As the Detroit Tigers have their eye sets on the future with the idea of getting younger, leaner, and more athletic, virtually everybody and their mother and brother within the organization will be getting their chance to improve their standing with the club this offseason.
It will all start on October 10 in the desert with the Arizona Fall League. The long-running offseason league operated by Major League Baseball has proven to be an excellent platform for some of the game’s great minor league prospects as they continue their push to make it to the big leagues.
It’s a schedule that runs a little over a month (this season ends on November 18) and comprises of two divisions — East and West — with three teams in each division. All six teams each have partnership affiliates with five different MLB clubs.
This year, the Detroit Tigers are one of five teams affiliated with the Mesa Solar Sox; along with the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics and Washington Nationals. and this fall, a total of eight prospect within the Tigers’ system will be partaking in the fall festivities beginning next month.
Let’s have a look at who will be in attendance (prospect ranking, if given one by MLB Pipeline):
1. JAKE ROGERS, C | No. 8
22-year-old Jake Rogers was one of three pieces Detroit acquired in the Justin Verlander trade with the Houston Astros. Rogers played in only two games with High Class-A Lakeland following the trade but finished the season with a very solid .261/.350/.467 slash line in 112 games, a noticeable uptick from his professional rookie season in 2016.
The offensive output from Rogers is very encouraging, considering he is heralded for his arm and defensive prowess as a catcher. How the former third-round pick follows up in the fall and in 2018 remains to be seen but we could very well be looking at the heir to James McCann behind the plate in Detroit down the road.
2. ADAM RAVENELLE, P | No. 27
This will be the third AFL stint for 24-year-old righty Adam Ravenelle in as many seasons. The former fourth-round pick of the Tigers back in 2014 spent the entire 2017 season at Double-A Erie and left much to be desired from scouts.
Ravenelle in 42 games logged a 5.26 ERA and 1.53 WHIP with the SeaWolves. Command appears to be an continuing struggle for him. He’s striking out close to a batter per inning in his career thus far, but it gets watered down by a K:BB ratio of approximately 2.
The Double-A level remains a bit of a roadblock for Ravenelle right now. Going back to 2016, he has pitched to a 5.05 ERA in 69 appearances. Hopefully he can figure somethings out this fall and improve his standing by spring camp.
3. SPENCER TURNBULL, P | No. 29
Spencer Turnbull turned in 21 starts this season, the bulk of which came with High Class-A Lakeland, where it happened to be his best work. In 15 outings with the Flying Tigers, Turnbull registered a 3.27 ERA.
However his season ERA was inflated to a 4.10 ERA due to a handful of pedestrian starts with Erie and a couple rehab starts at the rookie level. Still, he’s progressing really well overall as a prospect, now logging a 3.46 ERA in 67 career minor league starts since being drafted in 2014.
This will be Turnbull’s second straight AFL stint. He pitched in six games last season, compiling a very respectable 3.60 ERA.
4. ZAC REININGER, P
Of the eight players on this list who actually made it to the big leagues with the Tigers this season, Zac Reininger carries that feather in his cap.
Reininger, 24, pitched lights-out in the minors this season, including sub-2.00 ERA in stints with both Erie and Triple-A Toledo that earned him the call in late August. Though he did not perform all that well overall in his time with Detroit — 8 ER, 3 HR allowed in 9.2 IP — there is little to no doubt Reininger will get some valuable experience in the Arizona Fall League, where he last pitched back in 2014.
5. KODY EAVES, 2B-3B
Kody Eaves is a 24-year-old infielder in the upper reaches of the Tigers’ system who spent the majority of this season at Double-A and had a cup of coffee at Triple-A.
Overall, Eaves performed adequately. He hit .271 with an .804 OPS in 96 minor league games. Primarily a second baseman when he first began his career, Eaves is slowly transitioning to play more third base. That was evident this season, playing 55 games at the hot corner; 35 at second base.
It’s safe to wonder, at least a little bit, what the long-term plans are for Eaves, whom the team acquired back in January of 2016 in exchange for former infielder Jefry Marte. But he’s upping his value with a steady bat and ability to play multiple positions at a young age.
6. CAM GIBSON, OF
This will be the first Arizona Fall League experience for outfielder Cam Gibson, son of former big league player and manager and current Tigers color commentator Kirk Gibson.
The younger Gibson played in 109 games between Lakeland and Low Class-A West Michigan this season, posting a .262/.336/.460 slash line. The product of Grosse Pointe South High School and Michigan State University doubled his home run total of 12 from his first two pro seasons with 13 this year alone. He added 19 stolen bases as well, giving him 51 through three years.
A 23-year-old “Gibby” is showing shades of being a multi-dimensional player early on. Look for that to continue this fall.
7. ZAC HOUSTON, P
Perhaps the most under-reported player on this list that Tigers fans will become more familiar with sooner than later is 22-year-old Zac Houston.
The former 11th-round pick from 2016 out of Mississippi State is coming off a second really strong season in the minors. Like Gibson, he started at West Michigan this year before being promoted to Lakeland. In 32 appearances, Houston logged a very solid 2.17 ERA. This comes one year after posting a microscopic 0.30 ERA as a professional rookie.
Perhaps even more eye-popping is his 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings, or only one home run allowed in his 87.2 innings of work through two seasons. Right now, Houston does not have any problems.
8. A.J. SIMCOX, SS
Shortstop A.J. Simcox spent this entire 2017 season with the SeaWolves, hitting .250 with a .671 OPS.
But perhaps the most intriguing part of his numbers this season was the significant dip in strikeouts from the year prior. After striking out in a little over 20 percent of his at-bats in 2016, Simcox chopped that K-Rate down to 16.5 percent this year.
Much like Eaves, it’s hard to project what the future holds for Simcox in the Tigers’ organization. Defensively, the jury may be still out on whether or not he can play the shortstop position well enough on an everyday basis, or if he can hit enough.
Having said that, some patience is required for the 23-year-old, who did just finish his second full season in the Tigers’ system. Maybe an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League could change his fortunes.