First off, I’d like to start by saying for the remainder of the 2015 season, we will do recaps of the farm system for the Detroit Tigers every other week. It will give better indications of who is playing better and who’s struggling, based on large samples.
Detroit has had to make some roster moves recently, with starter Justin Verlander returning. The biggest move was sending down struggling starter Shane Greene, who has been tagged for 4 or more earned runs in his last four outings before being optioned to the Toledo Mud Hens, taking the loss in each of those games. Greene started off exceptionally well for Detroit, but things quickly turned into a sophomore slump for the 26-year old. The Tigers are having Kyle Ryan pitch in his spot in the rotation until Greene is ready to return.
What else is going on down on the farm?
TRIPLE-A: TOLEDO MUD HENS
The Mud Hens (31-40) all of a sudden have some pretty interesting story lines moving forward, with regards to some key players on the roster.
Let’s start with top prospect Steven Moya. He is hitting .243 on the season, .256 in his last ten games. He did go yard for the sixth time this season. His 35 runs batted in is good for second on the team behind Jefry Marte (42). At this point in the season, Moya will only join the big league team for September call ups. If the Tigers all of sudden go into a serious tailspin and have no chance of making the postseason for a fifth straight year, then perhaps he may be called upon to showcase his potential.
Now let’s move on to Marte. He was hitting under .200 on the season on May the 17th. Since then, his average has climbed to a much more respectable .258, which includes a .351 clip in his last ten games. Marte has been the obvious starting choice at third base for Toledo all season long. However, that hot corner could soon become a carousel of players.
On Sunday, Hens shortstop Dixon Machado started at third base for the first time in his professional career. The 23-year old has been anchored at shortstop his entire life. Perhaps the Tigers could be trying him out to play at third, due to the recent struggles of current Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos. He very well could be trade bait too, as utility players can have significant value. Certainly an important topic to keep a close eye on.
On to the part of pitching. As stated previously, Shane Greene was sent down to Triple-A to work on his game. He made his second start on Sunday, but was forced to exit the game in the 4th inning due to a blister on a finger of his throwing hand. The early exit could coincide with how he was pitching. At that point, he had given up four earned runs on seven hits. His first start for Toledo was brilliant, pitching 7.1 shutout innings. Greene could return to the Tigers any day now, but the blister, along with this rough outing, could put that return on hold.
DOUBLE-A: ERIE SEAWOLVES
The Erie SeaWolves (26-42) do not have a whole lot to play for this season. At this point, the goal is to stay healthy and show some signs of development moving forward.
One guy who has not missed a beat is center fielder Wynton Bernard. He has maintained at least a .300 batting average since the middle of May, hitting .305 on the season. The SeaWolves catalyst is showing this season that his early season struggles were merely a fluke. Wynton has shown he can play everyday and produce consistently, at least at the Double-A level. However, with a crowded outfield in Toledo, I expect Wynton to stay down with Erie all season. Though, he could be a September call up at the end of the season for the Tigers, or could be called upon if Rajai Davis or Anthony Gose got injured or were not performing well.
Starting pitcher Tommy Collier continues to pitch extremely well since being promoted from High Class-A down in Lakeland, FL. In eight starts in Lakeland, he was 3-4 with a 2.09 ERA. In his five starts with Erie, he is 1-0 with 1.87 ERA, with an opponent’s BA of .217 and a WHIP of 1.04, compared to his .243 OBA and 1.14 WHIP respectively with Lakeland. Collier, 25, is giving SeaWolves fans something to be excited about, and Tigers front office execs something to think about.
SINGLE-A ADVANCED: LAKELAND FLYING TIGERS
The Lakeland Flying Tigers (30-36) were eliminated from playoff contention for the first half of the season, but still have the second half to earn a spot in the Florida State League playoffs (For those unfamiliar with the Single-A Advanced playoff procedure, click here.)
Since second baseman Curt Powell was promoted to Erie back in late May, first baseman Dominic Ficociello has taken the reigns as the Flying Tigers’ power hitter. Ficociello is hitting .293 on the season in 63 games played, getting on base 35.8% percent of the time. Lakeland is looking for any kind of run production, as they’ve had two players recently rise in the system and head north for Erie.
Pitcher Matt Crouse has pitched very solid for Lakeland since Tommy Collier was promoted to Erie last month. He has made four starts (five appearances total) since Collier’s departure, going 3-0 and giving up nine earned runs in 23.2 IP, with four of those coming in one outing.
Flying Tigers outfielder Ben Verlander has recently hit the skids, seeing his average dip as low as .225. He has however collected at least one base hit in eight of his last ten games for Lakeland.
SINGLE-A: WEST MICHIGAN WHITECAPS
The West Michigan Whitecaps (33-36) also missed out on the playoffs in the Midwest League (A) first half of the season, but are poised to make a run in the second half during the dog days of summer.
Without question though for the sake of the Tigers and the development of prospects, the big story of 2015 is future center fielder Derek Hill. Like Moya however, Hill has struggled to get anything going, at least as much as the the Tigers had hoped for. He is hitting just .227 on the season. On June 15th, Hill was placed on the disabled list for the second time this season with a quad strain. The Whitecaps inserted outfielder Rashad Brown into the everyday lineup since Hill’s absence. All he’s done has gone 11-for-26 in six games for West Michigan. Brown is hitting .327 in 14 games played this season.
Whitecaps right fielder Michael Gerber continues to pace the Midwest League in hitting with a .335 average, though he is hitting just .235 in his last ten games for West Michigan. He leads the ball club in hits (83), home runs (5), RBI’s (40), walks (32), slugging percentage (.476), and OPS (OBP + SLG, .881)
From the rotation, Spencer Turnbull has been the hot hand lately. Turnbull is 5-2 on the season with a 2.67 ERA in 11 starts and 57.1 innings of work. He has not given up more than three earned runs in a start, has not given up a long ball (yet), and has an opponent’s BA of .225.