Being a passionate fan and writer covering the Detroit Tigers I tend to spend a fair amount of time on the minor league sites of the Tigers’ affiliates. And every time I go there I tend to check in on the same core of players.
Below I’ll give you my watch list with what you need to know about each guy and how close they are to breaching the big league roster and then some other noteworthy items as well.
Here is my watch list:
Kyle Lobstein, LHP, AAA Toledo – Acquired two offseasons ago in the rule 5 draft from Tampa, Lobstein had an impressive 2013 season and was looking like a viable spot starter coming into ’14. That was until he’s allowed 32 hits in 20.2 innings thus far, which has led to a 7.84 ERA and 1.89 WHIP. I’ll keep watching him as he is a strikeout pitcher from the left side with good command (20:7 K to walk ratio despite his struggles).
Drew VerHagen, RHP, AAA Toledo – The 6’6’’, 23-year-old has been moving rapidly up the Tigers’ system since being drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 amateur draft. He has had an up and down stretch to begin his Toledo tenure but just turned in a beauty on Sunday by throwing 7 innings of 1-run ball, giving up four hits, one walk, and striking out five. VerHagen also displays good command but doesn’t possess the strikeout upside of Ray or Lobstein. He’ll remain in Toledo all season.
Jake Thompson, RHP, high-A Lakeland – Thompson was the Tigers’ top choice in the 2012 draft (2nd round) and is just 20 years old. He had a solid rookie season for low-A West Michigan in ’13 but has turned the dial to 11 in his sophomore campaign. Through five starts he is 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and a 28:10 K to walk ratio covering 30 innings. He doesn’t blow hitters away with his fastball but the overall arsenal is working well. He’s young and progressing but is at least two years away from Detroit.
Melvin Mercedes, RHP, AAA Toledo – The big fella is closing for the Mud Hens and his season line of a 5.25 ERA was marred by one bad outing a week and a half ago. Such is the life of a reliever. The good news is he one of very few relievers in Toledo that throws strikes (2 walks in 12 innings). He has a future with the Tigers and we’ll likely see him later this year.
Corey Knebel, RHP, AA Erie – Knebel is also on the fast track after being drafted last June out of the University of Texas. He is a late inning, impact bullpen piece. By all reports, once he harnesses his fastball command (94-97 MPH) to go along with his lights out curveball, he’ll be throwing pitches in the big leagues. The way the Tigers’ pen has gone so far this year I’d be surprised if we don’t see him at least by September call-ups. He has 13 K’s and 5 walks over 10 innings so far for the Sea Wolves with a 0.90 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.
Eugenio Suarez, SS, AA Erie – Apparently if you wait long enough, good middle infield prospects finally emerge. The Tigers actually have some for the first time in ages. Suarez is hitting .268 with 13 extra-base hits (5 homers) in the early going for Erie. He is a true shortstop, which could get interesting with Jose Iglesias remaining the long-term shortstop in Detroit. Suarez is on the map though and if the current Andrew Romine/Danny Worth combo continues to flail it isn’t unreasonable to think that he could see big league time this season.
Hernan Perez, SS, AAA Toledo – Perez is getting full-time work at short this season, for obvious reasons. He is off to a nice start with the bat (.277 avg., six doubles, 12 RBI’s) but most impressive is the fact that he has K’d just 16 times in 101 at-bats. This is a key for Perez and I fully expect that we’ll see him in Detroit at some point this season.
Daniel Fields, OF, AAA Toledo – This is a big season for Fields as he put himself back on the map as a legit prospect in 2013. So far, not so good. He is hitting just .169 with 23 K’s to three walks in only 71 at-bats. His strikeout ratio is the key stat to watch here and he clearly remains a work in progress.
Steven Moya, OF, AA Erie – Speaking of struggling, big things were expected of a now fully healthy Moya after a nice showing in Lakeland during spring training. He is off to a .197 start with 20 K’s and just five walks in 71 at-bats. Again, look merely at the K to walk ratio of prospects like Fields and Moya and they will tell the story.
Tyler Collins, OF, AAA Toledo – After making the Tigers’ roster out of camp, Collins struggled in a part-time role with the big club before his demotion. Since then it has been more of the same. He is hitting .239 and has a 14:3 K to walk ratio in 46 at-bats. Picking up on the theme yet?
James McCann, C, AAA Toledo – Alex Avila haters, here’s your guy to watch. McCann doesn’t pack much of a power game at the dish but he’s a good defensive catcher and has shown the ability to hit for average. He does bat right-handed though, making him more of a Bryan Holaday replacement, and is hitting .271 in the early going with five doubles and 13 RBI’s. His K to walk ratio, you ask? 14:3. Ugh.
Low-A West Michigan has the makings of a dynamic minor league starting rotation right now. Chad Green has a 27:6 K to walk ratio in 29 innings. Last year’s top pick, Jonathon Crawford, has a 21:7 ratio and a 3.04 ERA over 23.2 innings. Buck Farmer (5th rounder last summer) has an absurd 31:8 ratio over just 22.2 innings to go along with a 2.38 ERA. Austin Kubitza (4th rounder last summer) has a 27:7 ratio in 22.1 innings and a 2.82 ERA. And finally, Kevin Ziomek (2nd rounder last summer), is sporting a 1.31 ERA in the early going but a less impressive 19:10 ratio in 20.2 innings of work.
Low-A ball is a loooong ways from the bigs, but…wow!
Oh, and some guy named Ben Verlander is hitting .233 with a homer and 16 RBI’s for the Whitecaps.
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