This season, MiLB.com is perusing through the minor league system of all thirty Major League Baseball organizations, to see who stood out the best and who has the most promise moving forward.
Coming into the 2015 season, the Detroit Tigers had the worst farm system according to ESPN’s Keith Law. When the season started to go up in flames, then General Manager Dave Dombrowski waived the white towel and traded off impending free agents, who all happened to be the team’s best players at the time. Instead, prior to his sudden departure out of Motown, he was able to re-stock the extremely dry farm system of the Tigers with players, some who made an immediate impact right away like Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd.
The big league club was not the only one to struggle throughout the entire organization. Triple-A Toledo, Double-A Erie, and High Single-A Lakeland all finished a combined .500. The silver lining in all of it? The Low Single-A affiliate West Michigan Whitecaps were able to capture the Midwest League championship.
So who played the best in the minors for the Detroit Tigers? Here are some of the more notables:
Jefry Marte – 3B/1B
Jefry Marte is one of two of the ‘organizational All-Stars’ to make their major league debut with the Tigers in 2015. Marte was picked up from the Oakland Athletics system last November and played in nearly 100 games for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens, earning All-Star honors in the International League (AAA). He smacked 15 home runs, drove in 65 runs in total, and filled in admirably in a Tigers uniform for 33 games this season.
Dixon Machado – SS
Dixon Machado is the other minor leaguer along with Marte in this group to make his major league debut donning the olde English D. The 23-year old Machado also earned All-Star honors at the AAA level. His glove has never been in question since he became a part of the Detroit Tigers organization at age 17. However, he managed to hit a solid .261/.313/.332 in 127 games with the Hens.
Machado got to show Tigers fans what kind of ceiling he has, moving forward. I have to reiterate once again that if Tigers GM Al Avila decides to pull the trigger on a bold move that will help the team, I won’t be surprised if Machado is potential trade bait.
Wynton Bernard – CF
Outfielder Wynton Bernard arguably might have had the most consistent and best all-around season in the entire organization in 2015. Not only was he the catalyst for the Erie SeaWolves, but he was among the best in Eastern League (AA). Bernard has now put together back-to-back impressive seasons of at least 130 games played, 160 hits, 40 stolen bases, and a .300 batting average.
I expect Bernard to come into spring training camp in February and only continue to get better. Triple-A Toledo had a revolving door of center fielders last season, so he will likely be patrolling center field for the Mud Hens at the start of the 2016 season. If Bernard, 24, keeps putting up numbers like he has the last two seasons, and any young, unproven Tigers outfielders are underperforming or regressing in production, he may be called upon.
Michael Gerber – OF
Michael Gerber was given the title of Tigers’ Minor League POY following the Whitecaps run to the Midwest League title. His 76 runs driven in ranked tied for second with Miguel Cabrera for most in the entire Tigers organization. Gerber, 23, was a 15th-round pick back in 2014 and played his first full season at the Low-A level of the minors.
Gerber was West Michigan’s best hitter wire to wire in 2015. He hit a clutch go-ahead single in the Championship Series of the Midwest League playoffs to force a decisive game five which the ‘Caps eventually won.
Christin Stewart – OF
Outfielder Christin Stewart might be one of the most surprising players to make this list. Stewart was the Tigers’ first-round pick in THIS YEAR’S draft. When he joined the organization, he was a part of the rookie league team, the Gulf Coast League Tigers. By the end of the season, he had jumped up two levels and before he knew it, was a big part of the Whitecaps’ playoff run.
Stewart hit .286/.375/.492 in 51 games at West Michigan this season and hit a shade under .370 in the Midwest League postseason. He went 4×5 with two RBI’s including the go-ahead single in the semifinals that sent the ‘Caps to the championship series.
The Tennesse product is just another piece sitting down on the farm on what right now looks like the most promising team in the Tigers’ minor league system.
Joe Jimenez – RP
Whitecaps relief pitcher Joe Jimenez put together a season that on paper makes him look like a big league pitcher and much of the Tigers’ bullpen arms look like pedestrian minor leaguers.
Jimenez posted a sparkling 1.47 ERA in 40 appearances for West Michigan this season. This comes off a 2014 season where he compiled a 2.70 ERA for the Connecticut Tigers (shortened season Class-A, a level below the Whitecaps). The 20-year old was the lone representative in the Tigers’ organization at the 2015 Futures Games during the All-Star break.
He was lights out in the postseason for the Whitecaps as well, chalking up four saves in six appearances while not allowing an earned run in five innings of postseason play.