Sign Up! Join our newsletters, get a FREE e-Edition
Turner rated as the top righthander in a standout class of high school arms in the 2009 draft. He dominated on the showcase circuit the previous summer, highlighted by five straight strikeouts at the Aflac All-America Game, then added some polish as a senior at Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis. His pitching coach was former all-star closer Todd Worrell, and ex-big leaguers Andy Benes and Mike Matheny also had sons on the team. To their credit, the Tigers never let a lecture from Bud Selig scare them away from getting the top player on their draft board, so they took Turner with the No. 9 overall pick and signed him away from a commitment to North Carolina with a $5.5 million big league contract. The deal included a $4.7 million bonus, setting a since-broken record for a high school pitcher. Turner signed too late to pitch in the minors in 2009, and he made just one appearance in instructional league before developing shoulder stiffness and getting shut down as a precaution. Turner made his pro debut in April but made just two starts at low Class A West Michigan before getting sidelined again with minor elbow stiffness. He returned three weeks later and made 21 more starts without incident, earning a promotion to high Class A Lakeland in June. Turner has the ideal frame for a power pitcher. He throws both two- and four-seam fastballs, sitting at 92-94 mph and peaking at 96. In addition to its easily above-average velocity, Turner's fastball also has heavy sink. While Turner was polished for a prep pitcher, he was able to carve up high school lineups by simply blowing his heater by hitters, so he entered pro ball with secondary pitches that needed refinement. He made strides with both his curveball and changeup in 2010. He throws a 12-6 curve that can get a little short but also shows glimpses of being an upper-70s hammer. His changeup should become at least a solid third pitch, with a chance to be better. Turner throws strikes but will need to sharpen his command within the strike zone as he climbs the ladder. Doing so shouldn't be a problem because he's a good athlete with a strong work ethic and relatively clean mechanics though his delivery could use a little more fluidity. Turner shows terrific savvy and mound presence for his age, mixing his pitches well and rarely gets rattled. He has the swagger scouts want to see in a pitcher projected for the front of a major league rotation. He still has to add the strength to take the ball every fifth day and work deeper into games. He averaged fewer than five innings per start in 2010 and has never pitched in the 7th inning. Turner likely will start 2011 where he finished 2010, in Lakeland. But the Tigers are not shy about promoting their prospects, so he could make the jump to Double-A Erie by the beginning of June. If he continues to progress like he did last season, he could make it to Detroit before the end of 2012. Turner won't reach the big leagues as quickly as Rick Porcello, who went from a high school first-rounder to the big leagues in 22 months, but he has a higher ceiling.
Castellanos put himself on the map by winning the 2009 Under Armour All-American Game home run derby and then going 4-for-4 with four doubles in the showcase. He rose near the top of the Tigers' 2010 draft board, and they were thrilled to land him with their first pick, No. 44 overall. He signed two minutes before the Aug. 16 deadline for a supplemental first-round record $3.45 million bonus. Castellanos generates exciting loft and leverage, and he has the power to hit the ball out to any part of the park. He could hit 20-25 homers annually as he learns to turn on more pitches. Detroit also likes his swing and envisions him as a potential .300 hitter. Others don't think he'll make enough contact to hit for that high of an average. As with many tall, young hitters, his long arms leave him exposed against hard stuff on the inner half of the plate. A shortstop in high school, Castellanos immediately moved to third base as a pro. He made the transition seamlessly and projects as an average defender with an arm a tick above average. He's a solid runner. Castellanos got a brief taste of pro ball after signing and likely will begin 2011 in low Class A. He's probably at least three years away from Detroit.
The NCAA sued Oliver in 2008 for having an adviser during 2006 negotiations with the Twins, when they drafted him out of high school. Reinstated after receiving a $750,000 settlement, he went in the second round of the 2009 draft and signed for $1.495 million. Oliver made his major league debut 10 months after signing, but returned to the minors after five starts. Oliver has a loose arm that produces an electric 93-94 mph fastball that tops out at 96. While he threw mostly fastballs during his junior year at Oklahoma State, he worked hard to regain confidence in his secondary offerings. His changeup ranks ahead of his slider at this point, though both still need more consistency. His 81-85 mph slider has more vertical break than tilt. Oliver needs to sharpen his command and focus on keeping balls in the lower half of the strike zone. He cleaned up his delivery this year, keeping his hips closed longer and no longer landing on his heel. Oliver still needs more time in the minors. The Tigers want him to begin in Triple-A Toledo's rotation in 2011 and project him as an impact starter.
