With spring training just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at some Tiger prospects that could make a splash in the near future. Granted, while Detroit’s farm system isn’t stocked like a few other organizations, it still has some intriguing blue chips. Write these five names down on a piece of paper and put it in your back pocket. You’ll likely be hearing a lot more about them as the season progresses.
1. Michael Fulmer, right-handed pitcher, will turn 23 on March 15. Fulmer was acquired from the Mets in the Yoenis Cespedes trade (along with minor league pitcher Luis Cessa). Born in Oklahoma City and taken out of high school in the first round of the 2011 draft, this 6’ 3” right-hander began his pro career at age 18. He was named Eastern League Pitcher of the Year in 2015; splitting time between the Binghampton Mets and the Erie SeaWolves (the Tigers’ Double-A affiliate), he combined for a fine 10-3 mark with a 2.24 ERA. He throws in the mid-90’s consistently, and can command two separate breaking balls. But his changeup is his bread-and-butter pitch. He has a take-no-prisoners demeanor on the mound. Even with an impressive spring, Fullmer isn’t likely to break into Detroit’s rotation, but don’t be surprised if sometime during the season he finds a pivotal role in the back end of the bullpen.
2. Dixon Machado, shortstop, age 24. A defensive standout, the only thing keeping this Venezuelan from full-time duty is his bat. He has fine hands, and his range and arm are all above average. He hit .261 at Toledo in 2015. A September call-up with the Tigers, he got a chance to play every day following Jose Iglesias’ season-ending injury. Machado got into 24 games and hit .235 in Detroit. If Iglesias can’t stay on the field in 2016, Machado is waiting in the wings. With continued improvement at the plate, he could be a real asset.
3. JaCoby Jones, infielder, age 23. Primarily a shortstop, this kid was picked up from the Pirates last year in the Joakim Soria trade. He does a lot of things well, and even if he never becomes an everyday player in Detroit, he has a lot of trade value. He is currently serving a 50-game suspension after a second positive test for a “drug of abuse” during the Arizona Fall League. That won’t preclude him from playing in spring training, however, so the Tigers will take a long look at him in Lakeland. Not a prototypical shortstop at 6’ 2” and 205 pounds, Jones is strong and athletic with surprising power in his bat, which will only continue to develop as he gets bigger. Sometimes he tries to hit home runs all the time, and this is to his detriment. He has plus speed and is a good baserunner. Jones is nothing if not raw, so how far he progresses is entirely up to how much he is willing to refine his game.
4. Joe Jimenez, right-handed pitcher, age 21. Anytime a kid can reach triple digits on the radar gun, he is going to be considered a prospect. This Puerto Rican could one day develop into a premier closer. He’s big, at 6’ 3” and 220 pounds, and he’s going to remind Tiger fans of a young Joel Zumaya. His slider is nasty. He can be wild at times, but, given his age that is to be expected. If he learns how to harness his stuff, watch out.
5. Steven Moya, outfielder, age 24. He looked overmatched in very brief big-league tryouts in 2014 and ’15, but don’t give up on this kid yet. After all, 6’ 7” 260 pound left-handed sluggers don’t grow on trees. His power is awe-inspiring. He has a long, loping swing, which makes him susceptible to breaking balls. His pitch recognition isn’t quite there yet, either. Given his size, he’s not going to run down many balls in the outfield, but he has a strong arm. This will probably be a make or break year for him, at least in this organization.