Moderator: BA’s Ben Badler will be here at 2 p.m. Eastern to chat about the Tigers’ top prospects.
Ben Badler: Thanks for winding down your Friday afternoon with us at BA to talk Tigers prospects. Let's get started.
Francisco (Atlanta, GA): Hi Ben, thanks for the chat! What's Fulmer ceiling ?is He a top 50 prospect? Do you expect him to start in Toledo this season ?
Ben Badler: My bet is he's going to be right around the 40-60 range, so he's definitely in that mix. Probably starts in Triple-A but I'd expect him to be up my midseason, unless something goes backwards in his development.
@Jaypers413 (IL): What did evaluators think of Tyler Alexander during his time in Connecticut? Was he considered for your top 10, and is he ready to become a Whitecap, come April?
Ben Badler: He was not, although he will be in the Top 30, and I do expect him to start next season in Low-A. His command and feel for pitching for his age is extremely advanced, but the stuff is fairly light, so it's a slim margin for error. That shouldn't be a problem in the lower minors, but it's going to be tested as he moves up. A lot of similarities between him and Kyle Lobstein.
Tablejumper (Milwaukee): No star power on this list, and it thins quickly into the land of long-shot projection. Is this the worst system in baseball yet again?
Ben Badler: It's definitely not the worst system in baseball. There are some bad, bad farm systems out there—Miami, Seattle and the Angels among them—but it's still a bottom five system. That said, two of the players they acquired in the David Price deal were Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, neither of whom are prospect-eligible any more but are still young players under the Tigers' control for the long term. It's certainly not a good system, but the overall inventory of young, controllable talent is better than it was a year ago.
Jeff (The frozen tundra): Are there any rookie level gems from the Latin American scouting program?
Ben Badler: Jose Azocar is the one to watch. He was a toolsy kid when the Tigers signed him a few years back, but he was extremely crude. He still has a ways to go for the baseball skills to come around, but he's shown progress there and already stands out in center field with his plus speed, range and arm strength. The power didn't show up in games this year, but he can put a charge into the ball and is a potential power/speed guy if his plate discipline improves enough for the hitting to materialize.
Roy (Indiana): Zach shepherd struggled the second half at West Michigan. Am I likely to see him somewhere in the Top 30?
Ben Badler: Definitely. The numbers on paper don’t jump out at you, but he’s an interesting combination of potential to hit and hit for power, with maybe neither tool projecting as plus but a chance to be 50-55s and stay at third base. There’s bat speed and leverage in the swing, although he will need better plate discipline going forward.
J (Michigan): Joe Jimenez. totally dominated the Midwest League. Is he a likely future late inning guy for the Tigers?
Ben Badler: It’s a closer ceiling, and given his strike-throwing ability, he could move quickly if the Tigers wanted to push him.
John (New York, NY): How far off did Steven Moya fall, and do you see him ever being a viable Major League starter?
Ben Badler: He’s just outside the Top 10. The raw power is still tantalizing, but a full season at Triple-A at age 23 with a .283 OBP is just not acceptable for a corner outfielder. With his long limbs he’s always going to have a longer swing, which hampers him, and he gets himself into more trouble because not only does he get beaten in the strike zone, he expands it way too much and gets himself out. He’s always going to be a high strikeout guy, but if he’s going to hit for a low batting average, he has to at least stay more disciplined within the strike zone to get better pitches to hit and draw more walks. There’s still time for him to develop, but that’s not an easy area to improve.
Frank (Chicago): I assume Fulmer will make the BA top 100 in some capacity, but does Burrows have a chance as well?
Ben Badler: Burrows definitely has a chance. Fulmer, Burrows, Gerber and Stewart all should have some support in the 100-150 range when we compile the Top 100, though I'm not sure more than two get on, and it might just end up being Fulmer alone.
Ryan (The D): What is Buck Farmer's future role likely to be, in your estimation?
Ben Badler: I would like to see him get more opportunities to prove he can be a back-end starter, but the organization seems to be leaning toward using him as a reliever going forward.
Milan Pique (Detroit, Michigan): There has been a regime change do you think we'll see any difference on what the Tigers do in the amateur ranks? They've had a good int program (lots of trade pieces) but do you think they'll put more emphasis on it?
Ben Badler: I don’t think you will see many substantive changes at the amateur level either in the draft or the international market. You might see them take a different strategy in terms of their investments now that they have a bigger bonus pool to work with, but the international program has been a strength for them, especially finding undervalued talent in Venezuela, so I don’t see much changing there.
Wayne (Battle Creek, MI): Besides a cool name, what does Joey Pankake bring to the table?
Ben Badler: Aside from his name being a pun machine, Pankake has a fairly polished hitting approach and a barrel that stays in the hitting zone a long time. There’s no tool that grades out better than average and he has to improve his defense, but there’s value there because of the bat, although I think Double-A will be the key test for him.
Mitch (Greeley, CO): How can you possibly justify HIll being 10th? .793 OPS in second half, at least 7 runner with chance to have a 7 glove in center, makes plenty of contact, was 2.5 years younger than average MWL player, seriously asking how you justify it because I really don't think you can.
