Announcement: After peaking as the #3 book among all baseball books on Amazon last year, my new book, The 2016 Prospect Digest Handbook, is on sale! Check it out here!
And for those wondering what CALs are, here’s an article on the Comparison And Likeness program I designed.
|1. Michael Fulmer, RHP|
|Born: 03/15/93||Age: 23||Bats: R||Top CALs: Richard Castillo, Randall Delgado,
Eduardo Rodriguez, Johnny Barbato, Ryan Searle
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 200||Throws: R|
Background: Here’s a little snippet from The Detroit News’ Lynn Henning in the days immediately following the Tigers’ dismissal of Dave Dombrowski:
“Tigers owner Mike Ilitch was disgusted over his 2015 Tigers team and its fraying as a playoff club. He was no happier when Dombrowski, following heavy meetings with his staff in Florida, said that lacked the trade pieces to add a starting pitcher that might salvage 2015’s playoff chase.” (Author’s Note: The article, submitted on August 8, 2015, was titled Henning: Failure in 2015 was too much for Ilitch.) So, clearly, the writing was on the wall for Dombrowski – despite piloting the organization to its most successful run since the start of the 19th century. But Dombrowski, the obvious consummate professional, pulled off a string of impressive deals to better the serve the organization – and his predecessor Al Avila – in the coming years. And no trade better exemplifies that than the Yoenis Cespedes-for-Michael-Fulmer (and Luis Cessa) swap with the Mets at the trade deadline.
I listed Fulmer among the Top 25 Breakout Prospects in 2015 in last year’s book, writing the following:
“Overlooked because of New York’s impressive collection of minor league arms, Fulmer, a former first round pick, missed most of the 2013 season because of [a] torn meniscus in his knee. [He shows a] a promising swing-and-miss ability with solid-average control.”
Well, Fulmer put together his finest season to date in 2015. In a career high 22 starts, 21 of which coming in the Eastern League, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-hander tossed 124.1 with 125 punch outs, just 30 walks, an impeccable 2.24 ERA, and a sub-2.90 FIP. Yeah, that qualifies as a breakout campaign.
Projection: In his projection section in last year’s book I wrote the following:
“Fulmer’s been quietly flying under the radar now for quite some time, even more so now thanks to missing so much time two years ago. But he’s continued to handle the club’s aggressive promotion schedule without showing any major hiccups along the way. He’s a very, very underrated young arm that could be poised to shoot up quite a bit in 2015. Fulmer’s another back-of-the-rotation caliber ceiling that could be capable of a lot more if everything breaks the right way.”
Well, he certainly falls under the “a lot more” category after his dominant showing last year. But just how dominant was he you ask? Consider the following:
- Between the Eastern, Southern, and Texas Leagues last season, Fulmer was one of just 11 qualified arms under the age of 23.
- His 2.86 FIP ranked second among all qualified Class AA arms.
- His strikeout-to-walk percentage, 18.2%, also ranked second among all qualified Class AA arms.
- His strikeout percentage, 24.5%, ranked third and his walk rate, 6.3%, tied for 20th lowest among all qualified Class AA arms.
- And, finally, among stateside hurlers with 120+ innings under their belt last season, Fulmer’s strikeout-to-walk ratio ranked seventh.
Basically, Fulmer’s developed into one of the most complete arms in the entire minor leagues. And while he doesn’t profile as an elite-level, front-of-the-rotation caliber big league arm, the young right-hander looks like a very, very good #3-type hurler.
Overall, it was a fantastic – fantastic – deal for Detroit and its former shot-caller.