Though he previously hadn't played higher than the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Martinez spent the last week of 2009 in high Class A and returned there last May at age 19. He has played against older competition since he was a child, so the Tigers figured he could handle the assignment. He survived and Detroit continued to challenge him by sending him to the Arizona Fall League. Martinez has a good frame with present strength and projection remaining. He has all the raw tools of a prototypical third baseman, with the added bonus of above-average speed. With a quick bat and a flat swing path, he produces a lot of hard groundballs and line drives. While he hit just three homers in 2010, he should have solid over-the-fence power as he continues to physically mature and learns to deal with more experienced pitchers. Martinez has soft hands and a strong arm at third base, but he needs to clean up his footwork and cut down on mental mistakes. He made 17 errors in 86 games last season. Martinez should get his first taste of Double-A in 2011 and could be ready to take over third base for the Tigers when Brandon Inge's contract expires after the 2012 season. If Nick Castellanos is as good as advertised, Martinez may have to move to the outfield.
His father Bruce won three minor league batting titles and played briefly in the majors, allowing Daniel to grow up around the game. He homered in batting practice at Comerica Park as a 12-year-old in 2003, when Bruce was the Tigers' batting coach. Detroit signed Fields away from a Michigan commitment with a $1.625 million bonus as a sixth-round pick in 2009, then made him the youngest regular in the high Class A Florida State League in his 2010 pro debut. The system's best athlete, Fields has above-average speed and power potential. He showed maturity while jumping from Michigan high school baseball to high Class A, remaining patient at the plate and holding his own. He's still learning how to recognize pitches and deal with quality lefthanders. The Tigers would like to see him put his speed to better use on the basepaths. Drafted as a shortstop, Fields moved to center field and adjusted well, though he's still learning to throw from a higher arm slot to give his throws more carry. Fields will almost certainly repeat in Lakeland. That shouldn't be taken as a slight, but the Tigers are in a tough spot with Fields--they can't send him down after a respectable year, but he's definitely not ready for Double-A yet.
After signing for $748,500 as a fifth-round pick in 2007, Crosby hurt his elbow in the instructional league that fall and required Tommy John surgery. He spent 2008 rehabbing and came back strong the following year, but 2010 was a lost season. A talented wide receiver in high school, Crosby has a football mentality and may have pushed too hard to make a quick recovery, which cost him most of the 2010 season. He made just three starts because he wasn't able to pitch without pain, though doctors didn't find any structural damage in his elbow and he did not require surgery. When Crosby is right, his stuff is undeniable. He has well above-average velocity for a lefthander, sitting at 92-95 mph and getting as high as 98 with late life on his fastball while using his height to get good plane on the pitch. He mixes in a true curveball that shows potential to be an above-average pitch with tight rotation and late break. He also shows some feel for a changeup. He needs to work on the consistency and command of all of his pitches--no surprise, considering he has just 122 innings of pro experience. If healthy, Crosby will start the 2011 season in high Class A, but the Tigers still have to see how he feels and looks during spring training. As talented as he is, there are serious questions about whether he'll be able to handle a starter's workload.
The son of lefthander Bruce Ruffin, who pitched 12 seasons in the majors, Chance followed in his father's footsteps by attending Texas. He moved to the Longhorns bullpen as a junior last spring and led NCAA Division I in strikeouts per nine innings (13.5) while ranking second in ERA (1.11) and third in saves (14). He signed at the deadline for $1.15 million as a sandwich pick. Because of his size, stuff, makeup and alma mater, Ruffin draws comparisons to former Longhorns closer Huston Street. Ruffin's fastball sat at 89-91 mph when he was a starter, and it has jumped to 90-93 mph and gotten as high as 95 since he became a reliever. His fastball also has tremendous life, but his 78-82 mph wipeout slider is easily his best pitch--and the best slider in the Tigers system. He'll also mix in a curveball against lefthanders and an occasional changeup, though he'll likely scrap the latter pitch as a reliever. While some scouts believed Ruffin could succeed as a starter, the Tigers intend to put him on the fast track as a reliever. They sent him to the Arizona Fall League for his first exposure to pro ball. He'll likely start 2011 in Double-A, but his polished repertoire and no-nonsense mentality on the mound give him a chance to appear in Detroit later in the season.
