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Going back to his amateur days, Fulmer always has been a talented arm overshadowed by others. As a high school senior in 2011 in Oklahoma, when he was teammates with current Marlins farmhand Brian Anderson, Fulmer drew the attention of scouts for his big fastball, but he was considered to be in the second tier of the state's high school class behind Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley. He signed with the Mets that year for $937,500 as the No. 44 overall pick and made slow, steady progress through the system, though again he got upstaged in a system replete with talented power arms like Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. Limited to nine starts in 2013 after having surgery in spring training to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, Fulmer put together a solid season in 2014 and finally reached Double-A at the end of the year for one start before he had surgery at the end to clean out a bone spur and bone chips from his elbow. While the promise and potential was always evident, the results never quite matched the pure stuff until 2015, when Fulmer led the Eastern League in ERA (2.12) and strikeouts per nine innings (8.9) and was named the EL pitcher of the year. He changed teams but stayed in the league when he was the primary trade chip (along with righthander Luis Cessa) in the July 31 deal that sent Yoenis Cespedes from the Tigers to the Mets. It was a no-brainer for the Tigers to place Fulmer on the 40-man roster in November, thus shielding him from the Rule 5 draft. Ranked No. 13 in the Mets' farm system a year ago, Fulmer was one of the most improved pitching prospects in baseball in 2015. He has a big, physical frame and has two plus pitches, starting with a fastball that parks at 91-94 mph and can reach 97. It's a lively fastball with heavy sink that helps him generate an abundance of weak contact, with his groundball rate jumping to a career high level in 2015. Fulmer can generate weak contact early in the count with his heavy fastball or he can put hitters away when he gets to two strikes by using his power slider, a plus pitch with sharp two-plane break and good depth. Fulmer mostly relies on those two pitches, but he mixes in an occasional curveball along with a fringe-average changeup. Throwing slightly across his body, Fulmer has always been a solid strike-thrower, but he tightened up his control and his command in 2015 as he became more consistent with his ability to repeat his mechanics and his release point. Durability still remains a question for Fulmer. He logged a career-high 125 innings in 2015 and already has had one elbow operation. Fulmer has the stuff to be a No. 3 starter if he proves he can handle the increased workload. If not, he has the stuff to dominate in the back of the bullpen. As badly as the Tigers' bullpen has struggled, he brings more value to them if he can start, so the organization's plan is to keep him in the rotation. Fulmer probably will begin 2016 at Triple-A Toledo, but he could be pitching in the big league rotation by the all-star break.
Burrows put himself on the scouting radar at a young age, showing a plus fastball as a high school sophomore. The Tigers drafted him in 2015 at No. 22 overall and signed him for $2,154,200. He pitched effectively in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, though the Tigers kept him on a tight leash as he never threw more than three innings in a start. Burrows is generously listed at 6-foot-2, but he packs electric stuff into his compact build and is a solid strike-thrower. His best pitch is his fastball, which sits at 93-95 mph and can climb to 98. He can miss bats with his power curveball, which is still inconsistent but flashes plus and is a pitch he's able to throw for strikes. Burrows didn't need a changeup in high school, but when he did throw the pitch, it made quick progress and showed good sink, giving him a chance to have a third average to above-average pitch. While Burrows is generally around the plate, his delivery with an extreme amount of tilt is a concern for some scouts, as is his size. Others believe he will have plenty of durability and can develop into a frontline starter. The highest-ceiling pitching prospect in the organization, Burrows is still several years away from contributing at the major league level. He will start his first full season in low Class A West Michigan.
