RHP Michael Fulmer
A lesser known player heading into the 2015 season, Micheal Fulmer had his prospect stock skyrocket during the course of last season. Fulmer’s stock shot up so high last season that last July at the trade deadline he was one of the players acquired from the Mets for Yoenis Cespedes. Fulmer spent the majority of last season in Double-A with the Mets affiliate in Binghamton (1.88 ERA, 2.63 FIP in 86 innings) and the Tigers Affiliate in Erie (2.84 ERA, 3.49 FIP in 31.2 innings).
Scouting Report: Obviously Fulmer’s performance in Double-A last year was very impressive. However, Fulmer’s 2015 was impressive beyond the stat-lines as he consistently showed he had the stuff to continue having similar success at the big league level. He has a four-pitch mix starting with his fastball, which sits in the mid-90’s with very impressive command at times. His slider and curveball are his two primary out pitches right now and his change-up lags behind. Fulmer still needs to improve his off-speed command and the quality of his change-up, but many are still projecting him to a big league rotation. He will likely begin 2016 in Toledo, but if he continues to pitch like he did in 2015 it shouldn’t be long before we see him get a chance in Detroit.
RHP Montreal Robertson
After starting for West Michigan during the 2013 season, Montreal Robertson has been converted back to a bullpen arm and has pitched very effectively since doing so. In 2014 he was sent back to West Michigan as a reliever and was pretty impressive (3.23 ERA and a 3.63 FIP in 75.1 innings). Last year he split time between High-A Lakeland (3.16 ERA and a 3.35 FIP in 37 innings) and Double-A Erie (3.48 ERA and a 4.04 FIP in 31 innings).
Scouting Report: I was able to observe Robertson quite a bit in both 2013 and 2014 when he was with West Michigan. Ever since he moved to the bullpen his fastball velocity has been up (reports had him up to 97 last year with his fastball). His fastball also features good movement and is clearly his best pitch right now. His arsenal also features a splitter and a slider, both of which have been described as inconsistent and below average by scouts who have seen him more recently. He also struggles with command, which further hurts his stock as a prospect. As a result of him having really only one good pitch, many project Robertson’ ceiling as that of a middle reliever at the big league level. If he continues the success he has had out of the bullpen in Toledo or Erie to start the year, there is a really good chance we see Robertson in Detroit sooner than later.
LHP Joe Mantiply
There aren’t many guys that have made it to the Major Leagues after being drafted in the 27th round, but Mantiply has a very good chance of being the next guy to do just that. Since being drafted in the 2013 draft, he has dominated at every level he’s played at in the Tigers organization. Last season he split time between Double-A Erie (2.53 ERA and a 3.32 FIP in 53.1 innings) and Triple-A Toledo (0.90 ERA and a 2.06 FIP in only 10 innings).
Scouting Report: This is another guy I was able to watch with some regularity back in 2014 when he was with West Michigan. A lefty whose fastball sits in the low-90s with good sinking life. His best secondary pitch is a change-up, which is graded as plus (6) by many scouts. Since he’s been drafted he has also been trying to develop a better slider, but it is still far from being a solid major league pitch. If Mantiply is able to improve his slider, he could become a very solid left-hander out of a major league bullpen. However, the slider has a long way to come and it is far more likely Mantiply will turn into a guy that bounces back and forth between Triple-A and the Major Leagues. He is very close to the major league’s right now, but will likely begin the season back in Triple-A. While not necessarily an impact talent, you would think he’d be on the short list of guys the Tigers would look to call up if they suffer and injury to one of the lefties in their bullpen this year.
LHP Austin Kubitza
Kubitza is another prospect whose stock took a massive leap forward as a result of on the field performance, but has since regressed. In 2014 with West Michigan he had a 2.34 ERA and a 2.99 FIP in 131 innings. However, his stock dropped again after a rather disappointing 2015. He spent the entire 2015 season with Double-A Erie and came away with a 5.79 ERA and a 3.65 FIP in 133.2 innings.
Scouting Report: Another player I was able to observe quite a bit during his 2014 season in West Michigan. Kubitza has a three-pitch fastball, slider and change-up mix. His fastball is his best pitch even though he struggles to hit 90 mph. His fastball is effective because of its sinking movement. His slider is his most effective secondary pitch and the change-up lags far behind. He has worked almost exclusively as a starter since the start of 2014, but concerns about his arm action, command, and the lack of other quality secondary pitches other than his slider have many projecting him to a Major League bullpen. He will likely start 2016 in either Double-A or Triple-A and if he is able to repeat something similar to his 2014 performance he could see Detroit by the end of the year.
LHP Josh Turley
Turley has turned himself into a very interesting prospect in recent years. He has always performed well as a member of the Tigers organization, but recently more attention has been given to him as a result of him adding a knuckleball to his arsenal prior to the 2014 season. He spent all of his 2015 season in Double-A and performed well (3.29 ERA and a 3.96 FIP in 153 innings).
Scouting Report: I was able to observe Turley quite a bit back in 2013 and I didn’t really think all that highly of him back then. However, that was before he added the knuckleball to his arsenal and the reports since then have been improving significantly. Some of the positive reports on Turley mention the fact that he is left-handed and has a broad arsenal (somewhere between 5 and 6 pitches, including the knuckleball) of pitches. There are still many negative things scouts bring up when talking about him; one of the biggest being he doesn’t really have any pitches that are average. I see Turley’s ceiling now as being something close to a middle-reliever. He will likely begin 2016 in Triple-A and could see a call-up to the big leagues later in the year if help is needed.
