The last few posts relating to Adam Dunn and the value of “top prospects” got me thinking about who exactly were the Tigers top MLB prospects. If you’re looking for the easy way out, you can dial up a Google search to the tune of “Detroit Tigers top prospects 2009” and you’ll get a few lists from some reputable sources. The “easy way out” isn’t a bad option but there are some minor drawbacks. First, those lists were formulated at the end (or beginning depending on your definition) of the year well before any statistics in 2009 were accumulated. Those outdated lists still might give an accurate depiction of who some of the top prospects are but things change considerably in four months of baseball. As far as I can tell, there is not a recent free list that has taken into account to-date statistics. The other problem is that even when you’re dealing with a reputable publication like Baseball America, there are going to be oversights and/ or mistakes. For instance, when Baseball America put together its list of the top ten Tigers prospects back in November; it neglected to include Ryan Strieby. Strieby was the Detroit’s MLB Player of the Year after absolutely destroying the Florida State League in 2008. So, I figured I’d bridge the gap between end-of-season lists while hopefully avoiding silly things like forgetting Ryan Strieby.
Three prospects who would’ve undoubtedly been in the top 15 if it they weren’t so damn good are Rick Porcello, Ryan Perry, and Alex Avila. Fortunately, they’ve proven to be such stellar prospects that they are all helping the Tigers contend for the AL Central Division Title. For the record, Porcello would’ve been #1; Perry #3; and Avila #6. Real quick before I get started…This list is based on a number of factors including potential, progression, age, and performance. This isn’t about who is most ready for a call-up or who is the better player right now. It’s more about ceiling and likelihood of reaching that ceiling. Also, I capped the age at 25. Anyone who turns 26 this calendar year was ineligible. So, without further ado, here are the Tigers top 15 prospects as of mid-year 2009.
#1 Casey Crosby, LHP
With the promotion of Porcello and Perry to the big leagues, Crosby is easily the top prospect in the organization. At 6’5, Crosby is a power-lefty who has devastated the Midwest League (A) with his 95-97 MPH heat to the tune of 10.4 SO/9 and a 2.65 ERA. The most encouraging part of Crosby’s performance is that he is fresh off a lost season as a result of Tommy John surgery. Without the elbow surgery, Crosby could very well be pitching at Erie (AA) this season with an eye towards the Opening Day roster in 2010. Instead, he’ll likely split time in ’10 between Lakeland (A+) and Erie (AA) with a 2010 call-up a possibility.
#2 Ryan Strieby, LF
There was an article written recently calling Ryan Strieby the most underrated prospect in all the minor leagues. I can’t say I know enough about other organizations to unequivocally call Strieby the most underrated in the minor leagues but I would bet that he is near the top of the list. I’m not sure how Baseball America can justify leaving the Tigers Minor League POY off of their top ten list. Strieby is easily the top hitter in the organization. He is an Adam Dunn-type lefty with a booming bat. At 22, he hammered the Florida State League last season with 29 home runs and 94 RBIs and that includes 26 missed games due to injury. Strieby was even better this season at Erie (AA). Through 76 games, he posted a .982 OPS and a .421 OBP. He was well on his way to a second consecutive POY award until he was again shutdown by the wrist injury that halted his ’08 campaign. The long-term prognosis for his injury is good which means Strieby isn’t too far away from a call-up. The Tigers are keenly aware of Strieby’s potential. They have moved him from first base—occupied by Miguel Cabrera for the next infinity years—to left field in an attempt to get him to “the show” in a more expedited manner. Strieby might be the best Tigers hitting prospect of my lifetime. Considering how truly horrid the system has been for 20+ seasons, that isn’t saying as much as it probably seems.
#3 Jacob Turner, RHP
Turner hasn’t thrown a single pitch for the organization. In fact, he’s not even officially a member of the organization, yet. The Tigers and his agent—drum roll, please—Scott Boras, are still ironing out the details. However, it’s only a matter of time. Turner was the 9th overall pick in June’s MLB Draft. He is an 18-year old high school phenom who reminds me a little of Rick Porcello although not quite the talent. Turner throws in the mid-to-upper 90’s and, like Porcello, has a solid delivery. He will likely spend two years destroying the minors and could be ready to contribute on Opening Day 2012.
#4 Scott Sizemore, 2B
The Tigers have to be relieved that Sizemore has progressed as well as he has. As an aging team up the middle, the Tigers had hoped that Sizemore and Cale Iorg were the heir apparents at second and short. While Iorg hasn’t quite materialized, Sizemore sure has. He has flown through the system in just three seasons. He started ’09 at Erie (AA) where he promptly hammered the league with a .937 OPS through 59 games. That earned him a mid-year promotion to Toledo (AAA) where he has done much of the same. Unlike most of Detroit’s hitting prospects, Sizemore has excellent plate discipline. His walk to strikeout ratio is a refreshing 54:77 this season. He is an excellent athlete who can hit for power (15 home runs in ’09) and steal bases (16 stolen bases). I’m always skeptical when it comes to Tigers hitting prospects but Sizemore might actually pan out. He is the minor league version of Brian Roberts. Anything close to that in the majors would be a godsend for an aging ballclub.