It didn't take long to realize that the Tigers snagged a sleeper in Gerber as a 15thround senior sign out of Creighton in 2014. After impressing scouts in his pro debut in the short-season New York-Penn League that summer, Gerber followed it up by hitting well in a conservative assignment to low Class A West Michigan, then built upon that with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Gerber is a well-rounded player with a mature hitting approach. He puts together quality at-bats, recognizes pitches well and has a sound swing with good balance. He's a short-armed hitter who keeps the barrel in the hitting zone for a long time, which enables him to make frequent contact and stay through the middle of the field. His strong wrists and forearms help him generate solid-average raw power to go deep to any part of the field, even in a pitcher's park, with a chance for 20 homers. A center fielder in college, Gerber moved to right field with the Tigers and has played well there, with average speed and an above-average arm. Some scouts remain skeptical of Gerber, believing he might top out as an extra outfielder along the lines of Tyler Collins. Others see a multi-dimensional player who could develop into an everyday right fielder with the ability to contribute at the plate and in the field more like Kole Calhoun. After Gerber's AFL success, he's a candidate to open 2016 in Double-A.
As a high school junior, Stewart set a single-season state record in Georgia with 26 home runs, then tied Micah Owings for the career home record (69). He added to his power-hitting pedigree at Tennessee and signed with the Tigers in 2015 for $1,795,100 as the No. 34 overall pick, which the Tigers received as compensation for Max Scherzer leaving. He had a league-best 14 hits in the postseason to help lead low Class A West Michigan to the Midwest League title. Stewart has a strong, physical build with plus bat speed and good leverage in his swing, which produces plus raw power to all fields. Stewart does damage when he connects with the fastball, but he's an aggressive hitter whose swing gets long and is prone to swinging through breaking balls with a pull approach, which gave scouts concern about his strikeout rate as an amateur. In college, Stewart had a habit of getting topspin on balls to his pull side, but in pro ball he started to pull balls with backspin, showing big power without excessive swing-and-miss in a tough league for hitters. Stewart doesn't bring much to the table on defense, with below-average tools in his speed and arm strength, limited him to left field. If Stewart can make the adjustment to breaking balls and continue to improve his contact rate, he could be an everyday left fielder. Stewart is ready to be tested in the high Class A Florida State League.
At Louisiana State, Jones mostly played second base, but he moved to shortstop when he joined the Pirates, staying there despite a knee injury that ended his pro debut and sidelined him for six months. He reached Double-A in late July, then a few days later was traded to the Tigers for Joakim Soria. He went to the Arizona Fall League, but he drew a 50-game suspension after a second positive test for what MLB called a "drug of abuse." Jones has a promising power-speed combination, though it remains questionable whether he will ever hit enough for the tools to translate. He has strong wrists and plus raw power. He rolls over too many groundballs, but when he gets the ball airborne, he uses the whole field and can go deep to any part of the park. Jones strikes out too much, a combination of a long swing and poor pitch recognition, as he chases too many pitches off the plate, especially breaking balls. With his plus speed, he's a 20-20 threat if he can become an average hitter. Jones isn't built like a prototypical wiry shortstop, but he's a good athlete with a strong arm who made impressive improvement in the field, making all the routine plays and improving his jumps off the bat. If Jones can tighten his plate discipline and put the barrel to the ball more frequently, he could be a dynamic shortstop, but it's a high-risk offensive profile. He will likely return to Double-A to start 2016.
After pitching for Vanderbilt, Ziomek signed with the Tigers for $956,600 as a second-round pick in 2013. For a fairly polished college draft pick, he has moved surprisingly slowly through the system one level at a time, leading the low Class A Midwest League in ERA (2.27) in 2014, then spending all of 2015 in the high Class A Florida State League, which he led with 143 strikeouts. While Michael Fulmer and Beau Burrows have high-octane stuff to blow hitters away, Ziomek relies more on his feel for pitching and a repertoire of solid stuff across the board. His fastball jumped slightly in 2015, sitting at 89-92 mph and touching 94 with good life and downhill plane, helping him generate groundballs. His changeup lagged in college, but he threw it with much more frequency in 2015 and it now flashes as a tick above-average pitch. He throws an average slider and a fringy curveball, though they can get sweepy and run together. Ziomek throws slightly across his body and isn't smooth with his mechanics, but it adds to his deception and he repeats his delivery, which makes him a prolific strike-thrower. Ziomek is ready for Double-A and could reach Detroit by the end of the season if the organization wants to push him. He could eventually slot into the back of the rotation.
