Each year, the staff pegs a prospect or two that they see as ready to break out from their current standing and rocked up the prospect charts. See who the TigsTown staff thinks
Paul Wezner, Executive Editor
While I have notoriously performed pretty well at projecting the team's fortune in our season predictions, I have also notoriously performed poorly when it came to projecting breakout prospects, and continued that trend in 2016 as Shane Zeile battled injuries and tumbled out of the top 50 rankings, so apologies in advance to the two players I'm about to name.
Among position players, I'm really excited about shortstop Wenceel Perez. He's only been in the organization about nine months, has yet to play in an official game and is very young at just 17 years of age, but he projects as a defensive star with a good glove, excellent quickness and a strong arm. Couple that with a line drive swing that should make plenty of contact at the lower levels, and you've got a player that could push for a full-season roster spot very quickly.
On the mound, I'm going with lefty Aussie Jake Baker. A largely untapped market up until now, the Tigers have gone down under to pull a few different prospects from Australia, and Baker is a particularly intriguing arm. A lefty that is already in the low-90's with his fastball and a breaking ball that is already one of the best in the organization, Baker already offers intrigue, and if he adds some strength (and in turn, velocity), watch out.
Mark Anderson, Director of Scouting
At the plate, I think Juan Ramirez is going to breakout this year and put on a bit of a show in the GCL. He's a natural hitter with excellent command of the strike zone and the early makings of strong pitch recognition skills. This is a player with the tools to work counts to his favor and then make hard contact to all fields. He'll be knocked for his small size and he's never going to be mistaken for a power hitter, but with his bat-to-ball ability and advanced approach, he can become a top of the order force. Though he's a fringe runner, most scouts believe he hangs in center field thanks to his outstanding instincts, and his arm strength rates as plus, giving him a solid defensive foundation. Ramirez put up strong numbers in the DSL last year, and the GCL will be a test, but he's an up and coming prospect that should easily slot in the Top 30 in next year's rankings.
On the mound I'm calling out Jason Foley as a breakout prospect. It doesn't thrill me to point to a reliever, but as an undrafted player with a mid-90s fastball that can reach 97-98 mph when he needs a little extra, and a filthy splitter that darts out of the strike zone, Foley has a chance to move very quickly and become an impact bullpen arm. Starting the year in West Michigan makes sense and Foley could easily move to High-A for the second half of the year, putting him that much closer to a prompt big league debut. We're not looking at a future stud closer prospect here, but Foley is poised to jump from undrafted and unknown to Top 30 prospect in short order.
Chris Brown, Staff Writer
We do this roundtable every year, and each time I take the liberty of giving myself one position prospect and one pitching prospect, and then I impose the restriction that these players must be currently ranked 30th or lower in the TigsTown Top 50 (for the record, I picked Artie Lewicki and Zac Shepherd in 2015, and Jose Azocar and Sandy Baez in 2016). If not for these self-imposed artificial restrictions, I’d definitely be picking a couple of players ranked in the top 15, but them’s the breaks. For this year I’m going with left-handed pitcher Gregory Soto (#33), and third baseman Randel Alcantara (#41).
I’d be lying if I said Soto’s hot start in West Michigan (2GS, 11IP, 3H, 0ER, 3BB, 9K) didn’t influence my choice, but he also fits the general profile for what I want in a potential breakout player. He has a big arm, capable of reaching into the mid-90s from the left side, a potentially above-average breaking ball in his slider, a sturdy body, and improving control. There’s a good chance he eventually moves into a relief role, but the Tigers are wise to use him as a starter to let him continue refining his stuff and command.
As a soon to be 20-year-old who is almost certain to spend a fourth season in rookie ball this summer, Alcantara is probably the riskiest breakout pick I’ve ever made, but in a system thin on viable position prospects, I think he’s worth the gamble. There’s plus power in his lefty bat, some feel to hit, and a chance to stick at third base if he continues working on defense and keeps his weight in check. He hit .267/.333/.583 with five homers last July, before falling apart in August, but I expect him to be one of the Tigers best hitters in the GCL this year, with a small chance to stick in Connecticut.