Ceiling: 3.0-win player
Risk: Low to Moderate
MLB ETA: 2016
|2. Joe Jimenez, RHP|
|Born: 01/17/95||Age: 21||Bats: R||Top CALs: Dan Barnes, Justin Wright,
Stephen Gonsalves, Chance Adams, Christian Friedrich
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 220||Throws: R|
Background: Just another one of the incredibly savvy moves under the Dave Dombrowski regime – I hope you’re taking note, Mr. Ilitch – the club signed the hard-throwing Puerto Rican-born hurler for the relative paltry sum of $100,000 as an undrafted free agent. Since then the 6-foot-3, 220-pound right-hander has been damn near unhittable spanning parts of three minor leagues seasons. Jimenez burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old in the Gulf Coast League, fanning 24 and walking just six in 18.0 innings of work. He got bumped up to the New York-Penn League the following season and continued to dominate: 26.2 IP, a ridiculous 41 strikeouts, and an equally ridiculous six walks. And that dominance continued into his action with the Gigantes de Carolina in the Puerto Rican Winter League as well. Making 12 appearances with the foreign club, Jimenez failed to surrender a run while posting another impeccable strikeout-to-walk ratio (15-to-1).
Heading into last season I named the then-20-year-old pitcher as one of the Top 25 Breakout Prospects for 2015. And he certainly didn’t disappoint.
Spending the entire year with the West Michigan Whitecaps, Jimenez tossed a career best 43.0 innings while averaging 12.8 punch outs and just 2.3 walks per nine innings – production that earned him the nod as the Tigers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
One final note: Jimenez has fanned 37.1% of the total batters he’s faced.
Projection: Here’s what I wrote in last year’s book:
“Granted, it’s two small sample sizes, but he’s been utterly dominant. And as far as initial returns on an investment, Jimenez has rewarded the club with more than enough hope. You’d have to assume that given the dominance and ease, the Tigers would think about moving him into the rotation down the line.”
Unfurling an upper-90s heater in the MLB Futures Game, Jimenez has the potential to develop into a top-notch starting pitcher – if the organization eases the reins a bit on the dominant hurler. Please, please push him into the rotation. I’m literally begging. He’s thrown just 87.2 innings in his career; it’s time to find out what he’s capable of.
One thing to watch in the coming years: he lived – without dying – by the fly ball last season, so homeruns may become an issue at some point in the near future, maybe.
Ceiling: 2.5- to 3.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2018
|3. Beau Burrows, RHP|
|Born: 09/18/96||Age: 19||Bats: R||Top CALs: Brian Gonzalez, Michael Blazek,
Miguel Gonzalez, Sean Reid-Foley, Jacob Partridge
|Height: 6-2||Weight: 200||Throws: R|
Background: For the first time since taking Jacob Turner in 2009, the Tigers drafted a prep arm in the opening round of the June draft. Burrows, who signed for the full slot-value of $2.154 million, tossed 28.0 innings in the Gulf Coast during his debut, posting an impressive 1.61 ERA with a 33-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Projection: Under the Dave Dombrowski regime the Tigers were a perfect two-for-two in drafting prep arms in the first round of the draft, first taking Rick Porcello and then grabbing Turner two years later. And Burrows looks like he could be the next to develop into a viable big league arm. He’s likely headed to the Midwest League in 2016.
Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell
MLB ETA: N/A
|4. Austin Kubitza, RHP|
|Born: 11/16/91||Age: 24||Bats: R||Top CALs: Scott Diamond, James Needy,
Carlos Hernandez, Josh Collmenter, Esmerling Vasquez
|Height: 6-5||Weight: 225||Throws: R|
Background: Arguably my favorite collegiate arm in the entire 2014 draft – which should be noted as being different than the collegiate arm available. Kubitza was an absolute stud during his time at Arm Shredder U. – also known, by me at least, Rice University. After his impressive three-year run, he left the school with a dominant 309-to-110 strikeout-to-walk ratio in a quasi-mind-boggling 290 innings. Detroit would take the wiry right-hander in the fourth round, 126th overall, as part of their effort to take every collegiate arm available. Since then he’s dominated the Midwest League (131.0 IP, 140 K, 43 BB, 2.34 ERA, and a 2.99 FIP) and looked passable in the Eastern League as he bypassed High Class A last season (133.2 IP, 96 K, and 48 BB).