Teams whiffed on Jimenez as an amateur, when he went undrafted out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in 2013 and signed with the Tigers as a nondrafted free agent. His velocity jumped quickly, with Jimenez quickly proving to be a bargain as he served as closer for low Class A West Michigan during its Midwest League championship run. He pitched well this winter in Puerto Rico (19-1 K-BB mark in 14 innings). Developed as a reliever since he signed, Jimenez struck out 38 percent of the batters he faced for West Michigan. Jimenez does it with two pitches, starting with a fastball that ranges from 94-99 mph. The fastball has sneaky late life, which combined with his velocity makes it a swing-and-miss pitch. Jimenez can also miss bats with his 55 slider, which he adds and subtracts from, throwing it with more force as a putaway pitch when he gets to a two-strike count. There's effort to Jimenez's delivery and his arm stroke is long, but he has deception, repeats his mechanics and is able to throw consistent strikes, with his stuff effective against both righties and lefties so far. Being a relief prospect limits his ceiling on Jimenez and he still has several levels to climb to get there, but he has the stuff and control to be a major league closer. He's advanced enough that the Tigers could fast-track him through the system if they wanted to do so, with high Class A Lakeland his next move.
Machado was once so frail that he managed just three extra-base hits in 124 games when he was in low Class A West Michigan in 2012. The next year, he struggled with leg injuries and didn't perform well at the plate, so the Tigers removed him from the 40-man roster. Since then, he's remained healthy and followed up a strong 2014 campaign at Double-A with a steady 2015 season in Triple-A, making his major league debut in May for a few games before returning as a September callup. When Machado was in Double-A Erie in 2014, hitting coach Larry Herndon helped him simplify his swing and his approach, which provided the springboard for his offensive turnaround. He's still unlikely to ever hit higher than the bottom of the order, but he uses his hands well at the plate, recognizes balls and strikes and puts the ball in play with a line-drive approach. He can sneak a ball over the fence to his pull side but is mostly a singles hitter who's unlikely to ever crack 10 home runs. Where Machado shines is in the field. Once a plus runner, he's filed out, battled leg injuries and now has average speed, but he has a quick first step, good range, smooth hands and a plus arm. Machado won't supplant Jose Iglesias in Detroit, but he's knocking on the door to get back to the big leagues and performed well in winter ball in Venezuela. His bat looks a touch short to be an everyday player, but he could fill in that role in case of an injury with a chance to stick around at least as a reserve because of his defense.
The Tigers have shown an affinity for drafting power arms out of the Southeastern Conference, a mold Turnbull fits. Signed for $900,000 as a secondround pick from Alabama in 2014, Turnbull pitched well in his first full season in low Class A Michigan, where he didn't allow a home run the entire year. Playing in a pitcher-friendly park in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League helped Turnbull keep the ball in the yard, but it's also difficult for hitters to get his fastball in the air. He added an extra tick of velocity in 2015, sitting at 93-95 mph and peaking at 99. The fastball combined big velo and movement, with hard, heavy sink that produces a lot of groundballs. Turnbull's fastball is his best pitch, but his slider has become an average pitch, though not a consistent swing-and-miss offering. Turnbull also throws a below-average changeup. The biggest developmental focus for Turnbull will be to improve his below-average control. With the effort in his delivery and his long arm action, that might be tricky for him to fix. Turnbull has a chance to stay in the rotation if he improves his changeup and his command, but many scouts see his most likely role as a reliever, with the power stuff that could play in the back of the bullpen. High Class A Lakeland will be his next step.
