#5: Buck Farmer, RHP
Farmer was one of the cooler stories in all of 2014, both from the perspective of a fan and from the perspective of an evaluator. Drafted in the 5th round of the 2013 draft, he spent all of April-July in Low-A West Michigan, just blowing away the inexperienced hitters. He received a two-level promotion to Erie, where he made 2 starts. Then, surprisingly, he was called up by the Tigers to make a spot start in mid-August. Overall, Farmer had a really damned good 2014 season, both in terms of production and in terms of evaluation. The pitcher that had been seen pitching in the NYPL in 2013 was completely blown away by the pitcher seen during the 2014 season.
Farmer is a big, durable starter, standing 6’4″ and weighing in the 220-225 range. I wrote up a full scouting report on Farmer after seeing him a few times in April/May, which can be found here. To sum it up, Farmer employs a balanced delivery with good hip rotation and a consistent landing spot; slight funk in the arm action to a 3/4 slot, slight arm hook but nothing overly violent, above-average arm speed with a 3 pitch mix. His fastball is plus, working comfortably in the 92-94 range, touching 95 pretty easily. Solid life on the pitch, with arm side run and a bit of sink, knows how to add and subtract, can command fastball to all 4 quadrants, and overall knows how to pitch with it. He complements the fastball with a slider and change up, both of which have at least average projection. When I saw him, the slider was ahead of the change, but other reports have it vice-versa. Slider works in the 78-82 range, good 2 plane break when on, will occasionally drop his arm slot on the pitch, can throw for strikes or as chase, think there’s an above average ceiling here. The change up could be average to above-average for me, thrown with solid velo separation from fastball (7-8 MPH), thrown from same arm slot and with same arm speed, flashes solid fade at times but will straighten out on him, lacks the command of the pitch that he has with his FB and SL, and lacks consistency with it.
Overall, you could project Farmer to pitch with a 6 FB, 5+ SL, 5+ CH, and solid command of the arsenal. That adds up to at least an average MLB starter, in my opinion, which equates to somewhere around a decent #3/good #4 starter. I alluded to 2014 being a great year for Farmer from an evaluative perspective, because the reports on him from the NYPL in 2013 were not great. He had been working in the 88-92 range, lacked bite on his SL, and the change was flat. Not encouraging, but also taken with a grain of salt. 2014 was a gigantic year for Farmer, in many ways. Realistically, Farmer’s ceiling and floor aren’t really that far apart. He’s shown an ability to get outs at the MLB level, and while it’s an incredibly small sample size, it’s still positive. He definitely needs some more time in the minors; namely to work on his command. But overall, I think his ceiling is that of a #3-4 starter, where his floor is that of a back end starter/bullpen piece.
OFP: 55 (Above-average MLB starter, good #4), Realistic 50 (Average MLB starter, #4-5 or back end bullpen piece)
2015 Projection: I assume Farmer will be in Toledo’s rotation
MLB ETA: Already reached MLB level
#4: James McCann, C
McCann isn’t a new name to Tigers fans, as he’s been touted as the best catcher in the system for a few years now. Of course, when fans hear “catcher” and “good” and “system”, some of the first thoughts are “oh my god GET RID OF AVILA START MCCANN YEAH”. Well, that’s stupid, and I’ll explain why in time. Anyways, McCann was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft (he was the Tigers’ first selection that year), and has progressed pretty steadily through the system. He’s shown a very good ability to adjust at each level, as you can see from his numbers, he has struggled when first getting to a new level, only to adjust over time and end up posting solid numbers all around. He spent all of 2014 in AAA until his September call up, where he triple slashed .295/.343/.427. That’s pretty damned good for a catcher in his first AAA season at age 23-24. Actually, it’s damned impressive. Now, realistically, McCann probably isn’t going to OPS .770 at the major league level, especially not playing everyday, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be very valuable, especially to the Tigers.
McCann is a strong, sturdy 6’2″ 210, with good athleticism and agility behind the plate. His profile is more defense than offense, but unlike others, he does have some legitimate projection with his bat. His glove work is very good, with an advanced ability to handle pitchers as his true calling card. It’s an above-average defensive profile behind the plate, with good blocking, game-calling, and receiving ability. His arm will flash plus pop times, but settles into the above-average range, consistently in the 1.9 pop range in my viewings. That’s a strong overall defensive profile, and it’s really not dissimilar to Alex Avila (this is not a player comp). Basically what I’m saying is that while Avila is the overall superior defender at this point in time, due in part to his advanced feel for sequencing and handling pitchers, when McCann is in the game the overall defense behind the plate won’t take a major hit. McCann’s bat is more hit tool/contact oriented, with a good feel for the barrel, a mostly line-drive swing plane, and solid bat speed. He shows the ability to hit the ball out of the park, but it’s mostly gap power, good for a lot of doubles and a few HR’s at the major league level. Now, here’s what makes McCann 1) The perfect complement to Avila, and 2) Potentially more valuable to the Tigers than for any other team: He mashes left-handed pitching, and looks to be the absolute perfect platoon mate for Alex Avila. For example, in 2014 he posted an .879 OPS vs lefties, and a .724 OPS vs righties. He faced lefties significantly less than he did righties, which is obviously expected, but the split in production is there, going back through his minor league career. As we all know, Avila struggles mightily vs left-handed pitching, and does well vs righties.
To sum up, I think McCann is the perfect fit for what Detroit is looking for at the catcher position. Avila vs RHP and McCann vs LHP is the perfect catching platoon, in my opinion. Avila hits righties and is a good defensive catcher, McCann hits lefties and is a good defensive catcher. Realistically, McCann also shows the chops to be able to step in for Avila vs righties (at times), when Avila needs a break or inevitably needs a few days off vs a nagging injury. Whereas Bryan Holaday is an OK backup, McCann just adds much more in every facet of the game.
