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Top Minor League Prospects: Detroit Tigers

It’s not hard to find a list of any MLB team’s top prospects, but will any of those prospects be ready to contribute in 2012? We’re here to help you prepare for the unexpected by ranking each team’s top five minor league prospects from a fantasy perspective. While they may not be the team’s brightest stars (though many of them will be) they’re the names you’ll need to know when the unexpected happens. Make sure to check out our other top minor league prospects posts for each of the 30 teams.

Potential roster vacancies: OF, SP

With the signing of Prince Fielder, the Detroit Tigers have officially announced their candidacy for the 2012 AL Pennant. Miguel Cabrera has agreed to shift to third base, solidifying what might be the most fearsome three-four duo at the heart of any lineup in baseball. The Tigers are going for it all this season, and that means they’ll likely rely heavily on veterans to get the job done instead of turning to unproven minor leaguers. Jhonny Peralta had a throwback season last year and will be the team’s shortstop, and despite failing to cash in on a starting job in 2011, Ryan Raburn should see the majority of the at-bats at second base. And, when Raburn’s out of the lineup or roaming the outfield, Ramon Santiago will be at second. Alex Avila is one of the best offensive catchers in baseball, so there’s little reason to expect anyone else to see time behind the plate.

The outfield is a little more fluid. Austin Jackson will be the everyday starter in center, but Brennan Boesch hasn’t proven he can put a complete season together yet. He still goes through stretches where “cold” might be too generous a description, and 26-year-old Andy Dirks has all of 235 plate appearances of major league experience. Don Kelly has been Detroit’s bench outfielder for the last three seasons, but the Tigers will likely need more than his mediocre bat (though above average defense) at some point this season.

In the rotation, it doesn’t get much better than Justin Verlander, but one man does not a rotation make. Max Scherzer is an effective innings eater, and I’m very high on Doug Fister, but Detroit’s rotation depth will be made or broken by Rick Porcello‘s continued development. If they can go four strong in the rotation, it will lessen the pressure on top prospect Jacob Turner, who right now is the Tigers’ likely fifth starter. Turner has good minor league numbers and has demonstrated great control, but he’s unproven. Even though he’s technically a rookie, I’ll leave him out of the list below since he’s projected to break camp with a rotation spot.

After going 49-for-49 in save chances last season, Jose Valverde enters 2012 with one of the most secure closing jobs in the league. Some would caution he’s not as good as those save totals indicate (and I would be inclined to agree), but if he’s healthy, he’s Detroit’s closer.

Detroit Tigers Top 5 Minor League Prospects for Fantasy Baseball

1. Drew Smyly, SP

Smyly is a control-first left-hander, but he’s also struck out over a batter an inning in his short minor league career. The Tigers tend to be pretty aggressive with their pitching prospects (just ask Porcello and Turner), so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that we see Smyly this season. Assuming Turner graduates to the big club out of spring training, Smyly would be the team’s top rated minor league pitcher according to Baseball America, and I always give a prospect with great control rates a chance because they’re already making things easier for themselves by not issuing free passes.

2. Adam Wilk, SP

Wilk doesn’t rate near the top of many people’s prospect lists, but he has great control (Baseball America rated his the best control in the Detroit system) and he’s already debuted with the Tigers (5.40 ERA in 13 1/3 innings last season). There are definitely more talented pitchers for the Tigers to choose from, but almost all of them walk too many people to be effective this early in their careers. I doubt Wilk will ever be a standout if given an opportunity, but I think he has a great chance to be a serviceable spot starter for your fantasy team.

3. Matt Young, OF

Young is 29 years old and didn’t get his first taste of big league ball until last season with the Braves, but Detroit’s minor league system is almost completely devoid of major league-ready outfield prospects. There are other outfielders the Tigers may turn to first — Clete Thomas and Eric Patterson for example — but Young is the only one that qualifies as a “prospect.” And you know what? Young could actually have value. I love his walk and strikeout rates, almost one-to-one actually, and he’s stolen 30-plus bases three times in the minors. Call me crazy, but I think Young could bat near .280 and be a baserunning threat if he gets playing time.

4. Andrew Oliver, SP

Oliver has major league experience, but I’m not his biggest fan. The Tigers pushed the 2010 second round draft pick to the majors after just 23 minor league starts in 2010, but neither of Oliver’s two big league stints has gone particularly well (6.32 ERA in 33 1/3 major league innings). Admittedly, the sample size is small. I’m not a fan of Oliver from a fantasy perspective because his walk rate is so high, over 4.00 BB/9 in his minor league career, but Detroit clearly thinks he can be of use. I don’t think he’s ready to be a solid contributor, and that’s why he lands at number four.

5. Jamie Johnson, OF

Johnson was voted as having the best strike zone discipline by Baseball America, and that’s enough for me to rank him among the top five most fantasy relevant prospects in the Tigers’ system. His walk and strike out rates are impressive, and he played a full season at double-A last year. Johnson should be a high-OBP style player, and he has enough speed to steal at least 10-15 bases. That could mean a good number of runs in a strong Detroit offense.

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About the author: Bryan is the co-founder of Baseball Professor and works as a consultant specializing in operational metrics and efficiency analysis. When he’s not working, blogging, or tending to basic human needs, he enjoys pondering the vastness of the universe, rewatching episodes of Breaking Bad, and avoiding snakes. (@BaseballProf)

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  • Dave Law

    I know you explained why you left Jacob Turner off this list but he is the best Tigers prospect, by far. And there is no guarantee that he has the 5th spot in the rotation. The Tigers went after Oswalt and probably made a run at Edwin Jackson too. I would not be at all surprised to see the Tigers get outside help for the rotation which would send Turner back to the minors, where he belongs for at least half the season. So leaving Turner off this list is wrong, just wrong.

    • http://www.baseballprof.com Bryan Curley

      Fair enough, though I did give a brief explanation of him as a pitcher, and I fully expect him to get that fifth rotation spot. If it makes you feel better he would have ranked number one on my list above had I decided to rank him.