Smyly had back problems as a high school senior and redshirted his first season at Arkansas with a stress fracture in his elbow. He struck out 12 while beating Oklahoma in a regional championship game in 2009, setting the stage for becoming the Razorbacks' ace last spring. A draft-eligible sophomore, he signed for $1.1 million as a second-rounder. Smyly throws a lot of strikes and has an exceptional feel for pitching. He knows what it's like to pitch in big situations and he did well under the Friday night lights in the Southeastern Conference. His best pitches are an 89-92 mph fastball with some sink and armside run, and a low- to mid-80s cutter. He still needs to refine his curveball, which occasionally shows good depth, and his changeup, which he throws too hard at 84-86 mph. He has a few things to clean up in his delivery--he has a little wrist wrap and his front side can be a little stiff--but the Tigers are impressed with how easily the ball comes out of his hand. He gets good downhill plane on his fastball. Projecting as a mid-rotation starter, Smyly probably will make his pro debut in high Class A. Given his polish and Detroit's propensity to put pitchers on the fast track, he could reach the big leagues toward the end of 2012.
Garcia signed out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old for $200,000. He made his U.S. debut as the youngest regular in the low Class A Midwest League in 2009, and the Tigers decided to have Garcia return to West Michigan last season because of his youth. Still one of the youngest players in the MWL, he improved his numbers across the board and cemented his reputation as one of the toolsiest players in Detroit's system. Garcia passes the eye test at 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, and he has the tools to match his impressive frame. He's an above-average runner with long, graceful strides and covers a lot of ground in right field. He has the bat speed and strength to be an average hitter with at least average power. Because he's so young, Garcia still has a lot of learning to do. He's a free swinger who needs to improve his pitch recognition and discipline. He has difficulty pulling his hands in on pitches on the inner half of the plate. He makes youthful mistakes with his solid arm and on the basepaths. Garcia will move up to high Class A in 2011, starting the season as one of the Florida State League's few teenagers. He may require a year at each level, but that still would put him in Detroit at age 22.
Signed out of Venezuela in 2006, Ortega didn't reach full-season ball until his fourth year as a pro. Once he did, he pitched at three levels and vaulted all the way to Double-A in 2010. Ortega has a small frame but he's wiry strong and has a quick arm that generates blistering 94-95 mph fastballs that get as high as 98. He has a short arm action and a high three-quarters arm slot, so his fastball is fairly flat and straight. He tends to fall in love with his heater, and the Tigers would like him to mix his pitches more efficiently. His 81-85 mph slider can get slurvy, but it also shows flashes of being an above-average pitch. His changeup is below average and just for show. Ortega throws with some effort in his delivery. His front side can be a little stiff and he lands upright with a head whack, leading to command problems. Ortega has the power fastball succeed as a late-inning reliever. He'll likely begin 2011 back in Double-A, working to smooth out his delivery and mix up his sequencing. If he can do that, he could be in Detroit's high octane bullpen by the end of the season.
After Blake Tekotte and Jason Kipnis went off the board in the third and fourth round to the Padres in the 2008 draft, Tigers scouting director David Chadd had Dirks as a gut-feel sleeper he liked nearly as much. He flew under the radar as a senior at Wichita State that spring, even after hitting .388/.498/.632. Dirks has a contact-oriented approach and sprays the ball to all fields with a balanced, compact swing. Though he hit 15 homers last season, he profiles more as a gap-power guy who might hit 8-12 longballs per year. Scouts say he drifts to his front side too much in his swing and has to cheat to hit good fastballs. This causes him to commit his hands early, so he's often out in front against good breaking balls. He put up impressive numbers en route to being named Detroit's 2010 minor league player of the year, though he batted just .248/.290/.303 against lefthanders. Dirks is a solid-average runner who gets good enough jumps in the outfield to get the job done in center, though his fringy arm plays better in left. He doesn't have standout tools, but he grows on managers because he plays the game the right way and always gives 100 percent. If it all works out, he could be a David Dellucci-type regular, and he should at least have value as a fourth outfielder. Dirks figures to open 2011 in Triple-A, where he hit well last August.
