1. Derek Hill (OF)
2. Cam Gibson (OF)
3. Daniel Woodrow (OF)
4. Jacob Robson (OF)
5. Rashad Brown (OF)
The Tigers made Hill their first-round pick in the 2014 draft because he had two potential 70s on his scouting report in the form of his defense and his speed. He has put both skills to good use thus far in his pro career, using his plus-plus speed to cover huge swaths of ground in the outfield, and taking advantage of a quick first step to steal bases at an 83% clip. If he can stay healthy and continue to progress at the plate, Hill could be the first Tiger to steal 40 bases in a season since Roger Cedeno.
Gibson is a tremendous athlete with excellent bloodlines and the straight-line speed to rival Hill as the system’s fastest player. However, Cam comes in second place because he lacks the feel and instincts to take full advantage of his wheels. He is certainly fast enough to handle center field on defense, but suspect reads make him a better fit for left, and he has been caught stealing 13 times in 45 career attempts (71%), which is a lower-than-ideal success rate.
The Tigers nabbed Woodrow in the 12th round of the 2016 draft out of Creighton, where he used his 65-grade speed to man center field and steal 55 bases for the Bluejays over the last two seasons. He hit the ground running in pro ball, too, playing 54 games (40 in center) between the Gulf Coast League and the New York-Penn League, and stealing 13 bases in 15 tries.
A redshirt Junior drafted out of Mississippi State in last year’s eighth round, Robson is slightly bulkier than Woodrow, but he too used his plus speed to man center field and wreak havoc on the basepaths. His Bulldogs teammates called the Ontario native The Maple Hammer, but that’s the sort of ironic sobriquet seen in 400lb. men nicknamed Tiny, because he hit just two home runs during his college career. However, he did steal 46 bases in 56 tries, and he went 15-for-21 in his pro debut last year.
Brown has been one of the faster players in the system since the Tigers took him in the 26th round out of a Georgia high school in 2012, but he never really had the playing time to put that speed on display until last year. He is a plus runner whose speed plays better on the basepaths than on defense, where he is typically relegated to left field.
Jose Azocar (OF)
Jacoby Jones (OF/UTIL)
Dixon Machado (SS)
Azocar has above-average speed, and he uses it well on defense, but the 20-year-old native of Venezuela is still learning how to take full advantage of his wheels on the bases.
Jones is an above-average runner with good range in the outfield, and while he’s not a dynamic base stealing threat, he has more than enough speed to take an extra base or score from first on a double.
Machado was once a legitimate plus runner, but he has slowed down a step as he has grown into his body. The 25-year-old will still post above-average run times to first base, and he could steal double-digit bases in the majors if given the playing time.
Isrrael De La Cruz (SS)
Ildemaro Escalona (SS)
Wenceel Perez (SS)
A trio of shortstops with plus run tools and varying pro experience make up the Projection Kings list. De La Cruz is 19 and has put his speed to the most use thus far, stealing 40 bases in just under 150 pro games. Escalona just turned 18 and hasn’t put his plus speed on display much as of yet, with just three steals in the DSL and three more in the Liga Paralela. Perez was one of the Tigers bigger international signings in 2016, and is considered a plus runner, but he has yet to play in a pro game.
Why He Missed
Ismael Salgado (OF)
Put Salgado on a track and he’s probably one of the three or four fastest players in the entire system, but the Puerto Rican outfielder has never developed the baseball skills to translate that speed into games. Now 24, Salgado is a career .210 hitter, and in 279 games he has managed to steal just 19 bases, while getting caught 13 times.