Projection: Here’s what I wrote about the 6-foot-5, 225-pound right-hander prior to the draft:
“There’s some concern with Kubitza’s ability to throw strikes and his walk rate has worsened in each of his three seasons, going from 2.16 BB/9 to 4.26 BB/9 to 4.32 BB/9. He’s clearly got front of the rotation potential, but there’s a decent amount of risk because of his control problems. Still, though, he’s allowed just 11 extra-base hits and the ability to miss bats looks like a premium.”
So let’s fast forward two years, shall we? Kubitza passed the most important minor league challenge – Class AA – even if he was sporting an unsightly 5.79 ERA. His true measure of performance, according to his 3.65 FIP, was much more in line with his particular skill set as he battled through a lot of crap luck (.387 BABIP, 58.1% strand-rate). He did seem to tire in the second half of the season. In his first 13 starts with the SeaWolves he posted an impressive 56-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but that declined to a mediocre 40-to-23 over his final 14 starts.
On the positive side, he continues to generate a crap-ton of groundballs, averaging 59.2% last season and a freakin’ ridiculous 70.4% two years ago.
Kubitza no longer profiles as a top-of-the-rotation arm, but he could develop into a steady #4.
Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2016
|5. Jairo Labourt, LHP|
|Born: 03/07/94||Age: 22||Bats: L||Top CALs: Yeiper Castillo, Jose Ramirez,
Tyler Vail, David Baker, Arquimedes Nieto
|Height: 6-4||Weight: 205||Throws: L|
Background: In one of his final moves as a member of the Detroit Tigers, Dave Dombrowski shipped David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays for a package of three players: former top prospect Daniel Norris, who narrowly exhausted his rookie status, Matt Boyd, and Labourt, a sinewy 6-foot-4, 205-pounder out of the Dominican Republic. And despite changing organizations at the season’s midpoint, Labourt spent the entire year in the Florida State League where he would throw a career high 116.0 innings while averaging 8.1 strikeouts and 4.6 walks per nine innings. His 4.01 FIP was quite a bit lower than his combined 5.12 ERA. It was an aggressive promotion for the young lefty as he bypassed Low Class A after just 14.0 innings in 2014. For his career, Labourt has fanned 310 and walked 167 in 327.0 innings of work.
Projection: The Tigers did well enough by acquiring Norris, a solid bet to develop into a #2 or #3-type arm in the coming years. But Labourt is a nice gamble by the former regime-head. Last year, the then-21-year-old southpaw encountered his real struggles in professional baseball after more or less breezing through the Dominican Summer Leagues all the way up through short-season ball. And Labourt seemed to handle the aggressive promotion to High Class A last season. Given his relative youth and solid peripherals, Labourt has a chance to develop into a #4-type arm.
Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2017/2018
|6. Kevin Ziomek, LHP|
|Born: 03/21/92||Age: 24||Bats: R||Top CALs: Aaron Blair, Juan Nicasio,
Brad Mills, Steven Matz, Garrett Richards
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 200||Throws: L|
Background: Picked behind a couple arms that are no longer in the organization thanks to some trades, Ziomek was part of Detroit’s incredible collegiate-pitcher-heavy 2013 draft. The organization took an astounding 24 pitchers from four-year colleges and two from JUCOs out of their 41 overall picks. Hailing from Pitcher U. – also known as Vanderbilt University – Ziomek’s been on the slow and steady development plan in his first three years in the organization, or the Anti-Buck Farmer path as it’s known. After tossing a career-high 119.0 innings for the Commodores during his junior season, Detroit limited the 6-foot-3, 200-pound southpaw to just eight innings with Connecticut in the NYPL during his debut. Ziomek would spend the next year, 2014, with West Michigan, throwing a 123.0 innings while posting an impressive 152-to-53 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The club bumped him up another level last year, to the Florida State League, where he would throw a career best 154.2 innings while averaging 8.3 K/9. But more importantly he finished the year with his lowest walk rate, 1.98 BB/9, of his career – extending all the way back to his days before college. Ziomek was named the Tigers’ Pitching Prospect of the Year as well.
