1. Dominic Ficociello (1B/UTIL)
2. Christin Stewart (LF/DH)
3. Dixon Machado (SS)
4. A.J. Simcox (SS)
5. Jose Azocar (CF/RF)
There isn't much separating the five players on this list, because they all have warts that will likely prevent them from hitting much higher than .260 in the majors. The switch-hitting Ficociello struggled mightily last April and May before settling back into a groove and hitting .270 over the final three-plus months. He owns a smooth swing from both sides of the dish and he uses quick wrists to generate bat speed and make solid contact to all fields.
The powerful Stewart doesn’t currently profile as a traditional high-average hitter, but he shows good bat speed and his combination of plus power to all fields and improving plate discipline give him a chance to occasionally hit .250 or higher at the major league level.
Machado has always shown a solid approach at the plate, and he makes contact relatively easily, but his lack of strength and bat speed have given him trouble in the past. He worked with Larry Herndon prior to the 2014 season to load earlier and incorporate his legs into his swing more, and he has hit .260 or better each year since.
Simcox was Stewart’s college teammate at Tennessee, but the two players could hardly be more different. Simcox has fringy bat speed and he doesn’t figure to hit more than a handful of home runs each year, but in 2015 he made some minor mechanical adjustments with West Michigan hitting coach Phil Clark and he has since shown the ability to spray the ball all over the field.
Azocar is one of the system’s most exciting young prospects, and his above-average bat speed and ability to put the barrel on the ball give him a chance to top this list one day. He has a long way to go, however, and will need to reign in his hyper-aggressive approach and show a more advanced recognition of breaking balls to tap into his natural bat-to-ball skills at higher levels.
Derek Hill (CF)
Mike Gerber (OF)
Zac Shepherd (3B)
Hill has shown glimpses of being able to hit for average thanks to an all-fields approach and double-plus foot speed, but he still needs to get stronger, and above all, he needs to stay healthy.
Gerber has a short, balanced stroke, solid bat speed, and he made some positive adjustments in 2016, but he’ll have to overcome pitch recognition issues to become even an average hitter.
Don’t let Shepherd’s .186 batting average in 2016 fool you. He played the entire season as a 20-year-old, and his Aussie roots mean he needs more at-bats than most prospects, but his ability to put the barrel on the ball should help him hit for higher averages as he adjusts to more advanced breaking balls.
Jacob Robson (OF)
Anthony Pereira (IF)
Hector Martinez (2B)
Juan Ramirez (OF)
The Tigers drafted Robson in the 8th round last year out of Mississippi State, and he performed well in his first taste of pro action, batting .294 in 49 games. He uses a short, quick swing to hit line drives to all fields, and his above-average speed may help him leg out a few more hits.
Pereira’s truncated and nomadic 2016 (38 total games between four different teams) didn’t alter his projection as an exciting young player with a quick bat and solid pitch recognitions skills.
Martinez hit .310 in his stateside debut last season, and in his young career the 20-year-old has shown good bat speed and a preternatural feel for making contact, albeit at the expense of walks.
Ramirez played in his first 57 professional games last season in the DSL, and he hit over .300 for the first 55 of them. The 17-year-old lefty showed a terrific eye at the plate, and he has the contact skills to potentially hit for high averages in the future.
Why He Missed
Will Maddox (2B/1B)
Maddox nearly won the Midwest League batting title last year, and he finished with a .339 average for the season. So why doesn’t he make the list? For starters, he spent most of the year as a 24-year-old facing pitchers several years younger than him, and he employs an extremely aggressive swing that tends to leave him off balance against anything other than a fastball. He looks the part of a solid organizational player, but one who will struggle against more advanced arms.null