The Tigers top prospect list is littered with pitching prospects. The organization is thin on impact bats, but the parent club isn't exactly in need of much thump. The fifth starter role is to be determined, and many of the prospects on this list could end up getting a crack at securing the gig for themselves.
Top 5 fantasy baseball prospects
1- Jacob Turner, SP
Turner has been on an accelerated development path since being nabbed ninth overall in the 2009 amateur draft out of Westminster Christian Academy. More important than the speed at which he has been pushed through the minors is the degree of success he has had. In 246.1 minor league innings he has a 2.12 BB/9 and a 7.75 K/9 with a 3.36 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP.
Contrary to what his stats may suggest, Turner isn't a finesse pitcher that simply pounds the strike zone. He is a power arm that features a two-seam and four-seam fastball, both of which reside in the low-to-mid-90s. As the stats suggest, he has exquisite control of both. The two-seamer is a heavy sinking fastball that has helped him generate more ground outs than fly outs in his minor league career.
He backs his fastballs with a curveball and change-up. The curveball is a swing-and-miss pitch that sits in the high-70 mph range (that according to his scouting reports, and his limited PITCHf/x data per brookbaseball.net). The change-up rivals his curveball for his best offspeed pitch, and projects to be a second strikeout weapon after he gains more consistency throwing it. Don't be dissuade by the modest strikeout rate to date, that should go up as he has a chance to settle in at a professional level. He has yet to be awarded that luxury. He was at his best in a three start stint at Triple-A following his MLB debut on July 30. In three turns with Toledo he pitched 17.1 innings striking out 20 and walking just three batters.
Struggles in the three spring training appearances, and tenderness in his elbow as reported by Marty Noble of MLB.com, are likely to lead to a repeat trip to Triple-A. As long as the elbow pain doesn't develop into more, this could be a blessing in disguise. More minor league seasoning could help Turner long term. In the end, he may end up controlling his timetable. If he dominates in Triple-A, he should force his way into the Tigers rotation over the summer.
2- Nick Castellanos, 3B
I've always felt breaking the bad news before the good is always best. True to my news breaking preference, I'll point out that Castellanos .312 average in Low-A was at least partly aided by a .402 BABIP. He also didn't show much power hitting only seven home runs with a .124 ISO in 562 plate appearances. His walk rate was respectable, 8.0 percent, but his strikeout rate was a bit on the high side, 23.1 percent, for a player that didn't really slug the ball.
Now that the bad is out of the way, the good is that none of his statistical warts are all that alarming. Luck aided or not, he hit the ball on the screws and finished with a batting average above .300 in full season ball as a 19 year old. His lack of home run power shouldn't cause panic either. Castellanos is still physically maturing, and should add home power as he grows stronger. After a slow start, hitting .179/.222/.209 in April, he tore the cover off the ball. He failed to hit below .300 in any month the remainder of the year. Furthermore, he made in season strides to both his walk and strikeout rates. There is no rush to develop Castellanos. He'll begin the year in High-A.
3- Casey Crosby, SP
The drop off from second to third on this list is stark, and three through five could be shuffled up in any order without complaint from me. Crosby is a frustrating case of a power lefty that has struggled to stay healthy, and when he has been healthy, has struggled with control and command. While it feels like the 2007 amateur draftee has been around forever, he is still young at 23 years old.
In spite of missing most of 2008 and 2010 due to Tommy John surgery and elbow soreness respectively, he pitched all of 2011 at Double-A getting 131.2 innings under his belt. Crosby throws hard, really hard, especially for a southpaw. His fastball, a sinker, sits at 92-95 mph and can reach as high as the upper-90s when he needs something extra. The offering has helped him generate truck loads of groundballs. He recorded nearly two times as many groundball outs as flyball outs in 2011. In addition to his fastball, his repertoire includes a curveball that is at least average, and is occasionally a plus pitch, and a change-up that is below average. The change-up has improved, and could become an average third offering, which would leave Crosby with the requisite three pitch-mix to work as a starter. If he is unable to iron out his control and command issues, he has the type of power arsenal that would play well in a high leverage reliever capacity.