Projection: First things first, here’s what I wrote prior to the 2013 draft:
“Along with the impressive K-rate (8.89 K/9) is the fact that it’s come against a difficult schedule, something not every lefty can boast. Once adjusted for park and schedule – thanks to CollegeSplits.com – Ziomek’s peripherals are even more impressive 9.29 K/9 and 2.88 BB/9. He’s not an elite prospect, but he’s right up there with Gonzaga’s Marco Gonzalez.”
Well, despite the impressive peripherals and subsequent award recognition, Ziomek still isn’t an elite prospect – namely because he’s spent the past couple of years twirling gems against less-polished hitters in an age-appropriate level of competition. His once dominant punch out rate in the Midwest League plummeted to above-average status last season and it’s going to take another step down as he moves up to the Eastern League in 2016, finishing around 7.2 K/9. With that being said, he has the makeup, build, and production to develop into a capable backend starter at the big league level.
One final thought: it wouldn’t be surprising to see Detroit ship off the big lefty as part of mid-season trade to bolster the big league club.
Ceiling: 1.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2016/2017
|7. Steven Moya, RF|
|Born: 08/09/91||Age: 24||Bats: L||Top CALs: Willy Garcia, Quincy Latimore,
Denny Almonte, Greg Golson, Wilkin Ramirez
|Height: 6-7||Weight: 260||Throws: R|
Background: With enough power to be named in the same conversation as Joey Gallo, the Rangers’ bopping hulkster, Moya seemingly bashed every pitch during his breakout 2014 season (one in which was predicted in the book two years ago), slugging an impressive 33 doubles, three triples, and 35 homeruns en route to posting a solid .276/.306/.555 triple-slash line. Last season, however, the massive 6-foot-7, 260-pound right fielder looked a bit underwhelming in his first – and not last – go-round with the Toledo Mud Hens. After a quick nine-game tune-up with the Flying Tigers in High Class A, Moya batted a league average-ish .240/.283/.420 with 30 doubles and 20 homeruns in 535 trips to the plate in the International League. For his career, Moya is sporting a .249/.292/.441 mark with 122 doubles, 14 triples, and 100 dingers in 606 games.
Projection: I remained quite leery of Moya’s ability to maintain his massive breakout, writing the following in last year’s book:
“Moya finally tapped in his massive raw power and he continued his abhorrence to the free pass as well as battling contact issues; he walked just 4.2% and whiffed in 29.3% of his plate appearances last season. The lefty-swinging Moya has – surprisingly – handled fellow southpaws relatively well in his career. But, again, the K-rate has been trending in the wrong direction for years and he’s made zero improvement in his low walk rates. There’s certainly big league value here, but there’s a ton of risk. Luckily, he’s only entering his age-23 season.”
So the walk-abhorrence continued well into the 2015 season as he found first base via the free pass just 27 times out of his 535 plate appearances with Toledo. And, of course, his swing-and-miss tendencies ticked back up over the 30% mark as well. And just for added he fun: he struggled against southpaws last season as well, hitting a lowly .209/.231/.379 against them.
The big league club has Anthony Gose, Cameron Maybin, and J.D. Martinez penciled in at the outfield positions and veteran switch-hitting Victor Martinez at designated hitter, so Moya isn’t likely going to find a whole lot of ABs until an injury – or a rash of injuries – strikes. With that being said, the current run environment in the big leagues is so putrid and power deprived that Moya could become something along the lines of a lesser version of Mark Trumbo with some defensive contributions.
Ceiling: 1.5-win player
MLB ETA: Debuted in 2014
|8. Christin Stewart, LF|
|Born: 12/10/93||Age: 22||Bats: L||Top CALs: Harrison Bader, Derek Fisher,
Michael Gerber, Jacob Scavuzzo, Zoilo Almonte
|Height: 6-0||Weight: 205||Throws: R|
Background: Here’s an interesting little tidbit for you: Prior to Stewart’s selection as the 34th overall player in the 2015 draft, the last collegiate player taken in the first round was Southern University and A&M College second baseman Michael Woods – the year before Dave Dombrowski pulled up a chair at the front of the organization’s table. So let’s meet the man that broke Dombrowski’s mantra of taking high-ceiling prepsters and polished collegiate arms in the first round. Stewart was a three-year mainstay for the University of Tennessee. After failing to turn enough pro heads coming out of high school, the solidly-built corner outfielder looked at ease as a true freshman in the SEC, hitting .310/.414/.455. He would follow that up with an even better showing during his sophomore season: .330/.386/.541 with a mind-boggling 19 doubles, six triples, five dingers, and seven stolen bases. And then he upped the ante even further during his final run with the school. In 221 plate appearances for the Volunteers, Stewart slugged a robust .311/.443/.633 with eight doubles, a pair of triples, and 15 homeruns, nearly double his career total at that point.