OF Wynton Bernard
Bernard has done an amazing job since the start of the 2014 season to get himself back on the prospect radar. The San Diego Padres released him after he played very little during the 2013 season. During spring training in 2014 he went to an open tryout with the Tigers in Lakeland and was signed to a contract by Detroit. During the 2014 season he went to West Michigan and performed incredibly on the field (.323/.394/. 442, .385 wOBA and a 142 wRC+ in 583 plate appearances). In fact he performed so well during that 2014 season that he received Midwest League Player of the Year honors. That incredible 2014 season vaulted landed him all the way to Double-A to start the 2015 season and once again he impressed on the field (.301/.352/.408, .349 wOBA and a 121 wRC+ in 587 plate appearances). Bernard turns 26 during the 2016 season, so he is running out of time if he ever wants to have a long-term impact on a major league team.
Scouting Report: I was able to watch Bernard play quite a bit during that 2014 season and I wasn’t really all that impressed. The things that immediately stand out for Bernard are his running, fielding and throwing ability. Bernard is very fast and I usually had him around 4.2 home to first (6 grade speed). His fielding looks slightly above major league average and his arm shows as average. However, offensively he is a below average hitter, but he does excel at making consistent contact. He isn’t really a power threat and I personally have concerns about his make-up. Back in 2014 I pegged him as not much more than a 4-A guy, but recently there have been a lot more fourth outfield projections thrown on him. He will likely start the year in Triple-A and if he is able to repeat the same on field performance he has had so far in the Tigers organization, a call up to Detroit will likely come later in the season.
1B/DH Dean Green
Green is another guy that had a huge on the field performance in 2015. He started the year in Double-A Erie and hit .312/.389/.491 with a .397 wOBA and a 154 wRC+ in 90 games before being called up to Triple-A where he hit .253/.330/.342 with a .313 wOBA and a 95 wRC+ in 88 plate appearances. This is another guy whose time may be running out, as he will turn 27 during the 2016 season.
Scouting Report: I was able to watch Green a good amount when he was with West Michigan in 2012 and 2013 and it is very easy to notice early on he is basically a bat only prospect. He was so bad at first base that he basically only plays as a DH now. This lack of a position really affects Dean’s value going forward. Both his defense and speed are graded as a 2 on the 2-8 scale. Thankfully, however, there are other aspects of the game that will have to help carry him to the big leagues. With the bat he consistently makes solid contact and has nearly average bat speed. He is also gifted with very good knowledge of the strike zone. Many people, myself included, see him as being potentially a 5 hitter (.255-.265) at the big league level with 10ish homerun power because of his strength. Essentially Green’s ceiling is an org. guy that gets the occasional call-up to the big leagues if someone is injured. If Dean hits in Toledo in 2016 like he did in Erie in 2015, he could potentially see some action in Detroit in September.
OF Connor Harrell
Harrell is a guy who hasn’t performed all that well on the field since being drafted by the Tigers in the seventh round of the 2013 draft. His strikeout rates in the minor leagues have been high (26.1% in 2013, 24.8% in 2014 and 25.9% last year) especially when you consider he is an older college bat. He spent all of last year in Double-A and hit .222/.286/.328 .286 wOBA and a 78 wRC+ in 482 plate appetences.
Scouting Report: This is another guy I saw a lot of back in 2013 when he was with West Michigan. He is definitely helped out by his versatility (he has played in all three outfield positions with the Tigers organization), but his bat still lags behind. The biggest problem with Harrell’s bat is his inability to make contact. I would grade Harrell’s hit tool as somewhere between a 3 and a 4, without much potential for improvement. Harrell could definitely find a spot on a major league bench somewhere because of his defensive versatility, but it will be hard for him to find significant playing time as a result of his bat. He’ll probably start the year in Double-A or Triple-A and could see a call up at some point this year if outfield depth is needed in Detroit.
SS JaCoby Jones
Jones is another player that was acquired by Detroit at the trade deadline last season. He spent the majority of the season with Pittsburgh’s High-A affiliate hitting .253/.313/.396 with a .336 wOBA and a 116 wRC+ in 423 plate appearances there. After being traded to Detroit in July he spent the rest of the season in Double-A Erie hitting .250/.331/.463 with a .355 wOBA and a 126 wRC+ in 160 plate appearances. In November Jones received a 50 game suspension for a second positive drug test but was able to serve the first 11 games during the Arizona Fall League season.
Scouting Report: Jones is a very athletic player but he often struggles defensively at shortstop. Very few people think Jones can stick at the position long term and many project him to either slide to third base or the outfield. Jones has a solid swing, but he struggles pretty severely with his approach. As a result of his approach many see him becoming a 4 or 4+ (.235-.250ish) hitter at the big league level. His swing plane allows him to generate some good power and he could potentially become a 20 homerun guy at the big league level as a result. The fact that he is suspended for the first 39 games of the 2016 season obviously is not a positive of his development, but Jones could very easily see time in Triple-A after the suspension is up. If he hits in 2016 in like he did all last year we could see him in Detroit by the end of the season.