After posting a 1.64 ERA in his first two pro seasons since signing for $15,000 as a 10th-round college senior, Weinhardt picked up where he left off last year. He made it to the big leagues in July, 11 days behind Andy Oliver, his former Oklahoma State roommate. Weinhardt may have made his major league debut sooner if not for a shoulder strain that sidelined him for a month. He uses a low, almost sidearm slinging arm action that makes it difficult for hitter to pick up his pitches. His fastball sits at 90-93 mph with good sink, generating a lot of groundballs. His fastball straightens out when he leaves it up in the zone, and he quickly learned that he doesn't have the gas to just blow it by big league hitters. To combat that problem, he's working to create a little more downward angle to the plate. Weinhardt also throws an 81-84 mph slider that can get a little sweepy. He occasionally mixes in a changeup but is mostly a two-pitch guy. He pitched well enough to lay claim to a middle relief spot on Detroit's Opening Day roster in 2011.
In 2010, his first full season in the United States, Rondon led the Gulf Coast League in saves (15) and opponent average by a reliever (.133). He wasn't comfortable with the over-the-top arm slot he opened the year with, so the Tigers dropped him down to angle slightly below three-quarters at midseason, and he really took off. Rondon sits at 92-94 mph with his heavy, sinking fastball and dials it up as high as 98. He also throws a slider in the mid-80s that shows flashes of being a plus pitch, but it's inconsistent and flattens out when he gets under it from his new arm slot. Despite thighs the size of tree trunks, Rondon doesn't really utilize his lower half in his delivery. Perhaps because of his new arm slot, some inconsistencies in his mechanics or just his youth, Rondon can struggle with his command. He'll need to improve the location of his pitches and the reliability of his slider, but he has the weapons to help the big league bullpen in a few years. He finished 2010 in high Class A and could return there this season.
Since breaking Lakeland's franchise record with 29 homers in 2008, Strieby has struggled to stay healthy. He broke the hamate bone in his left wrist that August and has spent five different stints on the disabled list with related problems, playing a total of just 162 games the last two seasons. Both years, the Tigers had to nix plans to send Strieby to the Arizona Fall League. When he's healthy, Strieby has above-average power. The hulking slugger projects as an average hitter, with the ability to stay inside the ball well and good bat speed that allows him to catch up to quality fastballs. He's still working on pitch identification, which isn't surprising considering all the time he's missed. He also has a tendency to get out on his front foot too soon and he's susceptible to chasing pitches up in the strike zone. Because the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera at first base, they had Strieby play mostly in left field last season. While he showed improvement compared to 2009, he still wasn't pretty as an outfielder. He's a well below-average runner with average arm strength. Health and defensive limitations likely will make Strieby more of an impact bat off the bench rather than an everyday contributor. He still needs more Triple-A at-bats before he's ready for the majors.
Below missed most of 2009 after having Tommy John surgery, but he's been very effective when healthy. He was the Tigers' minor league pitcher of the year and led the Midwest League with 160 strikeouts in 2007. A year later, he topped the Florida State League with 126 whiffs. Below made a quick recovery from elbow reconstruction and paced the Double-A Eastern League with 28 starts in 2010. Detroit was cautious with him, generally limiting him to 85 pitches per start. Though Below has an effortless delivery and looks like he's just playing catch, his fastball sits at 90-94 mph. He can vary the speed on his curveball, which can be a swing-and-miss pitch at times. He also mixes in a slurvy slider and a changeup with some sink. Command is often the last thing to come back following Tommy John surgery, but Below actually located his pitches better last year than he did before he got hurt. Added to the 40-man roster in November, he could fit into the back of the Tigers' rotation as early as the second half of 2011.
Hoffman got plenty of exposure at Oklahoma powerhouse Owasso High in 2007, when he played alongside Cardinals first-round pick Pete Kozma. Hoffman entered his senior year as a center fielder but showed good arm strength on the mound, getting up to 91-92 mph. Many teams worried about his strong commitment to Oklahoma, but the Tigers nabbed him with a 26th-round pick and a $175,000 bonus. The athletic Hoffman continues to develop as a pitcher, making that investment look worth while. He became a full-time reliever in 2010 after splitting time between the rotation and bullpen in his first two pro seasons. His velocity took off when he worked shorter stints, as Hoffman now sits at 93-95 mph with his fastball and can reach back to hit 97. He also has done a nice job of tightening his 82-85 mph slider, which has good tilt. He'll flash an occasional 85-mph changeup with some sink and fade, but it's mostly just a pitch to give hitters something else to think about. He clearly prefers his fastball-slider combination. Hoffman's body is a little soft, but he has an easy delivery and works fast. His control disintegrated and he got pounded after a promotion to Double-A last year, so he'll try again to solve that level in 2011.
