OF Nick Castellanos owns one of the better hit tools in the minor leagues.
For the last five years, the Detroit Tigers' farm system has ranked in the bottom third among all organizations. It’s not that they’ve struggled to develop prospects; rather, they’ve traditionally opted to trade them for big league talent, which has worked out well thus far.
While the Tigers' system still lacks overall depth, they do boast a trio of prospects that should be big-league ready at some point during the 2013 season. Their consensus top prospect, outfielder Nick Castellanos, is fresh off a breakout season in which he batted .405 for High-A Lakeland as a 20-year-old, and spent the second half of the season at Double-A Erie.
Similarly, outfielder Avisail Garcia, 21, began last season at Lakeland with Castellanos, but finished the year on the Tigers' postseason roster. Not to be forgotten is hard-throwing Bruce Rondon, who has the potential to break camp as the team’s closer.
The Tigers have also relied heavily on their international scouting department, which is responsible for nearly half of their top 10 prospects. And although they didn’t draft until the second round last year as a result of signing Prince Fielder during the offseason, they did net two top-10 prospects in Jake Thompson and Austin Schotts.
Here's a look at the Detroit Tigers' top 10 prospects headed into spring training.
DOB: 2/21/1993 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 170
Drafted/Signed: Sept. 2009 (Dominican Republic)
Scouting Notes: 6’4”, 170-pound right-hander has a highly projectable frame and power arm; big velocity jump over last two years; missed entire 2012 season after injuring his right shoulder and undergoing surgery; he’s going to fall behind the developmental curve, but still has exceptional upside.
Before the injury, Paulino’s fastball was sitting in the low to mid-90s and occasionally scraping 96-97 mph; threw from three-quarters angle before hurting his shoulder, so it’ll be interesting to see what adjustments he makes; long limbs and wiry frame make him susceptible to control issues; both his secondary offerings, curveball and changeup, are raw offerings given his lack of experience; both should improve steadily once he’s healthy.
Spring Training Forecast: After shoulder surgery wiped out his entire 2012 season, the Tigers will likely ease the right-hander back into action this spring in minor league camp.
2013 Outlook: As long as he’s healthy, Paulino should open the year in extended spring training before receiving a promotion to either the rookie-level Gulf Coast League or Short-Season New York-Penn League later in the season.
DOB: 9/17/1988 (Age: 24)
Height/Weight: 6’5”, 225
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2007 (Kaneland HS, Ill.)
Scouting Notes: Has been a highly regarded prospect in Tigers’ system since they drafted him in 2007; injury history with left elbow including Tommy John surgery; reached the major leagues for the first time last season and registered a 9.49 ERA with 11 walks in 12 innings spanning three starts.
Crosby has always had good stuff but struggled to harness it throughout his career; fastball sits in the low 90s and will reach 94-95 early in games; he’s made nice progress on the curveball, though he still seemingly lacks a consistent feel; changeup is deceptive relative to his fastball, but he needs to locate both pitches; generates plenty of swings and misses and weak contact, just needs to become more efficient.
Spring Training Forecast: Despite struggling in each of the last two seasons, Crosby and fellow southpaw Drew Smyly will likely compete to be the team’s sixth starter in 2013—as in the first pitcher recalled from the minors in the event of an injury.
2013 Outlook: It’s doubtful that Crosby will begin the year in the major leagues, since he’d likely benefit from another half-season at Triple-A. Regardless, the 24-year-old should spend at least a portion of the upcoming season in the major leagues.
DOB: 6/6/1990 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 205
Drafted/Signed: Sixth round, 2011 (Howard Junior College, Texas)
Scouting Notes: 22-year-old outfielder batted .290/371/.429 with 20 stolen bases for High-A Lakeland in full-season debut; 5’11”, 205-pound frame doesn’t involve projection; advanced hit tool; laces balls from line to line and collects tons of doubles; excellent plate discipline should allow him to hit for a high average; left-handed hitter with some bat speed and a strong top hand.
Has all the tools to be a big league corner outfielder—except power; unless he starts jumping the yard with more frequency, it’s hard to see him as anything more than a solid fourth outfielder, but his bat could have him moving quickly.
Spring Training Forecast: After an impressive professional debut last season at High-A, Collins could quietly compete for a bench spot on the Tigers’ Opening Day roster.
2013 Outlook: Assuming that he doesn’t break camp with the parent club, Collins will head to Double-A with a chance to reach the major leagues at some point during the second half of the 2013 season.
