#10: Drew VerHagen, RHP
Drew VerHagen was drafted by the Tigers in the 4th round of the 2012 draft out of Vanderbilt, and spent most of his first professional season at Lakeland in High A. He’s moved pretty quickly through the system, spending his first full pro season splitting time between A+ and AA; and then pitching at AAA for pretty much all of 2014. He received his first major league action in 2014, making a spot start in July when the Tigers were dealing with a few injuries to their pitching staff. A back injury cut his season short, but overall it was a pretty good year for VerHagen. He pitched relatively effectively at AAA, and got his first taste of MLB action.
VerHagen certainly looks like a Tigers pitching prospect–he’s 6’6″ 230. When he was drafted, the scouting at the time seemed to be pretty similar to that of several Tigers draft picks over the past few years: Big righty, can throw hard, lacks third pitch, probably reliever, maybe a back end starter if it all breaks right. Now, seeing as he spent 2012-2013 between Lakeland, FL and Erie, PA; I didn’t get a chance to see him. However, in 2014, I was finally able to get eyes on him a couples times; once in Gwinett, GA and once at Toledo. Here’s what I came away with: He’s a huge dude, obviously. Generates good plane to the plate, good extension, long arm action to high 3/4 slot, good arm speed, rotational delivery with good balance. FB worked 90-94, T 95 with big sink at all velos, bat-breaking life, nearly impossible to square up when located down. Strike-thrower but quality of strikes (command) needs improvement. Showed 2 curveballs with varying profile. One is a loopy, high 60’s offering with 12-6 break but no snap. More of a get-me-over, eye-level changing pitch than a true swing-and-miss offering. Threw it for strikes, but that’s a dangerous pitch if you leave it up. Threw another CB, this one in the mid-high 70’s, more of a true curveball with 11/5 break and decent shape, lacked consistency of spin and bite, flashed a few solid-average. Maybe an average future. Showed change up, best secondary at present, low-mid 80’s with good arm speed deception, thrown from same keyhole, inconsistent movement but will turn over some good ones with fade, could end up above average with more consistency of movement.
VerHagen’s profile really hasn’t changed all that much since he was drafted. He’s a strike-throwing, ground ball pitcher who uses his fastball the vast majority of the time. The change up could end up as a 5+ pitch, and the curveball showed some 5 potential but it’s unlikely to end up there overall. The fastball is a 6 when you combine the velo and life. All of that fits together as a potential backend starter, but he could move to the bullpen where the fastball velo would conceivably play up, and would only have to focus on the change up as his secondary offering. Proximity to the majors and floor are factored into all of my rankings decisions, but perhaps more so here. Regardless, I think he has an MLB future.
OFP: 50 (back end starter or 7th-8th inning reliever)
2015 Projection: Rotation at AAA Toledo
MLB ETA: Already achieved MLB level.
#9: Domingo Leyba, 2B
Domingo Leyba was pretty much an unknown to Tigers fans prior to this time last year, when Baseball America ranked him 8th in the system, causing fans everywhere to scream “who the hell is Domingo Leyba? Can he pitch the 9th?” Leyba was signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic, and spent 2013 still in the DR playing in the DSL. In somewhat of a surprise move, when the Tigers brought him stateside for the 2014, he went to short-season Connecticut in the NYPL rather than the rookie league GCL. Then, even more surprisingly, when the Tigers traded away Willy Adames, Leyba got the call to Single-A West Michigan, where he spent the remainder of the season. Leyba saw just under 300 PA at West Michigan (as an 18 year old), where he posted a .323/.360/.423 triple slash. Impressive? No doubt. But does that production and excitement match up to the scouting?
Leyba is a compact 5’11” 160, with good projection for added strength as he develops into his “man body”. He’s a switch-hitter, and while I admittedly saw him mostly from the right side, he looked comfortable swinging the bat from both sides. Quick hands, advanced barrel control for age and strength. Good bat speed, could end up above-average with added strength. Showed ability to pull hands in on plus velo (95+) and pull the baseball. The bat is definitely projectable as far as the hit tool goes, but I don’t see much power here beyond the extra base variety. The swing is linear and geared for hard, line drive contact; rather than a swing with lift designed to hit balls out of the yard. He’s raw in the IF (it’s a 2B profile), but the tools for an above-average defender are there. His feet are very quick, but the overall footwork required to play the IF at a high level is lacking right now. I’m not worried about that at all, though. He’s a teenager with the athleticism to play the position well, the fundamentals and mechanics of IF play will come with more and more professional instruction. Looks comfortable making the pivot, arm works well for position. Overall, there’s a lot to like, but it’s not exactly a top-tier, sexy profile.