Detroit bounced the young outfielder through three levels during his debut, though most of his offensive damage was done with West Michigan in the Midwest League. He would bat .286/.375/.492 with plenty of extra-base firepower (nine doubles, four triples, and seven homeruns) in 216 PAs.
Projection: Here’s what I wrote about Stewart prior to the draft last year:
“Solid overall offensive toolkit without a true standout tool that would play well in the professional ranks. Stewart has an average approach at the plate, decent hit tool, and 15- to 17-homerun power. While his career ISO stands a couple ticks above .220, it’s important to remember that Tennessee’s home ballpark, Lindsey Nelson Stadium, slightly enhances offensive production as well.
In terms of professional ceiling, Stewart looks like a backup outfielder.”
Ceiling: 1.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2018
|9. Zach Shepherd, 3B|
|Born: 09/14/95||Age: 20||Bats: R||Top CALs: Alex Liddi, Kevin Ahrens,
Trey Michalczewski, Drew Ward, Jake Hanson
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 185||Throws: R|
Background: Signed from the Land Down Under for $325,000 as a 16-year-old in 2012. Detroit waited a year before moving the 6-foot-3, 185-pound third baseman stateside, pushing him right into the Gulf Coast League two years ago. Shepherd responded by hitting an impressive .301/.373/.497 in 201 trips to the plate. The front office bumped the hot corner up to the Midwest League with far less impressive results.
Projection: One of the key components in evaluating teenage prospects in full-season ball is to look at how the prospect fared after the initial shock wears off and before they wear down. So let’s do that, shall we? Ignoring Shepherd’s hideous first month and his equally poor August, he hit a more-than-respectable .274/.366/.361 between May 1st and July 31st, a span of 74 games and 287 plate appearances. While it’s not exactly a run of dominance, it’s more than respectable for a 19-year-old getting his first taste of the Sally. If he can flash the above-average pop he showed two years ago he might have a shot to develop into a big league starter.
Ceiling: 1.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2019
|10. Derek Hill, CF|
|Born: 12/30/95||Age: 20||Bats: R||Top CALs: Gregory Polanco, Cord Sandberg,
Troy Stokes, Michael Swinson, Josh Roberts
|Height: 6-2||Weight: 195||Throws: R|
Background: Fun fact: Derek Hill was selected as the 23rd overall pick in the 2014 draft; his father Orsino Hill, a baseball-lifer, was chosen with the 24th overall pick in the 1982 draft out of University of Nebraska. But, unfortunately, the parallels between father-and-son don’t end there either. Orsino struggled through his first taste of the Midwest Leagues, hitting a lowly .229/.318/.384 with Cedar Rapids in 1983. And Derek, the toolsy center fielder with a couple million bucks in his pocket already, hit an unimpressive .238/.305/.314 in his first taste in an injury-shortened campaign in the Midwest League. For his career, Hill is sporting a lowly .225/.301/.305 triple-slash line with just nine doubles, eight triples, and two homeruns in 100 games.
Projection: The positives: Hill has a fairly solid approach at the plate, at least in terms of peripherals. He’s walked in 8.8% and punched out in 20.6% of his career plate appearances. And he’s offering up plenty of speed; he’s swiped 36 bags in 45 attempts; or about 58 bags in a typical 162-game season.
Now the negatives: an underwhelming hit tool and basically no power.
Hill’s still plenty young enough to start driving the ball with more authority – especially given his 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame – but it has to start happening like…tomorrow.
Ceiling: 2.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2019
Author’s Note: All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com.