DOB: 7/18/1991 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’, 180
Drafted/Signed: Oct. 2008 (Venezuela)
Scouting Notes: Finally graduated to Low-A West Michigan this past season after three seasons in the complex leagues; turned in solid full-season debut, batting .288/.380/.409 with 34 doubles, 21 stolen bases and 116/65 K/BB in 135 games; showed vastly improved on-base skills and cleaned up his defense.
6’, 180-pound middle infielder showed improvements across the board; right-handed hitter with a consistent, level swing; comfortable working counts and making pitchers work; doesn’t show much power, but could show more as he adjusts swings; strikes out more than desired; approach and on-base skills continue to improve.
Average speed that impedes his range at shortstop; aggressive base stealer who picks his spots; will need to be more explosive and improve efficiency; started seeing playing time at second base; slick defender with fluid actions; above-average glove with a plus arm; will get lazy and sit back on balls.
Spring Training Forecast: Entering his second big league spring training, Suarez’s swing is in need of some fine-tuning. Additionally, it wouldn’t hurt for him to see some additional reps at both middle infield positions.
2013 Outlook: Having emerged as the Tigers’ future shortstop almost by default in his full-season debut last year, Suarez will presumably spend the entire 2013 season at High-A.
DOB: 1/8/1994 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 169
Drafted/Signed: July 2010 (Venezuela)
Scouting Notes: Signed a monster $1.2 million bonus as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela; opened 2012 season as 18-year-old at Low-A West Michigan, but was demoted to Short-Season Connecticut after batting .162/.218/.222 through 29 games; rebounded in New York-Penn League with .742 OPS in 72 games.
At 6’3”, 169 pounds, Vasquez should add considerable strength to his naturally strong frame when he fills out; pretty left-handed swing with lots of potential; is comfortable using the whole field as an 18-year-old; makes lots of contact but will also have to learn how to take his walks; not a lot of present power, but his plus bat speed and the natural loft in his swing suggest it will come.
Average speed; suitable for either corner outfield position; inconsistent reads and poor routes magnify his inexperience; arm strength is solid-average but may not be good enough for right; should receive another crack at the Midwest League in 2013.
Spring Training Forecast: Even though Vasquez has all the offensive tools to be an impact hitter, he stands to benefit from some time in minor league camp, where he'll have the opportunity to scale back his hyper-aggressive approach.
2013 Outlook: After a dismal performance at Low-A to open the 2012 season, Vasquez should fare much better in his second tour of the level this year.
DOB: 9/16/1993 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 180
Drafted/Signed: Third round, 2012 (Centennial HS, Texas)
Scouting Notes: Outstanding athlete who was a standout two-sport star at his Texas high school; batted .310/360/.452 with Tigers’ rookie-level affiliate before late-season promotion to High-A Lakeland for one game; showcased surprisingly advanced baseball skills to go along with top-of-the-line athleticism.
5’11”, 180-pounder has above-average bat speed with the potential to be a well-rounded hitter; swing is fluid and balanced and he’s able to drive the ball to all fields; not a physical player but possesses tons of forearm strength with quick-twitch wrist muscles; has more power than his size suggests and should always pose an extra-base threat; biggest asset is his plus speed, which led to a 16-of-20 success rate on the basepaths.
Tigers shifted Schotts to center field after spending his amateur career at shortstop; average arm strength wouldn’t have sufficed at previous position; speed is ideal and a clean fit in center; has already been lauded for his all-out approach and ability to make adjustments.
Spring Training Forecast: Schotts stands to learn a lot this spring in minor league camp, especially after making the transition from shortstop to center field last season.
2013 Outlook: With a collection of relatively advanced tools and a plus makeup, the 19-year-old should receive an assignment to Low-A to open the 2013 season. Assuming he continues to make quick adjustments as he did during his professional debut in 2012, Schotts should make it back to Double-A before the end of the season.
DOB: 1/31/1994 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 235
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2012 (Rockwall-Heath HS, Texas)
Scouting Notes: 6’4” right-hander was a two-way standout in high school who also received draft consideration as a hitter; physically mature but still involves some projection; possesses more athleticism than his size suggests; made impressive debut at the rookie level with a 1.91 ERA and .141 BAA, as well as 31/10 K/BB in 28 innings.
Large physical frame makes him both durable and projectable as he continues to gain experience; pounds lower half of strike zone with heavy fastballs in the high 80s, low 90s; should be a consistent low-to-mid-90s arm as he continues to develop and becomes more mechanically efficient; slider is an inconsistent pitch but flashes plus potential with occasional two-plane break and hard bite; changeup is present, as well, but is undeveloped and therefore inconsistent; could move quickly as he develops secondary weapons.
Spring Training Forecast: Thompson will head to minor league camp this spring as a means of monitoring his workload early in the season.