Certainly some of the Leyba hype is warranted; after all, he did very well in full-season ball as an 18 year old. However; we need to temper our expectations. He’s not a high-ceiling prospect, nor does he have any flashy tools. There is something to be said, definitely, for the kind of poise it takes to do that well at 18 in the Midwest League. I think you could potentially project him to be an above-average defender at 2B with the ability to hit from both sides, but there’s no real power there and the defensive profile is limited to 2B. Potential first division 2B? Maybe, but that’s still really no more than a 55 OFP. Plus, he’s a long ways away and still very raw.
OFP: 55 (1st division 2B), Realistic 45 (utility player)
2015 Projection: Would expect him to repeat West Michigan, at least for the first few months.
MLB ETA: 2018.
#8: Kevin Ziomek, LHP
Here’s a guy who I’m probably higher on than most, but that comes with the territory. I’m lower on others than the consensus in certain cases, but Ziomek is a guy I like. He was drafted out of Vandy in the 2nd round of 2013, and spent 2014 in the West Michigan rotation along with Chad Green (not ranked), Austin Kubitza (#17), Jon Crawford, and Buck Farmer. You’ll read about Crawford and Farmer later. Anyways, Ziomek really had an outstanding season, especially after the first month-6 weeks. On the season, he accumulated 123 innings with a 2.27 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. The strikeout totals were impressive, totaling 152 in those 123 innings, good for over 11 K/9. The walks were troublesome at times, totaling 53, which amounts to a too-high 3.9 BB/9. Regardless, it was an excellent full-season debut for Ziomek, who may move quickly now.
Ziomek offers good size, standing 6’3″ and weighing 200lbs, but his profile is not that of a power left-hander. I saw him 3x through 2014, twice earlier on in April/May, and then once again in August, and the difference that 3-4 months had made was pretty impressive. Ziomek offers some funk in his delivery, adding deception but also hindering his command profile, and some would say that the delivery would inhibit him from being a starter long term. He throws with a bit of a crossfire delivery, ending up in a 3/4 slot, which is difficult for hitters to pick up at times. Early in the season, his FB was working 87-91 with some life, but he had minimal command of the pitch. However, later in the season, around early-mid August, Ziomek’s fastball was reaching 94-95 and sitting in the 91-92 range. A significant jump, yes, but it wasn’t unheard of, seeing as he’d been up to 93-94 in spurts in college. Regardless, the fastball velocity, life, and command were all significantly improved by the time I saw him again in August. He’ll also throw a slider and a change up, with the CH flashing above-average to plus potential, and the SL potentially being average to maybe a tick above. The change will show excellent deception, it mimics his fastball well out of the hand, but adds legitimate fade as it gets closer to the plate. It’s a true weapon pitch vs right-handed hitters. His slider will get a little inconsistent at times, sometimes getting slurvy, but when it’s on it’ll work in the mid-high 70’s and run away from left-handed hitters. It has tight spin, but will occasionally get flat and lack depth. The command profile is pretty solid due to the athleticism Ziomek has as a pitcher, but the funkiness of his delivery sometimes leads him to losing his arm slot, which can result in a loss of command. Regardless, I think he can have above-average command of his arsenal moving forward.
Ziomek gets mixed reviews from scouts, who have pegged him as anything from a #3 starter to a LOOGY, pretty much depending on how they feel about his delivery, arm action, and propensity to throw quality strikes. Personally, I fall into the higher end of that projection spectrum. I think he has legit #3-4 starter upside, pretty similar, in fact, to the projections put on Drew Smyly several years ago. This is not a player comparison. Thanks. Anyways, you could see Ziomek offer 2 plus pitches (FB/CH) and a 3rd average pitch (SL), along with deception and command, which certainly adds up to a nice pitcher. However, if you don’t believe his delivery and arm action will allow him to hold up as a starter (or if you just don’t believe in the stuff overall), then it’s conceivable to see him in the bullpen. Regardless, I believe he has the 2nd highest upside of any lefty in the system.
OFP: 55 (#3-4 starter), Realistic 50 (back end starter/bullpen arm)
2015 Projection: Ziomek is a polished college arm who breezed through Low-A in 2014, so I wouldn’t be particularly surprised to see him skip right past High-A and pitch 2015 at AA-Erie.
MLB ETA: Based on what I saw, I think Ziomek has every chance to move quickly, and be a candidate for Detroit in late 2016/early 2017.
#7: Hernan Perez, 2B/SS
This is going to sound bad, but Perez is probably the most boring guy on this list. Not because he’s a bad player or anything, but because I feel like I’ve been writing about him for 4 years. Basically, I have. Anyways, you’ve all heard this before. He was signed out of Venezuela in 2007, and has steadily moved through the system since then. He spent 2008 in the VSL, 2009 bouncing all over the place, spent 2 years in West Michigan from 2010-2011, played at Erie in 2012, and then has been pretty much between Toledo and Detroit in 2013-2014. He has totaled less than 80 MLB PA’s, so he still counts for my list.
