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|TOP 10 PROSPECTS|
|1. Michael Fulmer, rhp|
|2. Beau Burrows, rhp|
|3. Mike Gerber, of|
|4. Christin Stewart, of|
|5. JaCoby Jones, ss|
|6. Kevin Ziomek, lhp|
|7. Joe Jimenez, rhp|
|8. Dixon Machado, ss|
|9. Spencer Turnbull, rhp|
|10. Derek Hill, of|
After winning the American League Central division four years in a row, the Tigers plummeted to last place with a 74-87 record in 2015.
Where they go from here remains uncertain. The World Series-champion Royals are now the favorites in the AL Central, and while the rest of the division isn’t insurmountable, the Tigers look like a team whose window for contention has closed, without the young talent on the farm system to help turn things around.
Since 2010, the highest the Tigers’ farm system has placed on the talent rankings is No. 22, so a thin prospect crop has never hampered them before. Shrewd trades and one of the game’s top payrolls were key during the organization’s stretch of division titles from 2011-14, but the architect of those deals is no longer in the organization. The Tigers fired general manager Dave Dombrowski in August and promoted Al Avila from assistant GM to take over, with the rest of the front office mostly remaining intact.
Now the Tigers are at a crossroads. Owner Mike Ilitch doesn’t want a full tear-it-down rebuild, so the Tigers continue to focus on 2016 instead of taking a step back.
A lot of things would have to go right for the Tigers to return to the postseason. Their offense ranked third in baseball with a .748 team OPS. The pitching staff, however, allowed the third-most runs in baseball.
David Price anchored the rotation, but he’s now gone. Justin Verlander looks more like a mid-rotation arm than an ace, while Anibal Sanchez’s ERA swelled to 4.99.
After losing Max Scherzer following the 2014 season and trading Price in 2015, the Tigers signed righthander Jordan Zimmermann to a five-year, $110 million contract. They also signed No. 5 starter Mike Pelfrey and reliever Mark Lowe while trading for bullpen arms Francisco Rodriguez and Justin Wilson.
The Tigers will need breakout seasons from the pitchers they acquired in 2015. Lefthanders Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd arrived from the Blue Jays in the Price deal. Norris has a chance to be a mid-rotation starter if he can improve his command. Righthander Michael Fulmer, acquired from the Mets for Yoenis Cespedes, is now the organization’s top prospect. He could get to the big leagues by midseason.
A handful of relief prospects with low ceilings could help in 2016, but the best talent in the system still is at least a couple of years away. Top arms Beau Burrows and Kevin Ziomek and outfielders Mike Gerber and Christin Stewart have promise, but they won’t be factors in 2016.
In a perfect-world scenario, veterans such as Verlander and Miguel Cabrera stay healthy and produce at close to peak levels, third baseman Nick Castellanos takes a step forward and the bullpen outperforms expectations, while young pitchers like Norris and Fulmer contribute in a hurry. More likely, the Tigers might find their 2016 record will look a lot like it did in 2015.