The Detroit Tigers find themselves in the awkward position of being in playoff contention entering the summer months. They also find themselves in the awkward position of having enough minor league prospects that a trade for an elite player is not only possible, but probable. There has been much speculation about the Tigers’ interest in Dontrelle Willis. The Tigers could use a dominating lefty to team up with Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman for the next decade. Willis would be the ideal choice. There has also been some speculation that the Tigers might be interested in Bobby Abreu. Remember, Abreu broke the all-time home run derby mark at Comerica Park last season. Abreu obviously likes Comerica Park and would be the perfect fit for the Tigers. He bats left, plays outfield, gets on base, and has speed to burn. These are all areas that the Tigers desperately need help in.
If the Tigers are going to make a run at Willis, Abreu, or any other impact player, they will have to put together a package enticing enough to force a team to pull the trigger. With Joel Zumaya and Verlander in Detroit, they no longer fit the bill as “prospects” and are likely “off limits”. Considering their youth and ability, I would certainly not be willing to give up either of those two players in a trade unless it was something unbelievable. I would also be unwilling to trade Jeremy Bonderman considering he is only 23 years old. The following is a ranking of the top prospects in the Tigers organization that I’ve put together. In making the list, I took into consideration the following; current trade value, age, potential, minor league success and/or big league success. When the Tigers talk trade with the Marlins, Phillies or any other team, these will be the names that are thrown around. I did not include Nook Logan, Jack Hannahan, Roman Colon, and Zach Miner on the prospects list but those players could be discussed in trade talks as well. Below the prospect rankings, I will put together some trade proposals that could bring Willis and/or Abreu to Detroit.
Disclaimer: These rankings are likely to be as accurate as the success rate of a team that drafts a high school pitcher in the first round. If MLB GM's can draft high school pitchers in the first round, then I can put together a list of the top Tigers prospects.
Top Detroit Tigers Prospects in 2006
1. Humberto Sanchez RHP AAA 23
Sanchez is easily the Tigers number one prospect in the minors right now. In 11 starts at Erie, Sanchez was 5-3 with a 1.76 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 86 K’s in 71.2 innings. Those numbers are better than what Joel Zumaya did at Erie last year. Sanchez will be the major bargaining chip for the Tigers as they make a push for a big time player before the trade deadline. Sanchez was up and down the last few years before finally putting things together. Even as recent as a year ago, the Tigers couldn’t have expected Sanchez to be this good. Sanchez was just promoted to AAA this past week and responded with 5.2 innings of one run ball.
2. Cameron Maybin CF A 19
Since this list is based on a combination of potential and current trade value, Maybin only checks in at #2. If this list was designed to predict who will end up being the best player in the Majors, Maybin would be number one hands down. Maybin marks the second of three first round picks in a row that Dave Dombrowski seems to have hit home runs on. A thumb injury put a scare in Tigers fans but Maybin has already returned and continues to dominate low A ball. With the exception of a noticeable lack of power, Maybin’s numbers are a fantasy owner’s dream. He’s hitting .330 with a .919 OPS. With Curtis Granderson’s emergence as a suitable centerfielder, Maybin’s future in Detroit might not be in center field as originally thought by most. It’ll still be a few years before Maybin makes it to Detroit but when he does, expect the fanfare to be greater than any other position player in the organization in the last two decades. It is safe to say that Maybin will not be involved in any trades regardless of who the Tigers are looking at.
3. Jordan Tata RHP AAA 24
Jim Leyland’s selection of Tata to make the opening day roster surprised a lot of people. Tata has been consistently good for the Tigers since he was drafted in the 16th round in 2003. Tata started off rough at AAA Toledo but his numbers have been impressive ever since. He’s 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA at Toledo this year. Any package the Tigers put together to lure Dontrelle Willis to Detroit will likely have to include either Sanchez or Tata, if not both.
4. Andrew Miller LHP unsigned 21
Although Miller hasn’t signed yet, and likely won’t for the foreseeable future, he will immediately be regarded as one of the elite prospects in the organization. The Tigers have long coveted a dominating lefty pitcher. Miller fits the bill and some. Recently drafted players rarely ever find themselves involved in trades. I doubt Dombrowski is in a hurry to part with the highest rated player that he’s ever drafted. Miller’s role in Detroit will be as a Barry Zito-type dominator rather than an avenue to bring in a missing piece via trade.