The Tigers aren't generally big spenders in Latin America, but they still get a good bang for their buck. Signing Oliveros for $8,500 out of Venezuela in 2005 is a case in point. He had his best season since coming to the United States in 2010, dominating high Class A hitters and finishing strong in Double-A to earn a spot on the 40-man roster. Oliveros profiles as a middle reliever and works mostly off his fastballs, using a 91-92 mph twoseamer with sink and a 94-96 mph four-seamer with good run. He doesn't quite hold his velocity when used in consecutive games, topping out at 93 on the second day. His best secondary pitch is a changeup that could be a solid-average offering. His 80-83 mph slider has lazy, slurvy action and gets hit hard, so he rarely throws it. Despite his clean delivery and easy arm action, Oliveros still is seeking consistent control and command. Though he had trouble finding the strike zone in Double-A, he'll advance to Triple-A to start 2011.
Villarreal became a full-time starter in 2011 and put together a strong season, pitching well throughout and finishing in Double-A. He has bounced back from Tommy John surgery in 2007 and claimed a spot on Detroit's 40-man roster in November. Villarreal isn't big, but he has wiry strength to his frame and good arm speed. While he didn't reach the mid-90s as often as he did in 2009, he pitched at 90-94 mph with his fastball last season. His fastball is mostly straight, so he can get hit when he doesn't keep it down in the strike zone. His slider shows flashes of becoming an above-average offering but often breaks too early, making it easy for the hitters to see out of his hand. He gained more confidence in his changeup in 2010, but it too can be simple to spot. Villarreal pitches with good tempo and shows strong mound presence. The Tigers want him to trust his defenders more instead of trying to strike everyone out. Detroit will continue to start Villarreal so he can get innings to sharpen his secondary pitches but his future role is likely in the bullpen. He'll probably open 2011 back in Erie.
Wells was one of just two minor leaguers to hit 25 homers and steal 25 bases in 2008, but he missed half of the following season when he broke the hamate bone in his left hand in April. Healthy again in 2010, he made his major league debut in May and played well when he got regular time in September. Scouts still wonder about his long-term ability with the bat, because there are a lot of moving parts to Wells' swing. He has some raw power, but he struggles to hit quality fastballs, especially up in the zone, and has trouble recognizing breaking balls. He may never make enough consistent contact or hit for a high average. Wells has solid speed but has succeeded in just 15 of 32 basestealing attempts since his breakout 2008 season. He's a respectable center fielder who fits best in right field. He has the best outfield arm in the system, with above-average strength and accuracy. Wells' holes at the plate will limit him to being a role player in the big leagues, but he could be useful with his power, speed and ability to play all three outfield spots.
Though Holaday has more of a reputation as a defensive standout, he finished his amateur career by tying a College World Series with four homers in one tournament. As a junior in 2009, he was one of just four college players to hit a homer off Stephen Strasburg. A sixth-round pick last June, Holaday signed for $115,000 and ran out of gas after reporting directly to high Class A. While his stroke is unorthodox, he consistently puts the barrel on the ball. He does have some strength, but his power is more suited to drive the ball to the gaps rather than over the fence. Like most catchers, he's a below-average runner. Holaday's best tools are his strong arm and his receiving ability, and he's also a hard-nosed leader who calls a good game. He sometimes gets too quick on his throws, costing him accuracy. He threw out just 21 percent of basestealers in his pro debut. Holaday figures to begin 2011 back in Lakeland and could move quickly.
A 46th-round pick by the Nationals out of high school, Brantly headed to UC Riverside rather than turn pro. He ranked as the Northwoods League's top prospect in the summer of 2009, then followed up with a strong season last spring that got him drafted in the third round as a sophomore-eligible. Signed for $330,300, he's a consistent defensive catcher with a patient approach at the plate. Brantly projects as an average hitter who sprays line drives to all fields and has a good idea of the strike zone. His present power grades as below average, but the Tigers see strength in his swing and believe he could develop into a 15-homer hitter. To tap into that power, he'll need to incorporate more of a load into his swing. He's more athletic and runs better than most catchers. Brantly also moves well behind the plate and has a strong, accurate throwing arm with a quick release. Despite his defensive reputation, Brantly looked a little stiff and mechanical behind the plate in his pro debut, and he threw out just 23 percent of basestealers. He did look more fluid later in the summer, so he may have just developed some rust after the college season ended. Brantly could begin his first full pro season in high Class A, though that might mean splitting time at catcher with fellow 2010 draftee Bryan Holaday.