2013 Outlook: Considering his size, plane and arsenal relative to his age, the right-hander is a prime candidate to open the 2013 season in extended spring training before making the jump to Short-Season New York-Penn League, or perhaps even Low-A.
DOB: 12/9/1990 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 265
Drafted/Signed: Sept. 2007 (Venezuela)
Scouting Notes: Imposing presence on the mound at 6’3”, 265 pounds; Rondon has all the makings of a future closer in the major leagues and nearly assumed the role late in 2012 after a meteoric rise through the Tigers' system; lack of athleticism hurts his long-term projection and he’ll need to keep his weight under control in future seasons.
Rondon boasts one of the best fastballs in the game, sitting at 99-100 mph and routinely touching 102-103 mph; didn’t throw a pitch below 100 mph in the XM Futures Game; heavy pitch that’s thrown on a consistent downward plane; pitch explodes with late life to his arm side; slider is decent when he throws it correctly with tight spin; also features a fading changeup, though he understandably lacks a feel for it; command was vastly improved this past season, but he can still fall into funks where he’s missing the strike zone.
Spring Training Forecast: The Tigers are prepared to roll with Rondon as their closer to open the season, though he’ll have to prove he’s ready to assume the role throughout the spring.
2013 Outlook: One of a select few prospects who appear to be a lock on the Opening Day roster, Rondon has the potential to be a top-flight closer in the major leagues. However, there’s a decent chance that the Tigers ease him into the role by offering southpaw Phil Coke a save opportunity here and there.
DOB: 6/12/1991 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 240
Drafted/Signed: July 2007 (Venezuela)
Scouting Notes: Highly impressive athlete given his 6’4”, 240-pound frame; was eased along until breakout 2012 campaign in which he began at High-A Lakeland and finished in the major leagues; made a strong impression with the Tigers during the 2012 postseason.
Toolsy outfielder with a football build; natural approach allows him to drive the ball the other way with ease; quiet setup at the plate with quick hands that allow him to make a lot of contact; more likely he’ll hit for average than power; level, line-drive swing doesn’t result in much power at the present; should start to show more power in coming seasons by adding slight loft to his swing and learning how to turn on the ball.
Profiles as an everyday right fielder in the major leagues; slightly above-average speed gives him range in right field; plus arm is ideal for the position; big league experience as a 21-year-old should prove to be invaluable as he continues to develop; could open the season as the team’s fourth outfielder, or even a solid platoon option against left-handed pitching, but more likely he’ll start at Triple-A.
Spring Training Forecast: Entering his third major league spring training, Garcia has an outside chance to make the Opening Day roster as a reserve/platoon outfielder.
2013 Outlook: Despite his experience in the major leagues (including the postseason) in late 2012, the 21-year-old would likely benefit from more seasoning in the minor leagues. Therefore, Garcia should open the year at Triple-A, and stands to be the first outfielder recalled in the event of an injury.
DOB: 3/4/1992 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 210
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010 (Archbishop McCarthy HS, Fla.)
Scouting Notes: A supplemental first-round pick in 2010, Castellanos opened the 2012 season on a torrid pace, batting .405 through 55 games at High-A Lakeland. He received a midseason promotion to Double-A Erie where his plate discipline was challenged, and he saw his batting line dip to .264/.296/.382 in 79 games. Along the way, however, the 20-year-old was named the MVP of the XM Futures Game after going 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBI.
Pure hitter with highly advanced bat-to-ball skills; ability to consistently barrel the ball; natural inside-out swing with lots of power to right-center field; quick hands and bat speed; loose wrists and a fluid swing; lots of extension after contact but not a lofty swing; not physically strong for his size but possesses plenty of wiry strength; power should continue to develop as he gains more experience at higher levels; should always be an extra-base machine; prone to chasing sliders low and off the plate; barrel control to be a plus hitter in the major leagues; needs to refine his approach and pitch recognition.
Drafted and developed as a third baseman until mid-2012; moved to the outfield as a way to potentially expedite his arrival in the big leagues; has the arm strength and hands for the position, footwork and reads remain raw; has received playing time at both corner outfield positions; still needs to learn how to make consistent reads; actions can be stiff; not a particularly strong runner but moves well once he hits full stride; can’t rule out an eventual shift back to the hot corner.
Spring Training Forecast: After reaching Double-A as a 20-year-old in 2012, Castellanos will presumably audition for a late-season call-up this spring.
2013 Outlook: Castellanos will likely return to Double-A to open the 2013 season, and given the team’s depth at nearly every position could serve as midseason trade bait out of necessity.