5. Wil Ledezma LHP AAA 25
Most people gave up on Ledezma after his failed stint with the Tigers in 2005. He has quietly worked his way back into to position to make an impact in the big leagues. In 11 games this season with Toledo, Ledezma is 2-2 with a 2.80 ERA. He also has 60 K’s and a 1.15 WHIP in 64.1 innings. Power-lefties are valuable commodities in MLB. Ledezma’s trade value might never be higher than it is right now. The Tigers might be better off leaving him at AAA where he can continue to pile up impressive numbers. If the Tigers make a push for Willis, Ledezma will likely be one of the Tigers prospects discussed.
6. Kevin Whelan RHP A 22
As recently as two months ago, the words Whelan and “closer of the future” were being thrown around in the same breath. Whelan dominated A West Michigan last season with a .73 ERA and 16 K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings). There was some talk that Whelan could actually join the team this season. Joel Zumaya’s dominance has put an end to that speculation. Likewise, Zumaya’s presence has also shed serious doubt on Whelan’s future as a closer in Detroit. Zumaya is younger and better. Whelan’s second season in the organization has not been as successful as the first. His K/9 is still through the roof in A Lakeland but his ERA is unimpressive at 4.43 and his WHIP is even more unimpressive at 1.48. Considering Whelan’s age and dominance at A ball last season, he has to be considered one of the Tigers' top prospects regardless. Whelan has turned it on lately so hopefully that is a sign of things to come.
7. Jair Jurrjens RPH A 20
Even the most knowledgeable Tigers fans would have a hard time telling you who Jair Jurrjens is. Jurrjens first pitched in the Tigers organization in 2003 at the tender age of 17. Still only 20, Jurrjens' stat line reads like a first round fantasy baseball draft pick. Jurrjens is 5-0 with a 2.01 ERA, .87 WHIP, and 53 K’s in 67 innings. I have a hard time understanding why Jurrjens is still at A Lakeland considering how masterful he has been. Teams that do their homework would likely ask Jurrjens to be included as a “throw in” in any trade request. The Tigers would be smart not to give Jurrjens away at this point. His value will likely skyrocket in the next two years.
8. Jeff Larish 1B A 23
In an organization where pitching far outweighs the hitting in terms of minor league talent, Jeff Larish is by far the best infield prospect that the Tigers have. With Chris Shelton producing adequate numbers with Detroit and only being two years older, Larish is prime trade bait. The Tigers certainly have the pitching to offer up but they may be dealing with teams that want pitching and position players in return. Larish is potent with the bat and bats left. Barring an injury, Larish will continue to be a sought after commodity for the Tigers or possibly (and hopefully) somebody else.
9. Nate Bumstead RHP AA 24
If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re right. The Tigers best prospects are primarily pitchers. That bodes well for the Tigers in trade talks. Most players packaged in trades for elite prospects are pitchers with upside. The Tigers have plenty of them. Bumstead is another one of Dombrowksi’s drafted-gems. The Tigers took Bumstead in the 32nd round in 2004. Bumstead is having a nice season at Erie where he’s 4-5 with a 3.27 ERA. His control could be better but his 53 K’s in 66 innings are impressive. Aside from a mediocre WHIP, Bumstead is also older than most pitching “prospects.” Since the Tigers have possibly the deepest pitching in all of MLB, Bumstead becomes a prime trade candidate. His numbers have been impressive at all levels. If the Tigers do put together a package involving three pitchers for Willis, Bumstead could be one of them.
10. Kyle Sleeth RPH A 24
Sleeth was supposed to be the first elite prospect of the Dombrowski regime. Unfortunately for Sleeth, his health lasted all of one season. Until this past week, Sleeth hadn’t pitched since 2004. He enjoyed some success initially at A Lakeland but he struggled at AA Erie before going down with a debilitating elbow injury. After rehabilitating for the past year and a half, Tigers fans are holding their collective breath that Sleeth can stay healthy and live up to his number one pick billing. Unfortunately, Sleeth now finds himself pitching in A ball at the not-so-ripe age of 24. With the talent the Tigers have at the Major League level along with a few prospects in the minors that are ahead of Sleeth, the former number one pick now becomes trade bait. The problem is that no team will likely want to take on the risk of a young pitcher who has already had Tommy John surgery unless there is a reason to do so. Sleeth needs to bounce back within the next year and re-solidify himself as a top prospect. My guess is that the Tigers would get .10 on the dollar if they tried to trade him now. The problem is that Sleeth isn’t getting any younger.