After a solid freshman season at Alabama, Iorg spent two years in Portugal on a Mormon mission. The Tigers believed enough in his talent to pay him $1.5 million as a sixth-round pick after he finished his assignment in 2007, diverting him from transferring to Arizona State. Detroit made the investment in part because of Iorg's bloodlines, as his father Garth and uncle Dane both played in the big leagues. However, hitting is tough enough without a two-year layoff, and Iorg has struggled mightily as a pro. He's career .228/.283/.358 hitter whose production has declined in each of his three full pro season. Iorg is a gifted athlete with a sound stroke, bat speed and some raw power, but his pitch recognition is poor and he regularly swings through offspeed pitches. He's overly aggressive and scouts question how well he can see the ball. He doesn't make adjustments at the plate and often loads too late to get his hands going in time against good velocity. Despite his offensive shortcomings, Iorg may still get a shot as a major league regular because of his prowess with the glove. He's a special defender with extraordinary range and hands. His arm is also an asset, though it wasn't on full display last year, when he experienced some shoulder stiffness late in the season. Though Detroit added Iorg to the 40-man roster in November, it also re-signed Johnny Peralta to a two-year contract. That likely limits Iorg to a reserve role with the Tigers, though he'll have to improve offensively before he gets that opportunity.
Nunez's stock soared when he hit .315/.360/.425 in low Class A in 2009. His bat came back to earth last season, but his glove remained his calling card. Managers rated him the best defensive shortstop in the Florida State League in 2010. He has fluid actions, terrific footwork and one of the strongest arms in the system. He cam make routine and flashy plays alike, and can throw out runners from deep in the hole. Nunez has 65 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale, with his quickness giving him plus range at shortstop and also making him a basestealing threat. He was more efficient with his speed last year, improving his basestealing success rate to 80 percent, up from 66 percent in 2009. After his rough 2010 season at the plate, Nunez will have to prove he can hit enough to be a big league regular. He has a slender frame that lacks strength, so he utilizes a slap-and-slash approach. He has little power and is too impatient at the plate, striking out too much and rarely drawing walks. He'll need to repeat high Class A, which isn't a good sign for a 23-year-old.
Vasquez represents a rare exception to the Tigers' usually thrifty approach in Latin America, as they paid $1.2 million to sign him out of Venezuela in July. He had been on the team's radar since he was 14, which made Detroit more comfortable giving him the largest international signing bonus in team history. With broad shoulders and a high waist on his 6-foot-2, 170-pound frame, Vasquez has room to add muscle and projects to be a physical player in four or five years. There are a lot of moving parts to his swing right now and he was overmatched against the competition in instructional league, but his raw tools are exciting. He has above-average bat speed and good barrel control. He uses the whole field and should grow into home run power as he gets stronger. Vasquez has played some center field, but his average speed and plus arm have him destined for right field. He'll make his pro debut in Rookie ball this year, probably in the Venezuelan Summer League.
The last big league position player to come out of Western Kentucky was catcher Chris Turner, an Angels 1991 seventh-round pick. Gaynor went four rounds higher in 2009 after turning in a 20-20 season, leading the Hilltoppers to the NCAA regional finals and impressing Tigers scouts with his power at a predraft workout at Comerica Park. He's big and strong and has a quick bat, so it's no surprise that his most obvious tool is his raw power. He won't be able to tap into it or hit for a decent average, however, if he can't lay off breaking balls on the outer half of the plate and make more consistent contact. His swing can get long and he struggles to pull his hands in against inside fastballs. Gaynor is surprisingly athletic for his size and used his average speed to steal 11 bases in 2010. His athleticism doesn't translate well at third base, however. He has slow reactions and limited range. His arm is average, but his funky throwing motion makes it difficult for him to throw from different slots. He is a hard worker with good makeup, but he faces an uphill battle with Nick Castellanos and Francisco Martinez ahead of him on the organization's third-base depth chart. Gaynor will spend 2011 in high Class A.
