Can you believe that in just a little more than a month, the pitchers and catchers for the Detroit Tigers will be reporting to camp in Lakland, Florida?
There are plenty of reasons for fans of the Tigers to be excited for the upcoming 2016 season. Much of the lineup that is the strength of Detroit returns and healthy with no apparent setbacks *knock on wood*, and General Manager Al Avila has stuck to his guns and addressed the pitching staff, headlined by signing starter Jordan Zimmermann to a five-year, $110M deal.
Also, as it stands now, there are no relief pitchers from the 2015 Opening Day roster that will be a part of the 2016 edition.
Despite the disappointing campaign for the Tigers last season, the club was encouraged by some minor leaguers when they were promoted. The more notable ones included relievers Alex Wilson, Drew VerHagen, and Blaine Hardy, as even Tyler Collins filled in admirably after the team traded Yoenis Cespedes.
There are some farmhands the Tigers will be keeping an eye on should an opportunity arise for them this upcoming season. A lot of them are participating in winter leagues down in the Caribbean. Let’s check in on how some of the more noteworthy names are performing:
While the Tigers have ranked near the bottom in terms of the strength of their minor league system over the last handful of years, they have had one player they have been eagerly awaiting to break out and make a strong case to join the big league club long-term.
Outfielder Steven Moya hit just .243/.283/.431 in 135 games at two levels of the minors last season. His 23 home runs were 12 less than his 2014 total and drove in 82 runs compared to 105 in 2014. His K/BB ratio was an atrocious 6.25 to 1, as his profile of being a ‘long ball hitter easily prone to strikeouts’ grows more evident each season.
Moya has been playing in the Dominican Republic since the middle of October for Toros del Este. In 35 regular season games, Moya hit .298/.350/.466 with four homers and 27 RBI’s. He’s shown plate discipline in his playing time, dropping the K/BB ratio down to 3.4 to 1. His Toros are in the DWL playoffs and he is hitting at a 3.67 clip so far in 13 games.
It was revealed a few days back that Moya is no longer considered among the Tigers’ top prospects heading into 2016. That said, the club still has high hopes for the 24-year-old.
Shortstop Dixon Machado was another who saw a fair amount of playing time at the big league level, by and large due to Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias suffering an injury that sidelined him the final month or so.
Machado appeared in 24 games for Detroit, producing a .235/.307/.279 slash line and drove in five runs. Aside from those 24 games, he spent the entire 2015 campaign at Triple-A Toledo with the Mud Hens, hitting a respectable .261/.313/.332. Machado has always been raved about for his defensive ability but presented uncertainties to scouts with his bat, much like then-rookie James McCann a season ago.
Dixon has been spending his winters down in Venezuela playing for the Leones del Caracas ball club. In 29 contests and 105 official at-bats, he hit a very solid .295/.403/.486 and drove in 14 runs. Quite the opposite of Moya, Machado has shown exceptional plate discipline, drawing 18 walks and fanning just 12 times.
Outfielder Wynton Bernard could easily make a case as the most outstanding player in the Tigers’ farm system each of the last two season.
In 2014 with Low Class-A West Michigan, Bernard hit .323/.394/.442 in 131 games with the Whitecaps. He followed that up with a .301/.352/.408 slash line in 2015 in Double-A Erie with the SeaWolves. Bernard has posted some pretty impressive numbers down on the farm and has shown he’s wreaking havoc on the basepaths, swiping 88 bags over the last two seasons.
Wynton is actually playing for Leones del Caracas with Dixon Machado in Venezuela and has performed well when put into games. In 20 contests, Bernard is hitting .288/.337.400 with five runs batted in and seven stolen bases.
It’d be surprising at this point if Bernard was not the center fielder for the Toledo Mud Hens on Opening Day, as he continues his trek toward the ultimate goal. However, much like Machado, given his stellar performances over the last couple seasons while displaying multiple tools to the game at a high level, Bernard could very well be trade bait if something intrigues Avila and the Tigers.
Closer Joe Jimenez had an incredible season for the Whitecaps in 2015, eventually earning honors of Tigers’ minor league Pitcher of the Year. His ‘Caps teammate Mike Gerber took home the Player of the Year award.
Jimenez appeared in 40 games for West Michigan last season, notching 17 saves and compiling a sparkling 1.47 ERA. Opposing hitters just .147 off of him. He took his talents to Puerto Rico for the winter months to play for the Gigantes de Carolina of professional baseball league named after Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente. Joe pitched in 18 games (17.1 IP), earning a save six times and an ERA of 2.60.
Last season during the summer, Jimenez was the lone representative for the Tigers in the 2015 Futures Game during the All-Star break and he only validated that honor by going to having a remarkable season at just the age of 20.