It's not a secret that the Tigers have identified pitching as a position of strength in the Minor Leagues. But now, it's up to the pitching prospects to understand what types of pitchers they are and what kinds of pitchers they want to be in the future.
"There are so many things that going into being a pitcher because you can't just stand on the rubber and throw. You have to go through a process," said Dave Owen, the club's director of player development. "You have to understand a hitter's strength and deficiencies and how you will attack him, then take the pitches and do that. Our guys have an idea of who they are. But we have to take that and continue to help them grow, help them mature and develop into Major League players."
The Tigers have plenty to work with, starting with right-hander Jacob Turner, ranked No. 15 on MLB.com's Top Prospect list, and left-hander Drew Smyly, who was ranked No. 82.
Turner allowed just 117 hits and 10 home runs over 131 innings for Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, pitching much better than his 4-5 record and 3.44 ERA would indicate. He went 0-1 with an 8.53 ERA in three starts for the big league club.
"We like Jacob. He's got a tremendous arm and he's a tremendous kid," Owen said. "He has all of the parts. It's just a matter of when it's time to be on the club. As far as the overall package, he is tremendous. You can see him in our rotation in the future. It's a matter of how it fits with the team."
Owen said it's hard to quantify what Turner means to his teammates off the field, but there is no denying his impact.
"Just the way Jacob carries himself and his work ethic is off the charts," Owen said. "You see what he has done and all the success he has had and all these things play in it when you got young kids watching him. Our Spring Training facility has Minor and Major League complexes side by side and lot of these kids, even though not in big league camp, will get a chance to be around big league players and see how they work. Jacob is a good example for them to look at."
Top 20 Prospects:
Including Turner, the Tigers system features a host of power arms like Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby, Bruce Rondon, Brenny Paulino and Matt Hoffman. Harnessing their power is the next step for these young pitchers, and that's where Minor League pitching coordinator Al Knipper steps in.
It's a process that never stops.
"One of the things you have to do as a Major League pitcher is to command your fastball, and being around Knip, these young men know that's one of their top priorities," Owen said. "We sit down with Knip and all the pitching coaches at the different levels and work on getting kids the opportunity to pitch and get some innings to get some experience. It's great if you have velocity but if you don't throw it where you want to throw it, big league hitters will hit you hard."
tigers' top prospects
Hit -- and play -- hard is what third-base prospect Nick Castellanos, the club's top pick in 2010, does best. Castellanos, ranked No. 51 in MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list, hit .312 with 36 doubles, seven home runs and 76 RBIs in the Midwest League last season, and there's no reason to believe his progress won't continue.
Center fielder Daniel Fields and outfielder Avisail Garcia, a pair of Florida State League teammates last season, are also worth noting. Fields, selected in the sixth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, had 46 RBIs but struck out 133 times, and Garcia hit .264 for Lakeland.
Under the Radar:
West Michigan shortstop Dixon Machado has good tools and a good frame that the organization believes he will grow into. He still has to learn how to handle the bat against tough pitching, but his defensive skills are considered big league quality now. He's expected to start the season in the Florida State League.
First baseman Dean Green, who played in Class A Short-Season Connecticut last season, is another player that could make a splash in 2012. At this point of his young career, his offense is ahead of defense. He hit .341 with seven home runs and 44 RBIs in the New York-Penn League.
Hitter of the Year
Castellanos hit .179 the first month of last season and never hit below .300 the rest of the way. He displayed some of his raw power last season and is expected to continue to hit for average, especially as his ability to recognize pitches improves.
Pitcher of the Year
Smyly could be a dark-horse candidate to compete for the open spot in Detroit's rotation. He struck out 130 batters over 126 innings while allowing just two home runs out of 103 base hits at Lakeland and Double-A Erie.