Hill, whose father Orsino played 12 pro season and now scouts for the Dodgers, signed with the Tigers for $2 million in their first-round pick in 2014. He missed time with lower back pain in 2014 after he signed, then in 2015 went on the disabled list for two weeks in April after pulling his left quadriceps. He returned, but re-aggravated the injury on July 10 and didn't play another game the rest of the season. Hill is the system's most explosive athlete, a 70 runner who glides around the outfield. His defensive instincts are polished for his age; he gets good jumps off the bat and takes direct routes to the ball, helping him cover plenty of ground in center field to go with an average, accurate arm. Hill has a quick swing, but he has a ways to go to become a productive hitter. Just before he got hurt, Hill had shown some progress going with where the ball is pitched, but he has to work to stay short to the ball. He's still learning how to turn on a ball with authority, as right now he typically only pulls the ball when he rolls one over for a groundout to the left side. He has below-average power, so he will have to improve his ability to hit for average and get on base to have value. After struggling in the low Class A Midwest League in 2015, Hill could return there to start 2016. He could break out with a full healthy season and the right adjustments, but he has proven to be more raw than initially expected.
Moya's ceiling is among the highest in the system, but his hitting approach still makes him a high-risk prospect. After a breakout 2014 season in which he finally stayed healthy and ranked fourth in the minors with 35 home runs, Moya struggled upon making the jump to Triple-A. He still has enormous raw power to all parts of the park, with 70 power coming from his bat speed, strength, lift and leverage in his swing. Moya's power will always come with a heavy dose of strikeouts, but he will have to make more contact and develop better plate discipline to bring his OBP back above .300. Moya's huge 6-foot-7 frame gives him a big strike zone to cover, but he doesn't do himself any favors by frequently chasing pitches off the plate. His long arms make it difficult for him to keep his swing short, and he's still trying to get comfort- able with his swing after tinkering with his stance throughout the season. A foot injury slowed Moya at the start of the season, but he's surprisingly athletic for his size with average speed and a plus arm in right field. Moya still has tantalizing power potential if he can become a more selective hitter, but if he doesn't, he might end up topping out along the lines of Carlos Peguero.
Had Farmer recorded one more out, he would have lost his prospect eligibility, but with 49 2/3 career major league innings, he narrowly sneaks in under the cutoff for the Prospect Handbook. After signing for $225,000 as a fifth-round pick in 2014, he made his major league debut in 2014 in his first full season after starting the year in the low Class A Midwest League. Farmer opened 2015 in Triple-A Toledo and as back in the big leagues for spot starts in May, June and July, but he got hammered around and shuttled back to Triple-A before re-joining Detroit in August, mostly as a reliever. Farmer has the three-pitch mix to be a starter, starting with a fastball that sits at 90-94 mph and touches 96 with sink and downhill plane. His breaking ball was his best secondary pitch in college, but his changeup now gets more swing-andmiss. It comes in a little firm off his fastball at 83-87 mph, but it has good movement and he's able to get hitters to chase and swing over the top of it, making it a solid-average pitch. He uses his slider just as much as his changeup, giving him a third average pitch. Farmer missed fewer bats in the big leagues and ran into trouble with his command, which he might always battle because of his funky delivery and long arm stroke. The organization is internally leaning toward using Farmer in a relief role, which would give him a better chance to begin 2016 in the majors.
Shepherd was a standout amateur player in Australia. At the 16U World Cup in 2011, Shepherd earned all-star honors at shortstop and was named the tournament's most outstanding defensive player. The 2011 Australian baseball youth player of the year, Shepherd signed with the Tigers one year later for $325,000, the top bonus for an Australian position player that year. Shepherd held his own in the jump to low Class A West Michigan. He has natural feel for hitting with good bat speed, leverage and the ability to hit to all fields, projecting as an average to slightly above-average hitter. He's started to fill out his frame since signing as expected, showing solid-average raw power and loft in batting practice, with scouts projecting him to be a 20-home run hitter. Shepherd did well to walk in 11 percent of his plate appearances, and while his strikeouts weren't excessive, he will have to refine his strike-zone judgment against better pitching. Shepherd grew up playing shortstop, so he's still getting used to third base, but he's athletic for his size, his hands work well in the field and he has an above-average arm, so he should be an average defender. He should move up to high Class A Lakeland next season.
