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Roundtable: 2016 Detroit Tigers Breakout Prospect

Another annual prediction from the TigsTown staff... which prospects are ready to break out and make a jump? The TigsTown team weighs in with their forecasts for a prospect ready to breakout in 2016.

Paul Wezner, Executive Editor

While I've been fairly accurate at predicting what the future holds for the Tigers, the same can't be said for my breakout prospect predictions, as I've been on the bandwagon of guys like Harold Castro and Audy Ciriaco without much success. So apologies in advance to this year's proclamation, but I'm going with catching prospect Shane Zeile, who has emerged as the most-days backstop in West Michigan this season. In addition to having some good bloodlines, Zeile has an intriguing bat and the raw skills to be a very good catcher behind the plate. Most players just hitting Low-A ball two years after being drafted would not generate much excitement, but Zeile was raw coming out of college, and injuries have slowed his progression. Healthy, getting at-bats and still just 22 years old, I see Zeile having a big year and working his way up the charts this season to emerge as one of the best catching prospects in the system, and a potential viable big league starter when you look at the entire package he brings to the table.


Mark Anderson, Director of Scouting

There's always a prospect that turns in an exceptional performance during the season, vaulting themselves up prospect rankings and improving their stock as a potential Major League contributor. The Tigers have found many of these players over the years, including recent players like Buck Farmer, Casper Wells, and Mike Gerber, all of whom enjoyed breakout seasons to improve their stock from org player to potential big league contributor. Beyond that, some players explode further to establish themselves as viable impact players; guys like Joel Zumaya or Joe Jimenez. This year, the Tigers have several candidates capable of making "the leap" as prospects. Forced to highlight just one for the sake of this roundtable, I would focus on outfielder Derek Hill. Still considered one of the organization's top prospects, a breakout season for Hill may seem odd. Coming off an extremely disappointing and injured debut season in 2015, Hill's star began to fade in the eyes of many fans, but he remains an exceptionally talented individual with considerable defensive gifts, excellent speed, and the potential to hit. Hill was young and raw in 2015 and while both of those are still true this year, I expect his repeat performance in West Michigan to show marked improvement before a promotion to High-A Lakeland later this summer. By the end of the year, I anticipate Hill will be considered not only the top prospect in a thin Tigers system, but also one of the top 100 or so prospects in the entire game.


Chris Brown, Staff Writer

For the purposes of this exercise I like to define breakout players as those who begin the year outside of the TigsTown Top 30, but have the chance to climb well up the list, possibly into the top ten. Last year when we did this I picked a hitter (Zach Shepherd) and a pitcher (Artie Lewicki) who were heading into their first full season of pro baseball. Neither had a breakout campaign, but that's not gonna keep me from heading to Low-A again for my picks this year: outfielder Jose Azocar, and starting pitcher Sandy Baez.
Azocar is an exciting young player who has the range and instincts to be an above-average defender in center field, and he also has more than enough arm strength to handle right field. He's aggressive on offense, but shows the ability to put the bat on the ball, and he has the sort of athletic frame that should help him grow into solid gap power as he matures. Baez had an ideal pitcher's body, a heavy low-90s fastball, secondary pitches that show flashes of being average, and a solid ability to throw strikes. If his stuff and/or command take a step up this year he could find himself as one of the five best starting pitching prospects in the system.



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