Crosby has pitched in spring training, and is one of the candidates vying for the fifth starter job. He's a long shot to lay claim to the job, and will probably instead join Turner in Toledo. The ceiling is high here, but there are red flags.
4- Drew Smyly, SP
Smyly is the polar opposite of Crosby. His ceiling isn't high, but the floor is. His fastball lacks the “wow,” factor that comes with lighting up radar guns, and sits in the upper-80s to low-90s topping out 92 mph. That hasn't prevented the Tigers second round pick in the 2010 draft from befuddling hitters.
Smyly uses a deep arsenal of five pitches (fastball, cutter, curveball, slider, and change-up) to keep hitters off balance and guessing. He locates all with precision, and was able to keep the ball on the ground. There is little room for error for a pitcher like Smyly, but he wouldn't be the first southpaw to find success in the majors without eye popping stuff. He has pitched quite well in spring training, but is probably going to open the year as a member of an interesting Triple-A rotation.
5- Andrew Oliver, SP
Oliver teases as a left-hander with power stuff, but has failed to put it together. He doesn't throw enough strikes, and has an inconsistent arsenal behind his 92-95 mph fastball. His other two pitches are a slider, and a change-up. Neither are even consistently average pitches. With his fastball, he doesn't need either to be exceptional. If both were average pitches that allowed him to change speeds and looks to opposing hitters, he could be a decent starter with strikeout potential.
He, like so many others, is fighting for the fifth starter role. He has pitched well in the spring, and has received time in the majors in each of his first two professional seasons. That experience, as bad as it has been, could still give him a leg up on the competition. I question the wisdom of pushing Oliver too hard on the biggest stage, but there is potential for him to get over the hump in his developmental struggles.
Bonus- Avisail Garcia, OF
Garcia's baseball statistics don't jump off the page, but his measurables do. He is a strapping young man standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 232 pounds. He puts his raw power on display in batting practice, and is an above average runner. The key for Garcia is tapping into his plus tools and turning them into playable skills. His plate discipline is atrocious, and his plus raw power only resulted in 11 home runs (a career high) in 514 plate appearances at the High-A level in 2011. He won't turn 21 until June, so there is time for him to put things together. If nothing else, he gives Tigers fans another prospect to dream on.
Top 5 in 2012
1- Drew Smyly, SP
Turner initially ranked atop the 2012 top five, but talk of a tender elbow caused me to nudge Smyly above him. Smyly's ability to locate multiple pitches could give him the advantage over major league hitters in the early going. He'll need to adjust as hitters get more film on him and see him a second time, but fantasy owners should worry about crossing that bridge when they reach it.
2- Jacob Turner, SP
Turner's ceiling is unquestionably the highest of the Tigers pitching prospects. That fact isn't lost on the organization, though, and while they are built to win now, there is little incentive to rush Turner. He's nearly ready as it stands, and with good health, you'll see him in the majors again this year.
3- Andrew Oliver, SP
As I stated above, I question the logic of pushing Oliver. However, he did miss bats in Triple-A last year, striking out nearly a batter per inning, and will be backed by a potent Tigers lineup. He could end up having stream value this year.
4- Adam Wilk, SP
Wilk is a soft tossing southpaw that doesn't garner much attention as a prospect. That hasn't stopped him from finding success in the upper minors pounding the strike zone. He saw time in five games out of the bullpen for the Tigers last year, but has been developed as a starter throughout his professional career. Wilk has nothing left to prove in the minors, and is yet another candidate to be the Tigers fifth starter come Opening Day. If he fails to nail down the job, he could be carried as a swingman, or sent down to Triple-A to remain stretched out. Wilk's fantasy value would be solely tied to streaming for victories should he see time as a starter.
5- Casey Crosby, SP
Crosby's greatest chance at fantasy success in 2012 would be getting fast tracked as a reliever. The Tigers seem intent on continuing his development as a starter, but it could be alluring to add yet another power arm to the major league bullpen during a pennant run. As a non-closing reliever, his fantasy value would be limited to leagues using holds, and large mixed leagues or AL-only formats where non-closers are owned for ratio help and high strikeout rates.