Perez is a right-handed hitting infielder who can help you out in a pinch at SS, but is much better suited to play 2B, where he has been hailed as a plus defender. He’s very quick on his feet and his actions at 2B are excellent, covering lots of ground, making the pivot with good footwork, and on the whole just being a very good defender. He can put bat to ball, also, but lacks any real legitimate power. He’s also obscenely aggressive at the plate, swinging at anything and everything he can get his bat on. He can make contact on a ton, but his solid bat projection comes with a not-so-solid OBP projection. Even if you said Perez could be a 5+ hitter in the major leagues, which equates to around .270-.275, I don’t believe you would get an OBP much above .310 or so. He just doesn’t walk very much at all, and while he doesn’t strike out much either, it’s still a limited profile due to the low OBP projection. That being said, he’s still high on my list. Why? Well, because I think you could plug him into the Tigers 25 man roster as the utility IF and he would have success. His proximity to the majors could not be any smaller, and he’s arguably already reached his floor. In my opinion, there’s something to be said for “sureness” of a prospect, and Perez is as sure a thing as the Tigers have right now. He could play in the majors right now, hit some against LHP, play an outstanding 2B, manage SS or 3B in a pinch, and run pretty well.
As I’ve said, Perez is damned near his ceiling as it is, in my opinion. If you squinted on the bat, you could maybe see an average starting 2B, but I don’t really believe that. I think he is what he is: A very good utility player, who can play 2B and 3B, with some SS ability, and probably even LF. He can handle the bat, he can run, and he’s not strikeout prone. That’s a very good utility profile.
OFP: 50, 2nd division 2B. Realistic: 45, good utility player on 1st division team
2015 Projection: Everyday 2B/SS at Toledo, or Tigers utility IF
MLB ETA: Already reached MLB level
#6: Jonathon Crawford, RHP
Finally, we get to a Tigers’ first rounder! Crawford was taken in the 1st round of the 2013 draft out of Florida, and has spent his first two pro seasons between Connecticut (2013) and West Michigan (2014). He’s a bit undersized as a right-handed starter, standing about 6’1″-6’2″ and weighing in right around 200lbs. He was (and still is) more raw than a typical college starter coming from a power conference, but the stuff, as you’ll see, can be mouth-watering from an evaluation and projection perspective. Crawford was the Whitecaps starter I saw the most often in 2014, as I managed to see him 5 different times across the course of the season. I’ll break down the scouting here shortly, but if you’d like, I wrote a full scouting report on Crawford after seeing him a few times in April/May, which you can find here. Furthermore, I saw Crawford again on a few separate occasions later in the season, in early-mid August. I wrote up a “scouting update” on him at that time, which is found here.
Simply put, Crawford is similar to a lot of other pitching prospects in that his future hingers on the development of a third pitch as well as command. At present, Crawford’s FB/SL combo projects to be very good at the major league level, with at least future 6’s on each pitch. However, his change up, command, and ability to repeat his mechanics are all in question. The FB can work anywhere from 90-97, depending on the day, really. His most impressive “fastball start” that I witnessed saw Crawford work 92-95, touching 96-97, with good life. He couldn’t command it, but the fastball itself was very good, in terms of velocity and movement. The slider is the weapon pitch, working 84-87 with insane spin and very sharp 2 plane break. It’s a swing-and-miss pitch vs RHH or LHH, and I’ve seen 7’s put on it by other evaluators. His change up lags significantly behind, and I’ve never even seen it flash above-average. He does show the ability to throw it with the same arm speed as his fastball, which tells me he does have some feel for the pitch, but it lacks consistent movement. He’ll also drop his arm slot at times, which effectively tips it to the hitter. If you put a gun to my head, I’d say that at best it ends up as a below-average pitch. Can a starter get away with a 6/6+ FB, 6/7 SL, and a 4 CH? Perhaps, but when combined with his struggles to throw quality strikes as well as his struggles to simply repeat his delivery, it doesn’t exactly instill a ton of confidence in a mid-rotation starter projection.
The bottom-line here is that the Tigers are going to give Crawford every possible chance to start, but at the very least, if that doesn’t work, he could potentially end up as a closer pitching with a 7 FB and 7 SL in short spurts. If he can develop the change up and get his command to an average level, you could see a #3 starter here, albeit one who misses bats but isn’t necessarily a workhorse/innings-eater. Realistically, Crawford is either going to end up an average MLB starter (#4) or a back end bullpen piece. Valuable, absolutely. First round pick worthy? Ehhhh
OFP: 55, Above-average MLB starter (#3), Realistic 50 (#4 starter/back end bullpen)
2015 Projection: Crawford isn’t as polished as his West Michigan rotation mates like Ziomek and Farmer, so I think he’s definitely headed for High-A Lakeland in 2015.
MLB ETA: He could move quickly as a reliever, but seeing as I believe the Tigers are years away from making such a move, I’ll put the ETA as late 2017/early 2018.