11. Kevin Ardoin RHP A 23
Ardoin is a bit like Jurrjens in the sense that he has been tearing up the minor leagues with little to no fanfare. His numbers are slightly north of Jurrjens in all categories but they are nothing to scoff at. Ardoin is 5-3 with a 2.87 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. Jurrjens gets the advantage for being three years younger and a significantly better K/9 ratio. If Ardoin can continue his impressive numbers at AA Erie, his name will come up often in trade talks.
12. Ryan Raburn 2B AAA 25
Going into the 2005 season, Raburn was listed as the #8 prospect in the Tigers' organization by Baseball America. Raburn fell out of Baseball America’s Tigers top ten this season after a less-than-stellar 2005. However, Raburn is hitting pretty well at AAA Toledo this year. Raburn faces the same problem that Marcus Thames had to deal with the last few years. Like Thames, Raburn is an older prospect at a position of relative strength for the Tigers. Placido Polanco isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Raburn isn’t getting any younger. The wait paid off for Thames and the Tigers this year. It remains to be seen whether or not the Tigers will be able to fit Raburn in somewhere. Raburn would be a good candidate for a trade.
13. Tony Giarratano SS AA 23
When I think of Alan Trammell’s time in Detroit, I immediately think of his affection towards Giarratano. Trammell raved about Giarratano’s ability and all but promised that he would be a star in Detroit before his time was up. Those were the days. Giarratano has fizzled this year with a .677 OPS at AA Erie. His value will likely never be higher than it was two years ago when he tore up Lakeland. At 23, Giarratano still has some time to develop his offense but few people thought he would be playing AA-ball this year after his call-up last season. Like Raburn, Giarratano is a middle-infielder in the mold of Omar Infante. All three are versatile without much punch at the play. Still, teams would likely take Giarratano with open arms as a throw-in.
14. Dallas Trahern RHP A 20
Baseball America gave Trahern the distinction of having the best slider in the farm system. That’s high praise for a guy who just turned 20 last November. Trahern’s numbers aren’t quite on the level of Jurrjens but they are impressive for someone two years removed from high school. His K/9 is up significantly from last season. This is a guy to keep your eye on.
15. Brent Clevlen OF AA 22
As recently as January, Clevlen was regarded as the Tigers #4 prospect by Baseball America. Six months and a .195 batting average later and that #4 ranking looks a bit too high. To be fair, Clevlen has struggled after each of his promotions but his current funk is so bad that it probably goes beyond a struggle. Clevlen’s trade value is probably shot right now. Any team looking at Clevlen would be scared off by a guy who is struggling to make contact with the ball at the AA level. Assuming he finds his groove, his value may climb back up a bit. Clevlen’s value is no different than a stock with a roller coaster reputation. The next time Clevlen’s value goes up, they should unload ASAP unless of course they think he can become the real deal in Detroit. With his struggles in the minors and the crowded outfield on the big league team, the Tigers would jump at the chance to unload Clevlen in a deal for someone like Willis.
16. Eulogio De La Cruz RHP AA 22
De La Cruz was listed by Baseball America as one of the top ten Tigers prospects going into the 2005 season. After a relatively successful 2005 campaign, De La Cruz was not on the list heading into this season. His value was probably at an all-time high last season but this is a guy to keep an eye on. He has control issues but his fastball is above average and he’s still young.
17. Wilkin Ramirez 3B A 20
I think it’s safe to say that Baseball America likes Wilkin Ramirez. They had him listed as the #5 prospect in the organization headed into this season ahead of Humberto Sanchez and Jordan Tata. I can’t say I understand where the hype comes from. Ramirez was given the distinction as being the “best power hitter” in the organization. In his previous two seasons, Ramirez has OPS’s of .771 and .729. He’s followed those seasons up by batting .217 with a .618 OPS this season. I can’t see a single bit of evidence that would suggest that Ramirez is a good power hitter or even an average power hitter. Ramirez is still young at 20 years old. He may end up being a good prospect but the folks at Baseball America must have been sniffing glue when they listed Ramirez at #5 just six months ago.
18. Jeff Frazier OF A 23
Frazier was voted by Baseball America as having the best outfield arm in the organization. While that is worth nothing, Frazier is about to turn 24 and still finds himself at A Lakeland. Considering he’s only managed a .681 OPS in A ball, Frazier needs to pick up the progression in a hurry.