#5 Wilkin Ramirez, LF
Ramirez is an interesting cat. He has slowly made his way through the organization after signing in 2003 as a 17-year old. He finally made it to Toledo (AAA) this year where he has continued the trend of performing just well enough to tantalize without actually putting together an impressive season. His best assets aside from his youth are his power/speed combo. He has 13 home runs to go along with 31 stolen bases this year. However, unlike Sizemore, his plate discipline is atrocious. He struck out 149 times last season and he’s on pace to obliterate that mark this season. The worst part is that he walked just 44 times last season. He would’ve been an intriguing prospect at 3B but his defensive liabilities forced the Tigers to move him to the OF where he currently plays in LF. That just happens to be the position that Ryan Strieby was switched to. Ramirez should be prime trade bait while he is still only 23. The worst thing that could happen is for the Tigers to hold onto him and allow his value to plummet—like they did with Jeff Larish—since his future is unlikely in Detroit.
#6 Cody Satterwhite, RHP
Clearly, Dave Dombrowski and Al Avila understood and likely shared fan's frustrations at the rollercoaster nature of the Todd Jones/Fernando Rodney bullpen. DD and AA went insane on power relievers in the 2008 Draft so much so that four of the next seven players on this list are power relievers from the ’08 draft. Satterwhite isn’t quite at Perry’s level command-wise but he has every bit the arm. Satterwhite’s fastball blazes up to 99. That has resulted in an impressive and consistent SO/9 of 10 at each stop in the system. He is currently at Erie (AA) where he boasts a 3.25 ERA. Unfortunately, it appears that his command is keeping him from fast-tracking to the Tigers bullpen. As consistent as his SO/9 has been, his WHIP has been equally consistent above 1.50. His BB/9 is startlingly high at 5+. I hate to think that Satterwhite is the second coming of Matt Anderson but that’s exactly what he’ll be unless he gets the command thing figured out.
#7 Robert Weinhardt, RHP
Weinhardt is currently at Erie (AA) with Satterwhite where he has outperformed him. Satterwhite gets the ever-so-slight edge because he is more than a year younger than Weinhardt and has an extra 5 MPH on his heater. Weinhardt, though, may project to be a more reliable prospect. Whereas Satterwhite struggles immensely with his command, Weinhardt doesn’t in the least. His WHIP in 89 minor league innings is a paltry 1.04. It’s also evident that he knows how to pitch since his SO/9 is every bit the same as Satterwhite’s despite the 5 MPH disadvantage with the heater. Based on his substantial advantage in command, I would think Weinhardt makes it to Detroit before Satterwhite.
#8 Casper Wells, CF
Wells is another Tigers prospect who should be trade-bait. He is a 25-year old CF. The problem for Wells is that Curtis Granderson is a 28-year old CF. Wells is a rising prospect who has unexpectedly peppered the Eastern League over the last two years with a .900+ OPS. He hit 27 home runs in 2008 to go along with 90 runs in just 125 games. Wells isn’t a high-ceiling prospect because—despite his power—he struggles to make contact. His K:BB ratio is an unflattering 2:1 and he is a .250-hitter. Hopefully the Tigers can find a trading partner who is intrigued by his power; otherwise he is on his way to Larish territory.
#9 Charlie Furbush, LHP
Furbush is probably the second most underrated prospect in the system. Like Crosby, he missed an entire season due to Tommy John surgery. Like Crosby, he has bounced back with impressive results. His numbers on the season are decent. He has a 3.49 ERA in 20 starts. However, it’s what he has done recently that is cause for excitement. In his last nine starts at Lakeland (A+) he has a 2.14 ERA in 46.3 innings. He has 45 K’s to only nine walks. Those numbers are very similar to what Crosby has put up on the season. If the last two months are any indication, Furbush is back on track as one of the top pitching prospects in the organization. He gives the Tigers their best 1-2 lefty combo in the minors in a long time. Crosby is more than two years older than Furbush so he is clearly the better prospect. Just don’t be surprised to see Furbush blow up the way Strieby blew up last season.
#10 Brett Jacobson, RHP
Jacobson is another big, power arm from the ’08 draft class. He works in the mid-90s but doesn’t have the superhuman strikeout rates that Satterwhite and Weinhardt own. His second year in the system hasn’t been quite as impressive as his first where he posted a 1.52 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP at W. Michigan (A). His BB/9 has nearly doubled with the promotion to Lakeland (A+) and his K/9 has also dropped off. His WHIP is up near 1.27. Jacobson is only 22 and certainly has the makeup to contribute in the bullpen. However, considering there are three players ahead of him from the same draft class with the same bullpen aspirations, Jacobson might be a good candidate to be traded.
