Castellanos headlines Tigers' evolving pipeline
With loaded starting rotation, Detroit being patient with Minor League pitchers
DETROIT -- The Tigers built their loaded roster on the strength of drafting and developing young pitching, with pitchers they kept like Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello, and pitchers they traded like Jacob Turner and Andrew Miller for stars such as Miguel Cabrera, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante.
As the Tigers look at their farm system, it's a much different look than in years past. That's not necessarily a bad thing.
Detroit's top two prospects are both outfielders. Ten of the Tigers' top 13 prospects are position players. Four pitchers in MLB.com's Top 20 Tigers Prospects are relievers.
The way the Tigers' rotation looks at the moment, they can deal with that. They have the pitching they need for the next few years. They're hoping they have the relief help to eventually bolster a shaky bullpen. They're about to get some offensive help to fill some spots.
At the top, the countdown is on for No. 1 prospect Nick Castellanos (No. 20 overall), who has recovered from a slow start at Triple-A Toledo to showcase the same sweet swing that produced a stellar season and a Futures Game appearance a year ago at this point at Class A Lakeland and Double-A Erie.
When he was a third baseman a year ago, Cabrera's move to the hot corner was a massive road block for Castellanos. In left field, where Andy Dirks and Matt Tuiasosopo have shared the workload in Detroit, the question of Castellanos' arrival might end up being more a matter of his longtime Minor League teammate.
Avisail Garcia (No. 3 prospect) already showed the spark he can provide the Tigers last September as a platoon hitter. Now, after missing more than a month with a bruised heel, his production in place of injured center fielder Austin Jackson the last couple weeks could make his case to stick with the big club once Jackson returns from the disabled list, possibly as soon as Friday.
Jackson is Detroit's defensive keystone in center field. Torii Hunter is an everyday fixture in right. With Victor Martinez picking up his production at designated hitter over the last week and a half, that leaves left field as the one spot for Garcia or Castellanos to find a role at this point.
The Tigers want both of them playing regularly to help their development, so there likely isn't room for both Castellanos and Garcia any time soon.
The other prospect at Toledo who could make an impact on the big club is Bruce Rondon (No. 2), whose Spring Training audition for the closer's job backfired on the Tigers. His ninth-inning success with the Hens, and his ability to throw his secondary pitches for strikes, could earn him another look in the big leagues this year if the Tigers are pushed to change.
Though Jose Valverde has had his ups and downs so far, the Tigers appear satisfied with his conversions in save opportunities. If his struggles become more frequent and have a bigger effect on wins and losses, the dearth of options on the trade market could lead the Tigers back to Rondon as the leading internal option.
Catcher Bryan Holaday could yet become a 2013 contributor for the Tigers if they have to fill an injury behind the plate, but everybody else on the Tigers' prospect list is a longer-view option. Second baseman Hernan Perez (No. 13) has had an eye-opening first half at Erie, which could give the Tigers some thought if they have trouble re-signing Infante at season's end. Eugenio Suarez (No. 8) likely needs more time than that, which doesn't help Detroit as it ponders next year's outlook at shortstop. Tyler Collins' (No. 6) Spring Training earned him comparisons to Dirks, but his recent slump at Erie has shown the need for patience.
Talent-wise, the Tigers have some depth in the outfield further down the system. Steven Moya (No. 11) looks more like a basketball small forward than an outfielder, but has talent galore if he can mature at the plate. Austin Schotts (No. 10), last year's second pick, is starting to dig out of his early-season funk at West Michigan. Danry Vasquez (No. 4), also with the Whitecaps, have five-tool promise. There's also help behind the plate, especially if former top pick James McCann (No. 12) can build off his start at Erie.
Pitching-wise, notably in the rotation, that depth isn't there. The fact that the Tigers have turned to Minor League free agents and other acquisitions to fill rotation holes at Toledo and Erie reflects that. Casey Crosby (No. 5), drafted out of high school in 2007 with almost as much promise as Rick Porcello, has battled high pitch counts and walk totals in his second season at Toledo and might yet become a reliever. Fellow lefty Kyle Lobstein, a Rule 5 Draft pick last offseason whose full rights Detroit eventually acquired, has been encouraging at Erie, as has Warwick Saupold.
After that, there's a gap. Jake Thompson (No. 9), last year's top Draft pick, just began pitching at West Michigan. Lefty Joe Rogers isn't pitching.
The fact that the Tigers are pretty well set with Major League starters for the next few years gives them abundant patience. The fact that they just had a pitching-heavy Draft, however, showed the need for more arms.
"I think right now if you evaluate our Minor League system, I do think that we have somewhat of a gap between upper-level and lower-level arms," vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd said. "And I think what we did in this Draft with this experienced college pitching should be able to absorb or help that."