers’ prospect followers, as he’s been on the radar for a few years now. Standing 6’5″ with smooth mechanics, plus arm speed, and some of the easiest out-of-the-hand gas you’ll see, it’s pretty easy to see why he’s highly thought of. Hell, Briceno was a top 10 guy last year. I saw him many times at West Michigan in 2013, and he was as big of a prospect tease as I can remember scouting. One day he’ll paint with 97, follow it up with a change up that will flash above-average, ooze projection, and show the makings of a usable breaking ball. If you saw one of those outings, it wasn’t a silly idea to put a 60 OFP on him. However, he was maddeningly inconsistent with pretty much everything, and the scouting never matched the production. Now, I’m a scouting guy, I’ll always trust the eye test more than I will minor league numbers, but still…a guy with Briceno’s stuff and profile should not get hit as much as he did, and he should have missed a ton more bats. He moved up to High-A Lakeland for the 2014 season and made a few starts before being shelved due to Tommy John. Normally, a single injury wouldn’t push a guy 10+ spots down a list for me, but when you see that Briceno will be 23 in February, has thrown a total of 16 innings above Low-A, and is still as raw as he is, I couldn’t justify a high ranking. Now, that being said, Briceno probably has the most potential helium on this list. Realistically, he still has one of the highest upsides in this system. If he can spend 2015 getting his arm back in shape and throw some quality innings at Lakeland, he sets himself up to be on track to pitch in AA when he’s 24, which is age appropriate. The upside here is that of a solid #4 starter, because he’ll flash the ability to pitch with a 6+ FB and a 5+ CH, but the lack of a breaking ball holds him back. In all likelihood, he’ll end up the bullpen, in my opinion.
Harold Castro, 2B
Castro has always been a mystery wrapped inside of an enigma to me, because I’ve always thought that he is one of the best pure hitters in the Tigers org. He combines a short left handed stroke with solid bat speed and good hands, which lends credence to the future 6 you see some (including myself) put on his bat. He uses the whole field and makes hard contact, but the power is limited to the extra-base variety. He shows the raw ability to end up as an average defender at 2B, and has played some 3B as well. If you just look at the tools and even the production (he’s hit .289 in his minor league career, albeit with low OBP and SLG), you’d think this would be a top 10 guy in the severely depleted Tigers system. However, for whatever reason, the Tigers don’t seem to think too highly of him. Now, I say this with zero inside information. I’ve heard rumors about certain things, but I don’t know nearly enough with any certainty to “report” such things. He’s ranked this low on my list because it’s hard for me to rank a guy highly who just doesn’t play enough. Seriously, he had 283 AB’s in 2014. For a guy with the raw hitting skills that he has, you’d think he would play more. Again, I don’t know. I just don’t. So I’m taking the more “safe” route here by ranking him low. His upside is that of an average 2B, but that comes with a ton of risk. Realistically, he can end up a quality utility guy who can put bat to ball and play a few different positions off the bench.
Daniel Fields, OF
I don’t even need to write a blurb about Fields. You all know who he is. But anyways, Fields is the guy who is closest to the majors with the ability to actually play CF at an average-or-better level. He can definitely play CF better than anyone on the current roster not named Anthony Gose, and he can run some, although he’s not what you would classify as a burner. He also has one of the better approaches at the plate that you’ll find in the system. He commands the strike zone, takes walks, and has above-average raw power. However, what limits him is the utility of the hit tool. He just doesn’t make enough contact at this point to project as anything more than a 4th OF/possible platoon guy. He’s hit much better vs RHP in his career (except for the small sample size 2014 season) across the board (AVG/OBP/SLG). In retrospect now that i’m actually writing this, he should probably be higher, just because of his closeness to the majors and the fact that he can actually play CF, but I’m not one to fight my gut instinct, and my gut instinct put him here on my list. It’s not unrealistic to expect him to play some with Detroit in 2015, but the presence of Anthony Gose impacts that projection, seeing as they’re both LHH OF’s who will do best in a platoon. If you anticipate Gose and Rajai Davis getting the vast majority of time in CF, then Fields becomes more of an afterthought. Regardless, I believe he has major league upside, even if it’s upside as a 4th OF.
Connor Harrell, OF
I wanted to rank Harrell higher, I really did. I like the guy. I saw him several times towards the end of 2013 in West Michigan, and Jay Chipman from TigsTown kept me updated on his progress throughout 2014 when he was at Lakeland. Harrell is a toolsy guy, with above-average raw power, average speed, and the ability to play all 3 OF positions, at least at an average level. Again, a recurring theme, Harrell’s “prospect lumps” come in the contact department. While his 2014 triple slash looks solid (.270/.344/.423), he struck out quite a bit (26%) playing in High-A at age 23. Still, as we all know, prospects can have major league projection despite contact issues, and while Harrell has them, they’re not entirely stock-killing. His upside has always been that of a 4th OF, due to the profile that I outlined already. He can play all 3 OF positions, and while he’s best in a corner, the ability to play CF raises the profile. He can run some (it’s mostly average speed, highlighted on the base paths by solid instincts and the ability to take the extra base) and can steal you a bag. He shows the ability to hit the ball out of the park, although he’s more of an XBH threat due to a more linear swing path than true lift. Regardless, he should play 2015 at AA, where we’ll undoubtedly see if the guy can play or not.
Joe Mantiply, LHP
Mantiply is probably the prospect I’m most confused about on this list, honestly. I saw him a few times at West Michigan in 2014 where he had a ton of success, and then he received a 2-level promotion to Erie, where he again had success in a small sample. The Tigers sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he continued his success. Seeing as he was a 27th round pick out of college, it’s easy to see why he was quite off the radar, but he seems to have reinvented himself as a reliever, where he’s seen his prospect stock rise to someone with actual major league upside. He throws from a lower slot with a FB working in the high 80’s, and complements that with a slider as his primary secondary pitch. When I saw him, he was very, very effective, but I believed (and still believe) that part of that success was due to the fact that he was an older college arm pitching in Low-A. The command was solid, the fastball had life, and the slider–while inconsistent–flashed average. Overall, it’s the profile of a lefty specialist, but one who could get to the Tigers quickly. He’s a big dude at 6’4″ 220 or so, and the arm slot coupled with a solid breaking ball lends credence to such projection. I expect he’ll be in AAA in 2015, due to his overall success in AA and the AFL (despite it being a small sample).
Zac Reininger, RHP
Reininger came to the Tigers as an 8th round pick in 2013, billed as someone with the ability to both start and come out of the pen, depending on the Tigers’ developmental strategy with him. I saw him early in the 2014 season, and was underwhelmed, as his FB was flat at 88-91 and his curveball, while showing flashes, lacked consistent sharpness. I billed him, at the time, as a potential swingman-type right handed reliever, as I believed he had projection going forward and the curveball showed the makings of a good pitch. Fast forward several months to when I saw him in August, and I was quite pleased. His fastball had jumped several notches, and was working 92-94, touching 95, with good life down in the zone. The curveball had taken a step forward as well, showing big depth and more consistent bite with 11/5 break. He struggled to consistently command the ball down in the zone, and got hit when he left the FB up, but the profile definitely rose (in my view) on that day. Athletic guy with a potential 6 FB and 5+ CB (which is what I have him written up as) speaks to a guy with legitimate middle relief upside. He’ll turn 22 in a few months, and I would expect him to spend 2015 at High-A, so we’ll see, obviously.