Reviewing a big-league team’s farm system at midseason is like being graded at midsemester. If a particular players has shined, be sure to keep it up. If a student hasn’t, there’s still time to catch fire.
The Tigers overall get a necessary “Incomplete” at the halfway mark of the 2016 minor-league system. They receive, in any necessary discussion, a grade of no better than “C,” although that’s an assessment made on a curve, given the thin ranks of a system that has been pulverized by trades, forfeited draft picks – and plenty of bad choices.
A look at the highs, lows, surprises, tumbles, injuries, and potential storylines that will play out during the final nine weeks of the 2016 season.
Christin Stewart, Single A Lakeland: Stewart was last year’s draft pick gained as compensation for losing Max Scherzer to the Nationals. For much of the spring he led all of America’s minor leagues in home runs. He sits at 18 today, and that’s striking, considering the Florida State League’s large ballparks, and the way in which pitchers have been avoiding him. Note his .388 on-base percentage, and what it says about a left-handed power hitter. Pitchers are being careful with him. And Stewart is being careful about pitches he attacks.
BEST PITCHING RUN
Joe Jimenez, Double A Erie: This is a bit too much to digest, even if it’s the minor leagues. Jimenez has pitched in 29 games in 2016 at Single A Lakeland and then at Erie. It wasn’t until nine days ago he gave up his first, and only, run of the season. The Tigers will be making room for him at some point in 2017 and might invite him to Detroit for a September audition. But they aren’t rushing, all because he is 21 and still needs to polish a couple of secondary pitches. They are being delicate, also, with his innings and pitch counts. They know they have a prize here, a probable closer. And soon.
The Tigers promoted two more pitchers in June, relocating Matt Hall and Gerson Moreno from Single A West Michigan, where everyone but Whitecaps manager Andrew Graham was getting bored by their dominance, and upgrading them to Single A Lakeland. They are on two different levels of development. Hall, a left-hander from Missouri State who was the Tigers’ sixth-round pick in 2015, is a starter and curveball maestro. Moreno is younger (20) and is a fire-throwing reliever. Follow their pitching lines the remainder of this summer. Interesting prospects.
HURT AND OVERLOOKED
Three higher-profile pitchers have been missing from most 2016 box scores. Spencer Turnbull, a right-handed starter and second-round pick in 2014 (University of Virginia), has finally resumed work following some shoulder issues. Kevin Ziomek, a left-handed starter who was a second-round pick (Vanderbilt) in 2013, had thoracic surgery last month similar to procedures experienced by former Tigers pitchers Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers and is recovering smoothly. Also, Trey Teakell, a ninth-rounder in 2015 (Texas Christian), is resuming work after an elbow strain.
BEST YOUNG POSITION PLAYER
Jose Azocar, West Michigan’s 20-year-old outfielder, who has been hitting .300-plus and wearing out video cameras with assorted plays. No shocker here. He came into the season with plus skills and potential and is on track.
Derek Hill, another of West Michigan’s turf-sprinters who can make spectacular catchers and who, during the past month, has been swinging a better bat. He had a robust June (.327, .824 OPS) and, two summers out of high school, could re-establish himself as a serious prospect and first-round draft pick.
BEST OVERALL PROSPECT WHO’S NOT HITTING
JaCoby Jones was beating up pitchers at Double A Erie when he returned from suspension, but since he was shipped to Triple A Toledo, he’s been ice-cold. He’ll snap out of it. A decent chance he could be the Tigers’ everyday center fielder in 2017.
PITCHER POISED FOR BETTER SECOND HALF
Adam Ravenelle has been slapped around since he was promoted to Erie. But he’ll adjust. Ravenelle has a healthy chance of pitching, at some point next season, in Detroit’s bullpen. He was a fourth-round pick from Vanderbilt (2014) who has the arm and stuff to be a long-term, big-league reliever. Was sick and injured last year. Has rebounded this season and should settle in quickly at Erie.
PLAYER POISED FOR BETTER SECOND HALF
Cam Gibson. Kirk’s son has been on the ropes a bit with his bat in his first full season of professional baseball. But he’s making progress at Single A West Michigan as part of a defensively dazzling outfield in which he lines up alongside Azocar and Hill. In two months, compare Gibson’s July and August with his April, May, and June. It’s likely the numbers will be significantly different.
PLAYER POISED FOR BETTER SECOND HALF (CONT.)
Catcher Shane Zeile has had some fractures and hamstring issues since last season, but there’s a reason the Tigers grabbed him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft out of UCLA. He’s the son of former big-leaguer Todd Zeile and was batting .333 in June until his hamstring tightened. Expect him to flourish during the season’s second half.
BEST SUPER-YOUNG RELIEVER
Right-hander Moreno is only 20 and throws on the brink of 100-mph. Has secondary stuff and fires just enough strikes to avoid trouble. Should get better on that front. He, Jimenez, and Ravenelle are the best trio of relievers in the Tigers system.
SO STEADY HE’S OVERLOOKED
Beau Burrows, last year’s first-round pick out of suburban Dallas. Twelve games, 11 starts, and Burrows, who is 19, owns these numbers at West Michigan: 2.79 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, .214 opposing batting average. A young pitcher very much on track.