3/7/2014 11:00 A.M. ET
How do Tigers' top prospects fit Detroit's needs?
Third baseman Castellanos, reliever Rondon could play key roles on 2014 club
By Bernie Pleskoff / MLB.com
This series is designed to evaluate the role prospects play in each Major League organization, looking at the short- and long-term needs of each club and illustrating how prospects fit in both scenarios.
Here's my look at the Tigers:
The Tigers shook things up this past winter by trading Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. In addition, the team traded reliable right-handed starter Doug Fister to the Nationals.
The moves are significant and change some of the faces of the franchise. But probably the biggest ramification is the shift of Miguel Cabrera from third to first base. That move will help save his body.
Right-handed-hitting Nick Castellanos, who is 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, fills the void at third base. When I saw Castellanos play in the Arizona Fall League in 2012, he struggled at the plate and looked lost. He didn't hit the ball hard, lacked patience and his swing was long. Interestingly, he didn't wear batting gloves.
PROJECTED 2016 TIGERS LINEUPProjecting the Tigers' 2016 lineup based on players currently in their system.
But that was then. During the 2013 season at Triple-A Toledo, Castellanos hit .276 with 18 home runs and 76 RBIs. It was a season that showed he has quick hands through the ball.
Castellanos should hit for average by recognizing pitches well and hitting to all fields. He's the Tigers' top prospect.
Last spring, Detroit felt reliever Bruce Rondon might be able to close down games with his fastball that hits 100 mph. When I saw him in Spring Training, however, he couldn't find the plate.
Rondon's a wide-bodied guy, at 6-foot-3, 275 pounds. He's only 23. The right-hander does need to master secondary pitches to go with his fastball. Rondon's slider is solid and his changeup works well. If he can throw strikes with those pitches, it will help his high-velocity fastball tremendously.
Switch-hitting Eugenio Suarez could very well be playing somewhere in the middle infield before too long. More than likely, he could help out in a utility role, adding depth behind Jose Iglesias.
Suarez is a slick infielder with good range and a solid arm. He can also hit better than most expected. Suarez has quick hands and can drive the ball to all parts of the field.
Devon Travis, a player I saw in the Arizona Fall League, is very capable as a sure-handed infielder as well. His best position is second base.
Outfielder Austin Schotts is a speedster with excellent athletic ability. He's aggressive at the plate, so he will have to hit to get on base, and that can be an issue. Schotts' speed will help a team in need of that component.
Outfielder Steven Moya could help provide power from right field. Set back by Tommy John surgery in 2012, he's a lanky, 6-foot-6, 230-pound left-handed hitter with the ability to run.
Should the Tigers make some type of move with Alex Avila, the heir apparent could be outstanding defensive catcher James McCann. He could form an offensive/defensive tandem with Avila.
Right-handers Drew VerHagen, Jake Thompson and Jonathon Crawford are among Tigers pitchers to watch for in the future.
VerHagen's huge 6-foot-6, 230-pound body allows him to pitch downhill. He can bring his fastball at 97 mph, with command. VerHagen doesn't depend on the strikeout as his bread and butter, instead keeping the ball down in the zone, inducing ground balls. Even though his mechanics get a bit unconventional at times, VerHagen mixes his fastball, curveball and changeup well.
At age 20, Thompson is still young, but he's another of the very large group of starting pitching hopefuls. At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Thompson has completed parts of just two seasons.
Unlike VerHagen, Thompson relies more on missing bats and striking out hitters. He gets a good deal of sink on his low-90s fastball and gets guys to pound the ball into the ground if they make contact. Because he doesn't overpower hitters, Thompson has to rely on his clean delivery and good mechanics to keep his command sharp and accurate.
Crawford was the Tigers' 2013 first-round Draft choice. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, he doesn't have the size of the other pitchers mentioned above, but he throws a low-90s fastball that he relies upon heavily. Crawford is still working on his curveball and changeup to complete his arsenal.
Left-handed starter Casey Crosby could play an important role for the club. Another huge pitcher at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Crosby has scuffled with his command for quite some time. But he has a moving 95-mph fastball that keeps the Tigers interested in his future.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.