Paul Wezner, Executive Editor
In past years, I've had a tendency to latch onto talented middle infield prospects that have taken time to develop but look ready to break out, and this year will be no different. For one, while I've consistently been skeptical of his ability to hit, his spring convinced me that Dixon Machado really can hit the ball. He doesn't have the strength to drive it, but he makes contact, and he no longer is at the point where the bat is getting knocked out of his hands on fastballs. Couple that with already impressive defensive skills, and you could well have an everyday shortstop on your hands. In addition to Machado, Harold Castro is another one to watch. TigsTown has been high on him for years, and despite a drop in the rankings, he's a naturally gifted hitter that showed enough in spring training to get a challenging assignment to Double-A.
Mark Anderson, Director of Scouting
It is tough for me to decide between two prospects that I believe are poised to gain national attention this season. Infielders Dixon Machado and Zac Shepherd are both intriguing players at very different points in their development and with very different skill sets. While I believe Shepherd's bat can help him draw attention, I think it may be a bit early for a true breakout. Because of that, I'm looking at Dixon Machado as my breakout prospect. After the best offensive performance of his career at Double-A in 2014, Machado can build on that by continuing to show a strong approach, bat-to-ball ability, and improved bat speed that has allowed him to drive the ball with greater authority. Machado's long term outlook hinges on his ability to maintain the improvements at the plate, since his glove and arm are both premium MLB tools. With a strong offensive showing this season, Machado could easily vault himself into the discussion as on of the system's to prospects; after all, excellent defensive shortstops with an ability to hit don't grow on trees.
James Chipman, Senior Correspondent
The Detroit Tigers have traded away most of their top-tier assets over the years to obtain proven Major League talent. It's what they do. This past year was no different, as they dealt away highly regarded prospects Jake Thompson, Willy Adames, Devon Travis, Jonathon Crawford, Corey Knebel and Domingo Leyba. Although their farm system is vastly considered one of the worst in baseball, there's still some hidden gems, especially in the lower levels, thanks to their well established Dominican Republic and Venezuelan pipeline. Closer Joe Jimenez and third-baseman Zach Shepherd impressed me last season, and both seem poised for breakout seasons. However, similar to seasons past, I'll stay local, selecting Gulf Coast League starting pitcher Anthony Castro as my pick for Detroit's breakout prospect. Remove a single disastrous outing in late July last year in which Castro allowed ten earned runs over 3 1/3 innings and you're actually looking at a pretty darn good season from the then 19-year-old right-hander (2.73 ERA & 7.6 K/9). Armed with a fastball that bumped the mid-90s, a tight late breaking curveball and a changeup that featured solid depth and arm speed, Castro led the team in strikeouts and took a definitive step forward developmentally last season. Be sure to keep Anthony Castro on your radar this season.
Neil Weinberg, Senior Analyst
It's a tough question because it's not a particularly deep system full of high upside players, but I'm going with Dixon Machado. It's pretty clear to everyone that he is more than capable of playing shortstop at the major league level, and he also owns a pretty advanced approach at the plate. His big issue is that he doesn't drive the ball with enough authority, and we saw him show signs that he might be developing that ability late last year. I'm not necessarily buying Machado as someone who can make solid enough contact to be an everyday major league player, but I think the probability is high enough that he's made some strides in that department for his prospect status to rise. This is his 6th year in pro ball, but he's only 23 and there's certainly a chance he's filling out and adding a little pop. When you have his ability in other facets of the game, a little improvement can push him up the list quickly.
Chris Brown, Staff Writer
Maybe it's because I don't want to put all my eggs in one basket, or maybe it's because I'm a writer and not a mather (hmm, maybe I'm neither) but I chose to pick two breakout players instead of just one. I decided I would define 'breakout' as a player outside of the TigsTown Top 50 who could conceivably make his way into the top 10 next year, and I've picked one pitcher and one position player. My pitching prospect is Artie Lewicki, last year's 8th-round pick out of Virginia. As a senior sign from the ACC with a solid fastball and usable secondary pitches, Lewicki reminds me a bit of Buck Farmer. I don't expect Lewicki to shoot to the majors in his first full season the way Farmer did, but it wouldn't shock me at all if he starts a few games in AA Erie this year. And my position player breakout is Zach Shepherd, whose stats were quite impressive in his stateside debut last year. Complex league numbers can certainly be misleading, but earning an assignment to low-A West Michigan as a 19-year-old from Australia tells me the Tigers really believe in this kid. I expect him to struggle a bit this year, and his defense is apparently still a question mark, but I think he has a real chance to hit for average and power one day, something that, sadly, very few others in the system can claim.
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