Simcox was college teammates at Tennessee with Christin Stewart, who the Tigers drafted in the first round in 2015. In the 14th round, the Tigers picked Simcox and signed him for a well above slot bonus of $600,000. He struggled early with his swing after signing, but he hit better after jumping to low Class A West Michigan. Simcox is a smart, savvy player with good hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball skills. Once he got to West Michigan, he did a better job of stabilizing his lower half, which helped him pepper line drives, especially to the opposite field. Simcox has size and projection in his frame, but he's never shown much power, though that could come once he learns when to turn on a ball with more authority. Simcox is a smooth, steady defender with a good internal clock. An average runner, Simcox projects to stick at shortstop, where he has sure hands, slows the game down and has an above-average arm. Simcox is further away from the big leagues than Dixon Machado and isn't the same type of defender, but he has more offensive upside. If he shows he can develop more power, he could become an everyday player.
When the Tigers signed Azocar for $110,000 as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela, he had a promising tool package but his feel for the game was still crude. He's still on the raw side, but his baseball skills have progressed, catching the attention of scouts in his U.S. debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2015. Azocar is the system's most exciting position prospect below the full-season leagues. He's an athletic center fielder who draws praise for his defense, with plus speed, good range and an above-average arm. Azocar has a quick bat and makes consistent hard contact, with an approach geared for line drives rather than power. He's wiry strong and the ball jumps off his bat well already, so while he didn't hit any home runs in 2015, he should start to show more game power within the next few years to develop into a power-speed threat. A complete free-swinger when he signed, Azocar's approached has improved, but he still will need to be more selective with his plate discipline. If the selectivity improves, Azocar has breakout potential.
Labourt signed with the Blue Jays for $350,000 in 2011, pitched in the 2015 Futures Game in July, then later that month went to the Tigers along with fellow lefties Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd in the David Price trade. Labourt has a strong, physical build with a lively fastball that sits in the low-90s and can touch 95 mph. His sharp slider flashes above-average, sometimes creating more depth and tilt, sometimes shortening up with cutter-like action that makes it less effective. He throws a changeup too, though it's his third pitch and is usually below-average, though it could get better if he throws it more frequently. The problem for Labourt is that he doesn't get into enough counts to be able to work on his secondary pitches because he can't control his fastball and constantly falls behind hitters. That poor control got him lit up in 2015 and could lead him to the bullpen if he can't figure out how to throw more strikes.
Marte joined the Mets as one of their top July 2 prospects in 2007 on a $550,000 signing bonus. Marte's development stalled with the Mets, who traded him to the Athletics for outfielder Collin Cowgill after the 2012 season. He became a minor league free agent after the 2014 season, signed with the Tigers and reinvigorated his prospect status with a strong campaign at Triple-A Toledo, made his major league debut and hit a career-high 19 home runs between the two levels. Still 24, Marte has average raw power without much swing-and-miss in his game, hitting line drives with backspin that keep carrying. Toledo hitting coach Leon Durham helped him with his approach, which helped his power come out more in games in 2015. He's still pull-oriented and will have to use the opposite field more against major league pitching. Marte is a restricted runner but he's a solid athlete who has improved his defense over the years to become a steady defender at third base with a good arm. Marte likely won't get a chance to prove he can be an everyday third baseman in Detroit, but he could have a role as a righthanded bat off the bench who can split time between third and first base, possibly filling in at an outfield corner on occasion as well.