Ben Badler: Hill didn’t play a game after July 10. Did you really just cite his OPS in SEVEN games as evidence of anything? He’s still an intriguing prospect because is an explosive athlete, but you can read in his report the concerns many scouts have about the development of his offensive game.
Grant (NYC): What is rhp Drew Smith's ceiling likely to be, and was he in your 11-20?
Ben Badler: He is in that range. Encouraging debut from a pitcher who’s results never quite aligned with the stuff. He’s definitely going to be a reliever, which limits his upside, but if the Tigers can help him make the right tweaks to improve his command and the consistency of his breaking ball, he can be a middle or possibly late-inning reliever.
Steve (Owltown): How do you view Austin Kubitza? He looked better in the Arizona Fall League than in AA last year. His ball has plenty of movement.
Ben Badler: Tricky player to evaluate because he’s such an unusual guy. Like you mentioned, his fastball has pretty crazy movement, zig-zagging all over the place, so it’s a difficult pitch for hitters to get into the air and he gets a ton of groundballs. He just doesn’t have much else in the arsenal, and because his sinker moves so much, it’s hard for him to be precise with his command. I would keep him as a starter for developmental reasons so he can get more innings to hone his fastball command and develop his secondaries, but ultimately I think his best fit will be in the bullpen, where hopefully he can get a velo bump, his shorter repertoire won’t be as much of a factor and he can be a weapon to come in with men on base if you need a groundball.
Esteban (West Palm Beach): Are Gerber and/or Stewart regulars?
Ben Badler: They both have the upside to be everyday players, albeit with very different skill sets. Gerber is the more advanced pure hitter with a more well-rounded skill set, whereas Stewart fits into a more traditional corner OF model with better raw power.
Craig (Ohio): Thoughts on Montreal Robertson. Great arm but can he find some control?
Ben Badler: It’s a great scouting story, so I hope he does and can carve out some type of career as a middle reliever, but I think the odds are against that happening.
Norm Chouinard (Connecticut): Hi Ben, Did AJ Simcox get much attention from scouts/coaches?
Ben Badler: Heard positive feedback on Simcox from scouts who saw him in pro ball. Very smart, high baseball IQ guy with a knack for putting the bat to the ball and made an adjustment with his lower half after he signed that gave him a better base to hit from. I wouldn’t bet on ever seeing much power from him, but I think he can hit and he should stick at shortstop, which is a valuable combination to have. Good pick by the Tigers and a guy I could see jumping into the Top 10 for them next year.
VandyGuy (VandyLand): Is Drew VerHagen still prospect-eligible? His walk numbers were rough, but in his brief big league stint, he looked like quite a contact-oriented specialist. Is there still any institutional belief that he could become a starter?
Ben Badler: VerHagen is still in the Prospect Handbook. I think the bullpen is the better fit for him, but you touched on the concern for him even in that role, which is that he doesn’t miss many bats. The fastball plays up in the bullpen, and with the deception and steep downhill angle he creates from his 6-6 frame, that pitch is real weapon for him. He just doesn’t have a second pitch right now that can miss bats or that hitters even have to account much for, so that continues to be a developmental point of emphasis for him.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Fullmer and Jacobi Jones were each ranked 13th in last year's Handbook, Fullmer with the Mets and Jones with the Pirates. They go to Detroit and are now 1st and 5th. This really indicates a weak Tiger farm system. True or false.?
Ben Badler: It’s a combination of factors. The Mets and Pirates were two of the strongest farm systems in baseball a year ago, and both players took steps forward and improved their stock in 2015, especially Fulmer. But certainly moving to a thinner farm system helped boost where they’re ranked within an organization.
Jordan (Los Angeles): Mike Gerber had impressive numbers, but was older than most guys in his league. What kind of player can he be in the Majors?
Ben Badler: He was old for his league, but he performed well there and the skill set he has should translate at higher levels, which we started to see already when he went to the Arizona Fall League. With his swing, how long his bat head stays in the hitting zone and his approach, he should be a good hitter who can get on base and has a chance to hit 15-20 HRs. Then he adds value in other ways with his baserunning and defense. The more skeptical scouts on him see him more along the lines of a Tyler Collins or Ryan Kalish, but traditionally, he’s the type of player who has gone overlooked and undervalued (obviously, look at where he was drafted), but I’m a believer in the bat and the multi-dimensional value he brings to the game.
Norm Chouinard (Connecticut): Do you have any Tigers internationals in the lower minors who have caught your eye?
Ben Badler: Azocar is one I touched on earlier. Sandy Baez and Gerson Moreno would be two others. Baez has a chance to start, whereas Moreno is a reliever all the way but has a lightning-quick arm and a tremendous fastball that’s been up to 100 mph.
Peter (Toledo, Oh): Hill seems ranked rather low for a 1st round draft pick that missed time due to injury. Is the ranking due to unkowns and little time, or are there some red flags thrown up?
Ben Badler: Part of it is other players in the system stepping forward and others joining the organization who are better prospects, but there’s definitely cause for concern there with the bat. He can put the bat to the ball, but the swing will need work and there’s little impact when he does connect. He has more than 400 PAs under his belt now in pro ball and has hit .225/.301/.305. Those are all troubling signs. He’s still a tremendous, explosive athlete with plus-plus wheels and good range at a premium position, so nobody’s giving up on him, but his stock is definitely down from where it was when he got drafted.
