Next up on our organizational rankings is another head-over-heels rebuild that has just scratched the surface. The writing for the Tigers probably should have been on the wall for at least a year, but late-owner Mike Ilitch desperately wanted to bring a championship to Detroit. After unwittingly doling out over $100 million to Jordan Zimmerman a couple of off-seasons ago as part of a last-ditch effort to go for it all, Ilitch passed away in Febuary 2017. After ex-Tiger GM Dave Dombrowski gutted the farm system, as he is wont to do, during the Tigers competitive window, now-GM Al Avila began the Tigers rebuild in earnest at last seasons trade deadline, as they began to unload their movable assets: Justin Upton, J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson, Avila’s son, catcher Alex Avila, and even career long Tiger, future hall-of-famer Justin Verlander. Ian Kinsler also got sent packing this offseason. Where does this leave the Tigers exactly? How has Avila done in the first stages of the rebuild you ask? Let’s take a look.
Detroit Tigers – Organizational Rank 29 out of 30
First let’s take a look at the remaining Major League assets. Miguel Cabrera suffered a 2017 season at age 34 that had many supporters (and fantasy owners) running for the hills. Putting up -0.2 fWAR on the back (no pun intended, but Miggy battled back troubles all year) of a worrisome 91 wRC+, Cabrera’s remaining contract is currently unmovable. Fans remembering the steep fall from grace suffered in most recent memory by Albert Pujols, might want to prepare themselves for an ugly end to a legendary career. Even if 2018 is part of a successful last hurrah for the lumbering slugger, it’s hard to see Cabrera playing himself into a movable asset. In this current market for 1B/DH only types, ditto for Victor Martinez. Jordan Zimmerman seems a shell of what he was at peak in Washington, and is a grim reminder of why teams no longer want to pay $100 million for past performance. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they are likely going to end up running out or waiving those three contracts over the next few years.
Okay, before the self-help hotlines in Detroit start to overflow with incoming calls, let’s talk about some bright spots. Michael Fulmer needs to show his recurrent elbow pains are not a serious issue, but if he goes out there and pitches a full season, he could very well be pitching himself to a new organization with a closer window of contention. The young bulldog is still in his pre-arb years and has shown himself to be a very good mid-rotation arm since he arrived in the 2015 Cespedes deadline deal. As unlikely as it is for Fulmer to be part of the next good Tigers team, you can say the same for their best (only?) young MLB hitter, Nick Castellanos. While Castellanos has always been an exit-velocity darling, he truly broke out last season to the tune of 26 HR and over 100 RBI. Or did he? Castellanos was so underwhelming at thirdbase that, despite a solid, if unspectacular OPS+ of 110, he was worth only 0.7 WAR on the season. With Miggy and Vmart clogging 1B/DH duties, it’s hard to see a way up here. With Castellanos only two years from free agency, his trade value seems quite limited.
Rounding out the MLB roster, the cupboards are shockingly bare. Jose Iglesias, Dixon Machado, Mickie Mahtook, James McCann, Mike Fiers, Francisco Liriano, Shane Greene? That’s about as hard to get a baseball boner as there is right now. Look on the bright side, the Tigers have the 1-1 pick in this June’s draft and with that group, they have a really awesome shot at it again in 2019. The last time I remember a team going 1-1 back-to-back, I remember the Nats landing Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg.
Ok, so the MLB roster is fugly, but there is actually some nice pitching (and a few bats) down on the farm.
Minor League Talent
I did not list Jeimer Candelario on the MLB side of the discussion as his pre-arb clock has barely even begun. A nice get from the Cubs last July for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson, Candelario profiles as an everyday thirdbaseman, with adequate glove, very sound bat-to-ball skills, and some decent pop. Very similar in profile actually to Miami Marlins thirdbase prospect Brian Anderson, discussed in the last organization over view, Candelario is big-league ready and will be given his chance soon to produce at Comerica Park on a daily basis.
To help round out the bats in the system, we’ve got a sleeper prospect at the catcher position, Jake Rogers. Still largely unknown in many fan circles, Rogers, who came over in the Verlander deal, boasts all of the defensive skills behind the dish to profile as a plus defensive catcher. Rogers also added power to his game last year and now projects to hit enough to be an MLB-caliber regular behind home plate. Throw him into the mix with pitcher Franklin Perez and OF prospect Daz Cameron, and Avila acquitted himself quite nicely in the Verlander trade. While Perez will be discussed below, Daz Cameron is an exciting prospect whose ceiling figures to be that of his father, ex-MLB regular Mike Cameron. With plus speed, plus defense in CF, good raw power and a whole bunch of swing and miss, Daz sure sounds like his father. He sure ironed out some kinks in his swing and finally stayed healthy last year, after originally disappointing in his debut professional season in the Astros system. His prospect status is back on track, after being drafted as an early first round pick out of the prep ranks in 2015. Finally, OF prospect Christin Stewart continues to hit bombs and strike out himself, but he did more bombing and less striking out last year in the Florida State League and Eastern League. He profiles as left-field only, but can still be a good strong-side of the platoon type MLBer.
Okay Tigers fans. Here’s where you are going to lay your hopes if you are still assumed to have any. The Tigers have built an impressive array of young arms, spending first-round draft picks on Beau Burrows, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo in recent years. Faedo ranks the highest on most current prospect rankings as the former Gator has a high relatively-established floor against top collegiate competition and masterful control of a 70 grade breaking ball. Throw in the afore-mentioned Franklin Perez, the headliner in the Verlander package, and a nice season out of Kyle Funkhauser, and you have a growing stable of promising arms.
The Tigers have clearly committed to the rebuild, and have a young stable of pitching percolating in the minor leagues. They also hold the 1-1 overall pick this June, which will add a premium talent to a developing farm system. Unfortunately, the MLB roster is rather devoid of move-able assets. Mining talent from Latin America, in addition to successful draft processes in the upcoming drafts will be key to getting this rebuild into acceleration mode. The next few years should be interesting to watch how the Tigers go about this process.