Cessa originally signed with the Mets as a shortstop, but he struggled badly at the plate in two seasons in the Dominican Summer League before moving to the mound. It would have been hard to tell that Cessa was a conversion guy because he immediately was able to fill up the strike zone. Under the radar most of his career, Cessa started capturing more attention in 2015 with his performance at Double-A Binghamton, including the attention of the Tigers, who traded for him and righthander Michael Fulmer in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline. Cessa's best pitch is his fastball, which sits in the low-90s and can touch 95 with solid sink and angle. His athleticism helps him repeat his delivery, which is why he has walked just 1.9 batters per nine innings in his career. The rest of his repertoire is fringy, including a changeup and a slurvy breaking ball. Cessa got hit harder once he got to Triple-A. He might be a fifth starter or a long reliever, though there's always a chance his stuff could tick up if moved to the bullpen.
Smith has a huge arm, though the results never quite matched the stuff in college. As a sophomore at Dallas Baptist, Smith split time between starting and relieving, posting a 5.79 ERA. Almost exclusively a reliever as a junior in 2015, he was a little better but still had a 3.97 ERA. The big fastball and athleticism were enticing enough for the Tigers to draft him in the third round and sign him for $575,800. Smith immediately fared better against pro hitters in the short-season New York-Penn League than he did in college, missing more bats and suddenly filling up the strike zone. Smith has an extremely quick arm that produces mid-90s fastball that can get up to 98 mph. Smith had flashed signs of an above-average curveball in the past, and while he struggled with the quality and location of that pitch in college, it showed sharp action to miss bats in pro ball. Smith battled his command at Dallas Baptist, but he walked just 1.5 batters per nine innings in his pro debut. There is effort in Smith's delivery that should keep him in the bullpen and might hamper his command, but it does provide for some deception.
When Moreno was 17, he was a 6-foot righthander with a live arm, physical projection and an average fastball. The $27,000 they invested to sign him out of the Dominican Republic could end up a bargain, as Moreno's velocity has skyrocketed since then. Strictly a relief prospect, Moreno sits in the mid-to-upper 90s and has reached 100 mph. He threw a curveball earlier in his career, but he's scrapped that in favor of a slider, which could develop into an average pitch but is still inconsistent. Moreno mostly works off his fastball and slider, which might be enough for him as a reliever, though the Tigers would like to see him use his changeup more to develop that nascent pitch. Gerson spent most of 2015 with short-season Connecticut, but he pitched well when he was promoted to low Class A West Michigan late in the season and during the Midwest League playoffs. He figures to return there to start 2016.
Ferrell never generated much attention throughout his time in the minors. After a few nondescript seasons in Class A, Ferrell saw his ERA balloon to 5.54 in 2014 when he reached Double-A Erie. He moved to the bullpen when he returned to Erie to start 2015 and was dominant as the team's closer. After one appearance with Triple-A Toledo, Ferrell made his major league debut in July for a pair of appearances before going back to Triple-A, then returned as a September callup. Ferrell is primarily a fastball-changeup pitcher, with both offerings ticking up when he became a reliever. He has solid command of a fastball that ranges from 90-95 mph. With the fastball jumping up, that added more separation off that pitch to his plus changeup, a swing-and-miss offering at 82-84 mph. Ferrell throws a 75-79 mph slurve that he has trouble throwing for strikes. The lack of a reliable breaking ball hampered Ferrell as a starter and might still be a problem going forward, though perhaps less now that he doesn't have to get through a lineup multiple times. He should be in a position to compete for a middle relief job in the big leagues this year.
VerHagen spent his first few years with the Tigers as a starter, but he transitioned to the bullpen in 2015. His fastball parks a tick higher there than it did as a starter, ranging from 92-96 mph. The fastball is by far his best pitch, combining plus velocity and movement, with heavy sink and steep angle to get a lot of groundballs. VerHagen will throw an occasional 82-84 mph changeup, but he's mostly scrapped that and become a two-pitch guy with his fastball and 74-79 mph curveball. The trouble is that his curveball is below-average and slurvy because he tends to get around the ball. Without a reliable secondary pitch to miss bats, VerHagen's already pedestrian strikeout rate dipped even further once he got to the big leagues. He's generally around the plate, though it's more control than command. He throws slightly across his body and has been slowed by injuries, though durability is less of an issue as a reliever. He should compete for a big league bullpen job and could stick around as a middle reliever if he can improve his curveball.
