Down on the farm: Tigers minor league update

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The Tigers started off their ten-game road trip on a high note with a series win in the Big Apple. Off the field however, the club’s top officials were focused on the future for the club as part of the 2016 MLB Draft.

Detroit in fact is already getting some strong contributions from some young prospects, most notably Michael Fulmer. ever since his call-up from Triple-A Toledo, Fulmer has been nothing short of impressive, posting a 7-1 record and a 2.52 ERA.

What else is going down on the farm?

TRIPLE-A: TOLEDO MUD HENS

Toledo Mud Hens

In the last week, the Tigers promoted prospect JaCoby Jones to Triple-A and has been as good as advertised in his first seven games with the Hens. Jones has recorded a hit in all seven of his games since the call-up, going 10-for-28 with a home run in his first game and four runs driven in.

Jones in 27 games played split between Toledo and Double-A Erie is hitting a cool .324 and like fellow Tigers prospect Steven Moya, he too has see his strikeout rate decline some, with some improved plate discipline. Fielding wise, Jones has seen playing time mostly at third base or center field with a couple games starting at first base sprinkled in and in 79 total chances, he’s only committed one error.

There’s another highly-touted prospect in the Tigers’ farm system we will be touching on later.

Speaking of Moya by the way, he has picked up where he left off since being sent back down from the parent club. In his last ten games for Toledo, he’s hitting .317 (13-for-41) with three extra-base-hits and six RBI. What his hot-hitting continues to show is that Tigers can comfortably call upon Moya when needed.

On the pitching front, the story there continues to be Daniel Norris. The numbers aren’t sexy by any means (nine ER over last 17.1 IP, 1-2 record) for a player dubbed a ‘prospect’ but the chatter surround Detroit continues to be when he will be called up and stay for the long haul. So far, no other Tigers pitchers have been egregiously poor to warrant a sudden switch to the staff, so Norris continues to be stashed away at Triple-A and further fine tune his pitches and execution – a good luxury for the Tigers moving forward.

DOUBLE-A: ERIE SEAWOLVES

Erie SeaWolves

Erie was once previously home to one of the Tigers’ top minor leaguers in JaCoby Jones but was replaced by that of 2015 Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year Joe Jimenez.

Jimenez was promoted from High Class-A Lakeland prior to a game back on May 29 and has appeared in six games thus far for the SeaWolves. He’s logged an inning of work in each of those six appearances, allowing just three hits and one walk, striking out ten and notching two saves in the process.

Jimenez is a guy Tigers fans should start paying a little bit more attention to moving forward. In his 23 games pitched (23.1 IP), he has yet to allow a run on his time, surrendering just eight hits, six walks, and  two hit batsmen while converting all 12 of his save opportunities. If this trend continues, he may find his way to Toledo sooner rather than later.

Joe joins a pitching staff in Erie that has been desperate for some stability and consistent production. One other guy who has flown under the radar and is getting the job done is reliever Kurt Spomer. Spomer on the season has registered a 1.82 ERA in 23 games (29.2 IP) and in his last five outings, he has allowed no runs and one hit in 6.1 innings of work, striking out a little more than a batter per inning. Spomer and Jimenez are formed a nice 1-2 punch in the bullpen to help shut down opposing offense late.

Another 1-2 punch the SeaWolves sport is in the lineup in the form of Jeff McVaney and Connor Harrell. The two have posted identical batting averages of .371 in their last ten and both have identical BAs of .299 for the season. Both look to improve their status within the organization, McVaney hit .260 in time with Toledo and Erie last season, while Harrell managed just a .222 BA in 125 games last year for Erie.

HIGH CLASS-A: LAKELAND FLYING TIGERS

Lakeland Flying Tigers

The key cogs from last year’s Midwest League champion Whitecaps club down in Low Class-A have struggled to duplicate their production this year since being promoted, but one guy who has burst onto the scene is Christin Stewart.

A .323 BA last week has vaulted his season average up to .246 and during that stretch, he launched his Florida State League-leading 16th home run of the season. Not only is the run production showing up for Stewart, but he’s also playing a solid defensive game with only two errors in 53 games (67 chances) in left field this season.

First baseman and former Angels farmhand Wade Hinkle has caught fire as of late at the plate. The 2012 27th-round pick out of Kansas State is hitting .314 over his last ten games with seven RBI, which has seen his BA climb up to .263. Hinkle gives the Flying Tigers another steady bat to take pressure off the likes of Stewart and 2015 Tigers Minor League Player of the Year Mike Gerber, who has also found a groove as of late hitting .316 over the last ten contests.

Lakeland is finding ways to win by and large thanks to a trio of starters in Tyler Alexander, A.J. Ladwig, and Jeff Thompson. The three hurlers have combined to compile a 3.86 ERA over their last two outings each. Alexander (2015) and Thompson (2013) respectively are former top-3-round draft picks from the Tigers.

LOW CLASS-A: WEST MICHIGAN WHITECAPS

West Michigan Whitecaps

A recent 10-game winning streak to close out May and enter June has seen the Tigers Low Class-A affiliate get right back into the thick of a heated Midwest League Eastern Division race with a 35-25 overall record.

A lot of that recent success can fall on the shoulders of a pitching staff headlined by Matt Hall and Beau Burrows. The two youngsters have been excellent all season long and over each of their last two starts, they have allowed just one ER on eight hits over 22.0 innings pitched with 19 strikeouts. Now they are getting big-time contributions from two more arms in Trent Szkutnik and Sandy Baez. Those two have combined to post a 2.77 ERA (8 ER, 26.o IP) in each of their last two starts.

Pitching and defense wins championships in baseball, there’s no question about that. It was the strength in the ‘Caps run to a title during the 2015 season. Combine that with some steady power bats and what you have is another solid 25-man group over in Grand Rapids.

Will Maddox and Jose Azocar are leading the way in the offensive department, particularly Azocar as of late who is hitting nearly at a .400 clip (15-for-38) in his last ten games. He and Maddox have driven in eight total runs over the team’s last ten and both have a BA higher than .330.

One of the Tigers’ top prospects Derek Hill may be one step closer from breaking out and further planting his flag. The average is up to .250 after a .316 stretch over the last ten games, which is respectable so long as the on-base percentage has added value. Right now, it sits at just .308, which has plenty of room to improve if any of his strikeouts or put-outs turn into base on balls or an extra knock with added and improved plate discipline, That would create more stolen base chances for Hill as he matures and progresses through the minors to go with his already above-average glove in center field.