#11 Alfredo Figaro, RHP
For an undrafted free agent, Figaro flew threw the Tigers system going from Oneonta (A-) to Detroit in just two years. His first start in the majors was a good one resulting in his first major league victory. After a horrible second start, he was placed on the DL with a wrist injury. His minor league numbers didn’t necessarily suggest that he was going to get spot starts in 2009 so that should indicate how highly the Tigers think of him.
#12 Scott Green, RHP
Green and Jacobson are about as interchangeable as Satterwhite and Weinhardt. Jacobson gets the edge because he is a year younger and at the same level. Like the other four power relievers from the ’08 draft, Green has a mid-90’s+ heater. He is the biggest of the bunch at 6’8 but he also might have the most suspect command of the group. He currently owns a 1.56 WHIP at Lakeland. Green certainly wont be seeing any action with Detroit in crucial moments until he gets that number worked out.
#13 Brennan Boesch, RF
Boesch has to be the surprise offensive performer for 2009. The third round pick in 2006 underwhelmed in his first three years in the system. However, 2009 has been much kinder. Boesch has an .827 OPS at Erie (AA) which is almost 150 points higher than what he posted at W. Michigan and Lakeland. He leads the Eastern League with 24 home runs; he’s also 3rd in RBIs. The problem with Boesch is that he has epically bad plate discipline. He has 97 strikeouts to just 21 walks at Erie. Not surprisingly, his OBP is a woeful .302. Boesch has certainly shown that he has a power stroke. It’s unlikely that a BB:K ratio that abysmal is a fixable problem. The Tigers should try to capitalize on his power potential the way they did with Matt Joyce. Boesch won’t likely fetch a pitcher the caliber of Edwin Jackson but he could certainly bolster a package.
#14 Cale Iorg, SS
Iorg was a 6th round draft pick in 2007. While that doesn’t appear to indicate anything special, the Tigers liked Iorg so much that they threw down a $1.5 million signing bonus to keep him from returning to school at Alabama. Unfortunately, Iorg hasn’t lived up to the contract. He currently sports a .628 OPS at Erie with a K:BB ratio that makes Brennan Boesch look like Albert Pujols. In fairness to Iorg, he left school on a two-year Mormon mission before the Tigers drafted him and then promptly bribed him to leave school. That absence from baseball may account for Iorg’s initial struggles but this is his third year with the organization and the only thing to talk about are his K-totals. Iorg will be 24 in September. That’s getting up there for a guy who hasn’t shown much. The scouting reports universally praise Iorg as a high-ceiling talent. Next year will certainly be pivotal for Iorg’s future as a Tiger.
#15 Brayan Villareal, RHP
Villareal has been “lights out” at W. Michigan (A) this season sporting a 1.82 ERA in 79.1 innings. His SO/9 is 10.1 to go along with a 1.04 WHIP. The only blip on his resume is an unnerving 2.9 BB/9. Villareal has a mid-90s+ fastball which will become even more lethal if he can get his command to improve. It’ll be interesting to see how Villareal is able to navigate a reliever-heavy system. Had the Tigers not devoted nearly the entire 2008 draft to power relievers, Villareal could’ve seen big league action by 2011. Instead, he’ll likely turn into a valuable trade commodity.
Best of the rest (in no particular order): Luke Putkonen, Andrew Oliver, Brandon Hamilton, Josh Rainwater, Lauren Gagnier, Deik Scram, Tyler Stohr, Luis Marte, Anthony Shawler, Zach Simons, Will Ryhmes, Duane Below, Wade Gaynor, Brandon Douglas, Brooks Brown, Andrew Dirks, and Dusty Ryan.
The Tigers minor league system has been blasted by many of the minor league publications for having an underwhelming collection of talent. The fact that they weren’t able to get anything done for a bat at the trade deadline might indicate that the rest of MLB feels the same way. However, I think the system is actually in much better shape than it ever was before DD arrived. Crosby is a high-ceiling lefty. Strieby is a legitimate power-hitter. Sizemore appears to be a major league caliber second-baseman. Alex Avila looks like the catcher of the future. Ryan Perry looks like a future closer. Rick Porcello is a front-end starter. For the first time in many, many years, the Tigers are producing bona fide starters out of the system. Two or three years ago, a top 15 list of Tigers prospects would’ve featured a bunch of guys who never made it to the big leagues. I have a feeling that we won’t be able to say the same about this list two or three years from now. I’m not saying any of these guys are stars. It just looks like the Tigers are finally going to be able to fill some holes from within the system.