Valdez has long tantalized with his stuff, but he has just as often frustrated with his location. Valdez spent three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, including the 2010 season when he missed 50 games because he tested positive for Boldenone, an anabolic steroid. He didn't reach full-season ball in the low Class A Midwest League until he was 23 in 2012. His high-octane stuff is just as powerful as it was a year ago, but his strikeout rate went from 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings in Double-A in 2014 down to 6.8 per nine in 2015 in Triple-A Toledo. Valdez struggled with his command, while Triple-A hitters were more accustomed to seeing pitchers with Valdez's stuff and able to lay off pitches that he would get hitters to chase at the lower levels. Valdez has two plus pitches in his 93-98 mph fastball and 84-88 mph slider. The slider is an out pitch that misses bats, but he has to figure out when to throw the knockout slider and when to tone it down a notch to be able to throw if for a strike. He doesn't throw either pitch for a strike often enough, so he's frequently working from behind in the count and putting too many hitters on base via the walk. He mixes in an occasional firm, below-average changeup, but he's primarily a two-pitch guy.
Bernard is close to completing one of baseball's most unusual journeys to the big leagues. The Padres drafted Bernard as 35th-round organizational filler in 2012, had him spend most of 2013 in the shortseason Northwest League, then released him. When the Tigers held an open tryout camp at spring training in 2014, Bernard impressed the Tigers with his speed, so they signed him and assigned him to low Class A West Michigan. Bernard hit well there, though he was already 23. It was a surprise when the Tigers added him to their 40-man roster after the season, but he didn't miss a beat in 2015 when he skipped a level and he hit over .300 in Double-A. Bernard's best tool is his plus speed. His swing isn't pretty, but he has a knack for finding the barrel, putting the ball in play often on the ground and using his wheels. Bernard was a dead pull hitter when he got to the Tigers, but he did a better job of using right field last season. He has the speed for center field and is an average defender. Though he might never be more than the 25th man on the roster, Bernard has extraordinary drive to get the most out of his ability and continues to defy expectations. He should move up to Triple-A next season.
Kubitza had an outstanding season in his first full year with the Tigers in the low Class A Midwest League in 2014, so the Tigers got aggressive, skipping him a level to Double-A Erie in 2015. Things didn't go as well there for Kubitza, who saw his strikeout rate get sliced from 9.6 per nine innings to 6.4 per nine, while his ERA more than doubled to 5.79. What Kubitza still does as well any pitcher in the minors is get groundballs. His sinker is just 87-92 mph, but his fastball zips around like a fly, moving around every which way. Between the sink and often late cutting action, hitters frequently drill the pitch straight into the ground. The trouble is that he doesn't have a reliable out pitch to use off his fastball. His changeup improved and can be an average pitch when he maintains his arm speed, but in Double-A hitters didn't chase his below-average slider as much as they did in the Midwest League. Kubitza throws across his body, and while it can be difficult to command a fastball that moves as much as his does, he is usually around the strike zone. Kubitza's repertoire might not be deep enough to start, but he should get a small velo boost if he moves to the bullpen, where he could fit as a middle reliever who can be useful to get groundballs.
Baez was throwing in the high-80s when he was a 17-year-old in the Dominican Republic who signed for $49,000. As Baez grew into his body, his fastball jumped, now sitting at 91-95 mph and touching 97 with good movement. He has a chance to remain a starter because of his durable build and solid strikethrowing ability. He shows feel for two offspeed pitches, with the best one his curveball, which has power and flashes average, though it's still inconsistent. His third pitch is a changeup, which he has shown some feel for with good arm speed. The 2015 season was Baez's first one outside of the Dominican Summer League or the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, and like a lot of young pitchers, he tended to get too amped up pitching in the bigger ballpark under the lights in the short-season New York-Penn League, so he's still learning to stay calm and under control on the mound. One of the system's more intriguing starting pitchers beneath full-season ball, Baez should get a crack at low Class A West Michigan in 2016.
