Tigers’ top prospects continue to shine in the minors

It still remains to be seen which direction this year’s Detroit Tigers will go as we play through June. At some point, the club will need to decide when a teardown and rebuild is in order, and it could be sooner rather than later.

Should that be the case, expect Detroit to not only trade off key assets but also keep promoting from within. There are a number of prospects down on the farm that continue to perform very well in 2017 and deliver promise for the future.

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CHRISTIN STEWART (No. 2) | DOUBLE-A ERIE

Christin Stewart continues to mash the ball at Double-A Erie. In 60 games for the SeaWolves this season, Stewart is hitting .261 with 15 home runs (2nd in the Eastern League) and 45 runs batted in (2nd in EL), while posting a .545 slugging percentage (T-6th in EL) and an OPS of .902 (T-7th in EL).

The knock with Stewart’s game at the plate continues to be the strikeouts. He’s fanning on nearly 31 percent of his at-bats this season, slightly above his average in that department through his first 2+ professional seasons.

Still, he’s on pace to do almost exactly what he did a year ago, when he clubbed 30 homers and drove in 87 runs in time with both Erie and High Class-A Lakeland. And given the severe lack of outfield production for Triple-A Toledo, don’t be surprised if the 2016 Tigers’ Minor League Player of the Year finishes the season with the Mud Hens.

BEAU BURROWS (No. 3) | DOUBLE-A ERIE

Stewart was a first-round pick of the Tigers back in 2015, as was right-hander Beau Burrows. The 20-year-old has been terrific in his 40+ pro outings since joining the organization and has continued that in 2017.

Burrows was recently promoted to Erie and has made two starts for the SeaWolves, allowing just three earned runs in 10 innings of work in those two starts. Before that, he was dominating the Florida State League (High A). In 11 starts for the Flying Tigers down in Lakeland, he registered a 1.23 ERA with a K:BB ratio of nearly 6 to 1.

Detroit will be a bit more careful with Burrows given his youth and relatively small workload. Though, if he continues to mow down people, the Tigers may have no other choice but to keep promoting him. One could see him staying put in Erie for at least through the 2017 campaign, possibly flirting with Toledo.

KYLE FUNKHOUSER (No. 6) | HIGH CLASS-A LAKELAND

Already the proud owner of the best name in the Tigers’ system and possibly all of minor league baseball, Kyle Funkhouser is pitching lights-out down in the bushes.

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Another pitcher who got a recent promotion, Funkhouser in 11 starts this season between Low-A West Michigan and High-A Lakeland has posted a 2.75 ERA. His last four times out have been with the latter Flying Tigers, a 2.22 ERA in those starts. On the year overall, opponents are hitting under .240 and he’s got a K:BB mark approaching 5 to 1.

Funkhouser, 23, is a bit more seasoned as a player compared to Burrows. The former fourth-round pick out of Louisville in 2016 essentially fills Burrows’ spot in the Lakeland rotation after Burrows was promoted. Keep an eye out for the funky righty, he may finish the year in Erie.

MIKE GERBER (No. 7) | DOUBLE-A ERIE

It seems a lot of the Tigers’ potential future is down in Erie, Pennsylvania these days! Mike Gerber is another name to watch for.

The former 15th-round pick in 2014 has been an above-average player both offensively and defensively in his now fourth professional season. This year, he’s hitting .290 in 60 games, with an OPS just over .800. He doesn’t offer as much pop as his corner outfield mate and fellow prospect in Christin Stewart, but he makes up for it with his glove and improved plate discipline.

There’s always going to be a need in some capacity for a two-way player like Gerber who can handle the bat and glove, while showing pockets of speed on the bases (40 career stolen bases in 57 attempts). The Tigers’ Minor League POY in 2015 was a key cog in the Midwest League (Low-A) championship for the West Michigan Whitecaps.

GERSON MORENO (No. 13) | HIGH CLASS-A LAKELAND

Here’s a name that is flying really under the radar but should not go completely unnoticed. Gerson Moreno has been one of the few dominant relievers for the Flying Tigers.

Moreno has appeared in 21 games for Lakeland this year and has allowed just five earned runs (six total) in 22.1 IP, good for a 2.01 ERA. His K:BB of 3.75 to 1 is (currently) the highest mark of his career.

Moreno, despite being only 21 years of age, is a veteran in terms of service time within the Tigers’ system. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic and made his pro debut at age 17. He’s appeared in 114 total games, all but five have been in relief. One could see him jumping to Lakeland in the near future if he continues to perform at this level.

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