19. Chris Robinson C A 22
Robinson immediately became the best catching prospect in the organization when he was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2005 MLB draft. Unfortunately, the Tigers were so dire at the catcher position that being the “best catcher prospect” doesn’t necessarily say much. Robinson is still fairly young at 22. However, his offensive production, or lack thereof, leaves a lot to be desired. The Tigers drafted six catchers in the 2006 MLB draft this past week so Robinson will have some competition. With Pudge reaching the twilight of his career, Robinson has an opportunity ahead of him. Robinson is probably too inexperienced to garner interest in a trade.
20. Kody Kirkland 3B AA 23
Kirkland is a little different than Giarratano. His bat packs some punch but his affinity for the strikeout leaves a lot to be desired. In 213 at-bats this season, Kirkland has an unbelievable 78 strike outs. Baseball America voted Kirkland as the Tigers prospect with the "best in-field arm" coming into this season. Despite a .235 batting average, Kirkland has produced somewhat decent numbers with an OPS of .804. Kirkland has also struggled with the glove this season committing 12 errors. Given the choice, Giarratano would probably garner more interest than Kirkland.
21. Preston Larrison RHP AA 25
If Larrison was a few years younger, he’d probably be higher on this list. Unfortunately, Larrison is 25 years old and has toiled in anonymity for his entire minor league career. He has a cool name and a 3.99 ERA which still counts as being under 4.00. That could garner some interest from other teams. Just as a comparison, Larrison and Ledezma are the same age. Ledezma has been on the big league roster the past three seasons and has pitched well this season at AAA Toledo. Larrison is still in AA ball. I actually think Larrison’s best days are ahead of him but that will probably be for another team.
22. Jay Sborz RHP A 21
The Tigers have had horrible luck with their second round picks since Dave Dombrowski took over. Dombrowski took Sborz in the second round of the 2003 draft. He followed that up by taking Eric Beattie in the second round of the 2004 draft. At least Sborz has managed to keep his ERA under 20.00. Sborz has a K/9 that’s through the roof. However, if his WHIP is any indication, he has serious control problems. In only three games this season, Sborz has managed a 2.40 WHIP after posting a 2.16 WHIP last season. It sounds like he might need some glasses like “The Wild Thing” Rick Vaughn. Regardless of how high your ERA and WHIP are, if you’re young and can strike people out, teams will wait on you to come around.
23. Clete Thomas OF A 22
I doubt Thomas’ playing ability will ever be as good as his first name. Thomas is just one of a boatload of position players that are struggling mightily in the minor leagues this season. Thomas, Clevlen, Kirkland, Robinson, Frazier, Giarratano, and Wilkin Ramirez have all been extremely disappointing. Coming into the season, the Tigers appeared to have tremendous depth in the field. Fast forward two months and the Tigers have to be hoping that one of these guys works out. Thomas is a long way from being a major leaguer.
Dontrelle Willis trade proposals:
Jordan Tata, Kyle Sleeth, and Brent Clevlen/Tony Giarratano
Humberto Sanchez, Kyle Sleeth, and Kevin Whelan
Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan, and Nate Bumstead
Humberto Sanchez, Jordan Tata, and Kevin Whelan
This is likely the best package the Tigers would offer for Willis unless a player like Mike Maroth or Nate Robertson is included. If that’s the case, then Maroth or Robertson, Humberto Sanchez and a position player like Clevlen or Giarratano should suffice.
Bobby Abreu trade proposals:
Humberto Sanchez, Craig Monroe and Kevin Whelan
Humberto Sanchez, Jordan Tata, and Nate Bumstead
Humberto Sanchez, Jordan Tata, and Kevin Whelan
Humberto Sanchez, Jordan Tata and Craig Monroe/Marcus Thames
Conventional wisdom would suggest that the Tigers would not be able to bring in both Willis and Abreu. My philosophy on this is “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” If Dombrowski plays this thing right, he could put together reasonable packages for both guys. Here is how the Tigers could put together the two best offers to score both of these guys:
Nate Robertson, Jordan Tata, and Kevin Whelan for Dontrelle Willis
Humberto Sanchez, Kyle Sleeth, and Craig Monroe for Bobby Abreu.
If the Tigers could somehow secure both Willis and Abreu, they would immediately be considered the odds-on favorite to win the World Series assuming Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney agree to couples counseling.