Nelson (Grand Rapids): Thoughts on Spencer Turnbull? Showed a lot of raw ability in his year in Low-A. Some talk of him being moved to the bullpen. Is that justified, or does he still make more sense in the rotation?
Ben Badler: I would keep him as a starter as long as possible to see if he can do it and for developmental reasons, because it’s easier to force a guy to throw his changeup more often if he’s going six innings at a time instead of one or two, but I do think ultimately his best role will be in the bullpen. The changeup and the command are concerns, but he has the two-pitch mix led by that wicked power fastball that would play well in that role.
Kelly (St. Cloud MN): What led to Jairo Labourt's omission from the list? Did the Tigers make a good pick when they acquired him? thx Ben
Ben Badler: He’s fine for being the No. 3 prospect in that type of deal. Good size, good fastball/slider combination and the changeup shows some potential, but he just doesn’t throw enough strikes right now, which is why he got torched last year. The stuff is there to work with, but the overall feel for pitching has to come along.
Warren (Texas): Who are the sleepers in the system that are not in the Top 10 or so, but could still have an impact down the road?
Ben Badler: Of the players not in the Top 10, I could see Jose Azocar, Zach Shepherd and A.J. Simcox all jumping into the Top 10 a year from now. Simcox is the closest of that group to the big leagues, while Azocar’s raw tools are among the best in the organization.
Warren (Texas): Any prospects of note coming up from the DSL or VSL?
Ben Badler: OF Julio Martinez is a power bat to watch. The strikeouts have to come down, but he showed the ability to take his power to the game at least against DSL pitchers, and he worked to become a more well-rounded player this year as opposed to a guy who only stood out for his raw power when he signed.
Craig (Ohio): Lots of doubts this time last year on Wynton Bernard. What are thoughts Now and did he come close to Top 10?
Ben Badler: He’s a terrific story who continues to surprise. They skipped him over a level and he still hit over .300 in Double-A. What he’s done so far is impressive, but I couldn’t find a scout who believed in him as a regular, and it was hard to find scouts who saw him as more than a reserve outfielder. The swing isn’t anything pretty to look at, but he’s not a big swing-and-miss guy and he’s had success now in the upper minors. There’s not much power there, but he puts the ball in play (usually on the ground) and uses his plus speed. I think he will get to the big leagues, I’m just skeptical of him holding down a regular role to stick around there for a long time. But so far he’s proven a lot of people wrong, so I wouldn’t be surprised either if he kept beating everyone’s expectations for him.
JJ (Ohio): Which of the Tigers prospects are closest to having an impact at the major-league level?
Ben Badler: Fulmer should help them at some point this year, but one of the problems with the system now is there isn’t much else on the farm that they can count on to help at the major league level in 2016, other than a handful of relievers who have already had a taste of the big leagues, barring a major evolution in plate discipline from Steven Moya.
Jon (Canada): Thanks for doing this chat. I was wondering how close was Beau Burrows to being the Tigers number 1 prospect? Or is there a big gap between him and Fulmer.
Ben Badler: I like Burrows, and I think he could be at Fulmer’s level as a prospect within a year or two, but Fulmer’s polish, dominance at Double-A and being right on the verge of making an impact at the major league level gave him a pretty clear advantage over Burrows.
Sean (Grand Rapids, MI): Ben, With a Cuban GM now in place any chance we'll see the Tigers bigger on Cuban free agents?
Ben Badler: I don’t think that will have any impact on the Tigers’ personnel decisions. Even though they haven’t ultimately signed any of them, the Tigers have been involved on Cuban players in recent years, including some of the top ones, so I expect they will continue to be involved in that market, probably more so for the older, pool-exempt players than a younger prospects like a Jorge Ona or Adrian Morejon.
Koz (Seattle): Fulmer seems to have the right tools and most value as a starter yet there is talk of making him a reliever. Any merit to making him a RP now?
Ben Badler: I don’t think there are any plans to make him a reliever. The stuff and control are there for him to start, the only major question about him as a starter is his durability, given his track record. He’s definitely going into 2016 as a starter and should stay in that role unless there’s a health/durability issue that comes up in the future that would prevent him from being able to handle a starter’s workload.
M@ (along the Detroit River): Can Kevin Ziomek be a fixture in a starting rotation? What would you say his major hurdle is at this time?
Ben Badler: I wouldn’t expect a frontline guy, but yes, he projects as a starter, probably in the back of the rotation. There isn’t one pitch in his repertoire I’d hang a 60 on, but it’s a solid mix across the board, there’s deception, he’s been durable and he pounds the strike zone. I’m a little surprised he hasn’t moved through the system more quickly because he’s fairly polished for the levels he’s been assigned to so far.
Ben Badler: Thanks everyone for the questions, lots of good ones today and I’m always impressed with the depth of prospects we get questions about. Should be a fun week next week at BA with Indians, Twins and Astros prospect lists going up. Have a great weekend.