Pankake signed for $165,00 as a seventh-round pick in 2014 and had a solid first full season at low Class A West Michigan, where he showed a polished offensive approach. Pankake is a patient hitter who works the count, waits for a good pitch to hit and can walk to get on base. He has to tighten up his swing, but the barrel stays through the hitting zone, which helps him make consistent contact. Pankake is adept at using the middle of the field and going the opposite way. He has average raw power that he should be able to tap into more once he learns to do more damage when he does pull a pitch rather than rolling over on those balls for grounders to the left side, though his game will be more about line drives and getting on base than power. A shortstop in college, Pankake played some third base after signing but was a second baseman in 2015 with Zach Shepherd at third in West Michigan. His average arm is fine there, but his inexperience at the position showed, so he will need time for his defense to catch up to his hitting. His next stop is high Class A Lakeland, with a chance to eventually become an offensive-oriented utility man.
Alexander passed on signing with the Tigers out of high school when the organization drafted him in the 23rd round in 2013. After two years at Texas Christian, the Tigers drafted him in the second round as a draft-eligible sophomore, with a $1 million signing bonus persuading Alexander to join the organization. He pitched well in the short-season New York-Penn League after signing. Alexander's stuff is fringy, relying on location, deception and trying to get early-count outs. He has excellent command of his fastball, which sits at 88-90 mph and touches 92. He moves it around the zone, hits the corners and helps put him in advantageous counts. That's been enough to have success so far, but Alexander will need to develop his secondary pitches against better hitters. He throws a hybrid breaking ball, sometimes taking the shape of a slow, loopy curveball early in the count, but more often using a sweepy slider. He also throws a fringe-average changeup. Alexander's feel for pitching helps his pure stuff play up, with an overall profile similar to fellow Tigers lefty Kyle Lobstein that could eventually lead him to the back of a rotation.
After three years pitching for Vanderbilt, Ravenelle overhauled his mechanics and saw his stuff jump, prompting the Tigers to sign him for $412,400 as a fourth-round pick in 2014. A reliever at Vanderbilt, Ravenelle stayed in that role with the Tigers, showing the ability to miss bats and keep the ball on the ground albeit with spotty command in his first full season in the low Class A Midwest League. He pitched in the Arizona Fall League, but he gave up 10 runs in 10 1/3 innings and walked eight batters there. At his best, Ravenelle flashes two plus pitches, led by a 93-97 mph fastball with heavy, boring action that gets groundballs and weak contact. His slider is a plus pitch at times, but it's extremely inconsistent, flattening out into a below-average pitch too frequently. He walked 5.0 batters per nine innings in the Midwest League, so he will need to learn to throw more strikes to reach the big leagues as a middle reliever.
The Tigers found Robertson at small Coahoma (Miss.) CC throwing in the mid-90s with minimal pitching experience when they took him in the 29th round in 2011 and signed him for $15,000. It's been a slow progression for Robertson, who had Tommy John surgery before signing in 2009, but he showed the Tigers enough in 2015 to put him on the 40-man roster after the season. While Robertson is already 25, his pitching experience is less extensive than most his age. He's a reliever who pitches in the low-tomid 90s and tops out at 97. The fastball is his best pitch, with good velocity and sink, which helps him get a lot of grounders. The ball comes out of Robertson's hand fairly easily and he's a good athlete, but he has a lot of trouble repeating his delivery, which hampers his command and the consistency of his stuff. He learned a splitter that he likes to throw, with a fringy slider and a below-average changeup, but none of them consistently miss bats. Robertson would be a great scouting success story if he reaches the big leagues, even if his ceiling is likely limited to middle relief or a long man, with Triple-A Toledo up next.
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