Just seven players born in Maine have appeared in the big leagues, and Furbush is on the verge of making it eight after shooting three levels to Triple-A and ranking second in the minors with 183 strikeouts in 2010. His path has been circuitous, as he started his college career at NCAA Division III St. Joseph's (Maine) before starring in the Cape Cod League and transferring to Louisiana State. After the Tigers made him a fourth-round pick in 2007, he missed his first full pro season after having Tommy John surgery. Despite his strikeouts, Furbush doesn't have overpowering stuff. In fact, he doesn't have a true plus pitch, relying more on the deception in his funky delivery to generate swings and misses. He pitches with a high elbow and falls off the mound, which makes it difficult for him to maintain a consistent release point and leads to command difficulties at times. Furbush works with an 89-91 mph fastball, a loopy curveball and a straight changeup. His curve has tighter spin when he pitches from the stretch, which could mean his future is in relief. After grabbing a 40-man roster spot in November, he'll probably open 2011 in Toledo.
Wilk went from an 11th-round pick in 2009 to the Tigers' minor league pitcher of the year in 2010. He led Detroit farmhands with a 2.74 ERA and topped the Florida State League in fewest walks per nine innings (1.2). While many of the Tigers' best pitching prospects have big-time velocity, Wilk gets by more with command and control, a four-pitch mix and guile. His fastball sits at 86-89 mph, reaching 92 on occasion. He locates his fastball to all four quadrants of the strike zone, and he changes speeds to keep hitters off balance. He has good feel for an average curveball and a cutter/slider. His best pitch is a 77-80 mph changeup that he throws with the same arm speed as his fastball. Wilk has some funk to his delivery, which adds to his deception. He helps his cause with his attention to detail, including meticulous preparation between starts. He projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter. Wilk finished his first full pro season in Double-A and should return there in 2011.
The Tigers are one of the few teams that still has an academy in Venezuela, and it's no coincidence that seven Venezuelans made this Top 30 Prospects list. Machado gives Detroit another slick-fielding shortstop in the system, though like Cale Iorg and Gustavo Nunez he has yet to prove he can be a factor at the plate. In his U.S. debut in 2010, Machado stood out as the top shortstop in the Gulf Coast League. He's an acrobatic defender with fantastic range, smooth hands and a strong arm. At the plate, Machado has a short swing and a contact oriented approach. He lacks power and knows his limitations, but could have some pop as his wiry frame fills out. He's a slightly above-average runner who should steal a few bases. He'll likely start 2011 in extended spring training before heading to short-season Connecticut in June.
Detroit knew Ryan better than any team. Auburndale (Fla.) High, his alma mater, is located just 10 miles from the Tigers' complex in Lakeland, and he pitched for their team in the East Coast Professional Showcase in the summer of 2009. That fall, he pitched for the U.S. 18-and-under team that won a gold medal at the Pan Am Championships in Venezuela. When Ryan came out throwing 84-86 mph in his first start last spring, several scouts backed off of him, figuring he'd be better off following through on his commitment to South Florida. Detroit continued to monitor him and saw his fastball rise to 89-92 mph late in his senior season, which was enough for the club to invest a 12th-round pick and $100,000 bonus. A lanky lefthander with a low three-quarters arm angle, Ryan resembles White Sox first-rounder Chris Sale when Sale was coming out of high school in the same part of Florida three years earlier. Though Ryan shows the potential for a good slider, it's still inconsistent and he sometimes tips it off by dropping his arm slot a little. His changeup occasionally has some drop, but it still needs a lot of work. Ryan has enough stuff and maturity to handle a low Class A assignment as a teenager this year. The Tigers are intrigued by his projectability.
Nelson went from a Minnesota high school to Des Moines Area CC, where he turned down the Rays as a 45th-round pick in 2009, to Auburn. He had an inconsistent junior season at Auburn, going 6-3, 5.64 as a starter, but shaved nearly five runs off his ERA in his pro debut after signing for $90,000 as a 10th-round pick. Detroit lengthened Nelson's stride and raised his arm slot, boosting his fastball from 89-92 mph to 94-95. His heater has some sink and tailing action, and it gets on hitters quick because his size allows him to release the ball closer to the plate than most pitchers. His breaking ball is a slurve that breaks down more than laterally. He also mixes in a low-80s changeup, but it's a below-average pitch that he needs to use more to gain feel for it. Nelson has an extra-large frame but below-average athleticism, and his stiffness makes it more difficult for him to repeat his delivery and throw strikes. He finished his first pro summer by allowing one hit in two starts in high Class A, and he may return to Lakeland to begin 2011. He'll have to improve his secondary pitches to make it as a starter, but his newfound velocity alone could be nearly enough for him to have a big league career as a lefthanded reliever.