OFP: 50, solid everyday player, or perfect platoon partner. Realistic 45, platoon mate/backup catcher.
2015 Projection: I think McCann is ready to be Avila’s backup/platoon partner right away in 2015, but the Tigers may feel differently, delaying this idea until later in the season.
MLB ETA: He already reached the majors in September 2014.
#3: Robbie Ray, LHP
Ray was drafted by the Nationals out of high school in 2010, and then was traded to the Tigers as the main piece of the Doug Fister deal last winter. He spent 2014 at AAA, making a few starts with the Tigers, and then playing in the Arizona Fall League recently. Obviously, and unfairly, Ray will always be judged by fans in comparison to Doug Fister. That’s simply not fair. Judge Robbie Ray for what he is: A left handed pitcher with mid-rotation upside and the potential for 2 plus pitches. But I’ll get to that later.
Ray has an excellent pitcher’s frame, standing 6’2″ and weighing in at around 190-200lbs. He’s lean, athletic, and strong, with a little body projection remaining for added strength if the Tigers feel that’s necessary. His delivery is nice and easy without any mechanical red flags, and the ball really does explode out of his hand. His fastball is the weapon pitch at present (and will continue to be), working in the 92-94 range consistently and touching as high as 96-97. Reports from the Arizona Fall League had Ray’s fastball with even more velocity, working more 94-95 and touching 98. From the left side, if he can work in the 92-95 range and reach back for more when needed, you’re looking at an easy 6+ fastball, especially when you take into account the ease in which it comes out of his hand. His secondary offerings are where the trouble starts, especially when it comes to spinning a breaking ball. He originally threw a curveball, but it never really made any progress, he couldn’t throw it with consistency, and it really didn’t project any better than below-average long term. He has since scrapped the pitch for a slider, which is an easier pitch to generate spin on. Again, I go to the Arizona Fall League evaluations, which saw Ray throw a consistently 40-45 slider, but with better overall projection than the curve, perhaps ultimately having average upside. The change up is his go-to off speed pitch, thrown in the low 80’s with some good fade, featuring good velo separation and arm speed for deception. It’s a present average pitch, with above-average potential. It will be Ray’s go-to off speed pitch, but he’s going to need the breaking ball if he wants to stick in a rotation.
Overall, Ray offers the upside of a #3 starter, with a 6+ fastball, 5 SL, and 5+ change up if everything comes together. The smoothness and ease of his delivery show the potential for the Ray to log a lot of innings, as it’s not a max-effort delivery. It’s a true starter profile, but it hinges on the development of the breaking ball. I think it’s a relatively safe bet for Ray to end up as a good #4 starter, but worst case scenario I think we could see him in the back end of a bullpen, where the FB may play to a 7 and the CH could be the sole secondary offering.
OFP: 55, #3 starter. Realistic 50, #4 starter/back end bullpen
2015 Projection: Depending on what the Tigers do for the rest of the offseason, Ray could be in a competition for a rotation spot in Detroit, but realistically I think he’ll start 2015 in Toledo’s rotation.
MLB ETA: Already achieved MLB level
#2: Steven Moya, OF
Moya is a massive human being, and not a single ounce of his body is fat. Seriously man, he’s like a chiseled specimen of muscle and power. He stands at least 6’7″, and his weight is somewhere around 240-250. He’s been known to Tigers fans for a few years due to his prodigious power and size, but it was in 2014 where he really burst onto the scene with an excellent campaign at AA. He hit .276/.306/.555 with 33 doubles, 35 homers, 105 RBI, 16 stolen bases and….161 strikeouts vs 23 walks.
As I said, Moya is huge, and his power is equally huge. It’s truly massive raw power, but the questions with Moya come in with just how much he’ll be able to hit in order to unlock that power at the highest level. Due to his massive size and length, his swing is quite long. That’s to be expected for a man of his size, but it still limits the hit tool utility. He has a feel for the barrel of the bat, and has improved over the years in simply putting bat to ball consistently, but at the same time, he lacks knowledge of the strike zone and his approach lacks. As you’ll see from this Baseball Prospectus “Eyewitness Account” on Moya, Mark Anderson came away impressed with Moya’s progress with the bat, even going so far as to put a 65 OFP on Moya. As for the rest of his game, he’s a good athlete for his size who fits in an OF corner and could end up average defensively in either spot. The arm is strong but lacks accuracy, leading to an average projection grade. He’s a good runner, especially when you consider his size, and it’s not a stretch to say that he could steal a few bags. But, as we’ve said, his entire profile hinges on the hit tool. If he can hit .250, he could potentially play everyday and hit 25+ bombs. If he gets to the majors and gets chewed alive, he’s a bench bat. That’s a huge gap between ceiling and floor, but it’s still one of the highest possible upsides in the Tigers’ system. Oh, and he doesn’t walk. Like ever. It’s a problem, especially if he’s never going to hit above .250. He needs to get on base.
Moya is the toughest to project in the entire system, in my opinion. If you believe in the bat, then he’s an everyday player on a 1st division team with massive power. That’s like a 60 OFP. If you don’t believe in the bat, then he’s a bench bat who pinch hits because he might run into one. That’s like a 40 OFP. I tend to fall somewhere in between. I don’t believe Moya will ever hit enough to play everyday, but I do believe he has some utility as a platoon corner OF who hits against RHP.
OFP: 60, 1st division regular with prodigious power. Realistic: 45-50, 4th OF/strong side platoon.
2015 Projection: I expect Moya to spend 2015 at AAA Toledo.
MLB ETA: Reached MLB in 2014, I expect him to be fully in the MLB in 2016.