LAKELAND, Fla. -- It's a confluence of factors that make it difficult to build a strong farm system, but the Detroit Tigers don't mind one bit.
Because of big league success, the Tigers haven't had the best Draft positioning recently, with just two selections in the first round proper in the past five years. They haven't had extra picks, either, and some of the up-and-coming talent they have developed has been used in trades to improve the Major League roster.
"Luckily, we haven't picked high in the last few years," said David Chadd, the Tigers' vice president of amateur scouting and special assistant to the general manager. "We haven't had a lot of high picks and we haven't had a lot of extra picks. I think we've done pretty well. Could we improve? Sure. But you look at our club -- the Drew Smylys, the Alex Avilas, the Andy Dirks, the Rick Porcellos, the Luke Putkonens -- you're pretty proud of where you're at over there and also some of the guys that we've traded who have produced players at the Major League level."
It does mean that the current edition of Detroit's Top 20 Prospects isn't the deepest to be found among the 30 organizations. It is very strong at the top, with Nick Castellanos, No. 15 on the Top 100 list, leading things off for the Tigers for the second straight year. The Tigers added a second Top 100 guy when they received lefty Robbie Ray from the Nationals in the Doug Fister deal. Getting Castellanos in the supplemental first round in the 2010 Draft (and giving him a record $3 million bonus) helped make up for the lack of a true first-rounder, though Chadd is quick to point out other success stories from that class.
"If I look back at that Draft, we took Nick at 44, then we came back with Chance Ruffin, who's made it, then we came back with Drew Smyly and Rob Brantly," Chadd said. "Obviously, you want to get as high impact players as you can in any round. But when you're picking at 44, we were just looking at taking the best player available. Fortunately for us at that time, we were able to do the things we did, and the upper levels of management and [Tigers owner Mike Ilitch] had faith in what we were doing and allowed us to sign those guys."
In the end, while the Tigers continue to strive to improve their system, they aren't overly concerned with rankings or external markers like that. The second general manager Dave Dombrowski can't get teams to answer the phone at the Trade Deadline, that's when they'll worry.
"I think the industry will tell you if you have players or not through trades," Chadd said. "If you don't have players, you don't make trades. If you have players, you're able to make trades. I'm talking about significant trades that are going to impact your team and help you win. And we're trying to win a World Championship. We're not just trying to win the division, we're going for it all. I think, in the end, the industry will tell you that. Fortunately, we've been able to do that."
Three questions with Devon Travis
Travis was drafted by the Tigers in the 13th round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of Florida State University.
MLBPipeline.com: With everything that happened to you last season, especially from a guy who was kind of under the radar, to play at two levels and go to the Arizona Fall League, then get an invite to big league camp, have you had a chance to look back? It must've been a whirlwind.
Travis: I think that's the best way to explain it; it's a whirlwind. Sitting in this clubhouse with guys like [Miguel Cabrera], Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter -- guys that when I was a little kid, I grew up watching -- is pretty surreal to me. I could really just sit in my locker all day and hang out and no one has to say anything to me. It's pretty special. Last year was awesome. I really haven't looked back and said, "Dang, that was good." I work hard every day and go out there and try to do the best for my team. I'm thankful that last year it worked out for me.
MLBPipeline.com: When talking to scouts about you, or even internally, the term "exceeding expectations" comes up. Was there a certain point last year when you thought you were going beyond even your own expectations?
Travis: I definitely would say, even if I had set the bar, this last year was above and beyond for me. I have to continue to get better. I do work really hard and I try to be the best I can every day. I'm just thankful it's paying off a little bit.
MLBPipeline.com: What is it that fuels you, that gets you to want to show people that it doesn't matter you were a late-round pick, or a second baseman, or that you're not the biggest guy in the world?
Travis: Ever since I was a little kid, I was always the smallest guy on the team. That's something that's pushed me my whole life. On to college, I was always that small guy -- "He's not going to project well, he's never going to grow." That's definitely my motivation. Seeing stuff like that, I appreciate it. A little guy like me, we need a little extra fire to get us going and to put in that extra work. Those are the things that get me going.
Camp standout: Drew VerHagen
A fourth-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2012, VerHagen was challenged by the Tigers with an assignment straight to the Class A Advanced Florida State League. The big right-hander responded by reaching Double-A, leading the organization in batting average against and finishing second in ERA and WHIP.
VerHagen has picked up where he left off during his first taste of big league camp. He tossed two scoreless innings in his Grapefruit League debut, but he hasn't just opened eyes with his performance on the mound.
"He's really thrown the ball well, he's carried himself well," Chadd said. "He doesn't show any signs on the mound that he doesn't belong. He's been impressive."
VerHagen's three-pitch mix -- a 90-93-mph fastball with heavy sink, a breaking ball and an offspeed pitch -- coming from a 6-foot-6 frame, gives him the chance to help out Detroit's rotation at some point in 2014, should the need arise.
"His breaking ball has improved since Vanderbilt. That's a credit to development, and he's also throwing a change," Chadd said. "He's an imposing figure on the mound."
Breakout candidate: Steven Moya
The coaches standing behind the cage were laughing during a recent batting practice at Joker Marchant Stadium. It wasn't Cabrera or Martinez putting smiles on their faces. It was Moya.
Moya, who has yet to play above A ball. Moya, who only played 59 games in 2012 and 93 in '13. Moya, who had Tommy John surgery. But the 6-foot-6 left-handed hitter put on an absolute show in this BP session, hitting several out, including one that hit three quarters of the way up the light tower in right-center.
The raw power has always been there, and Moya can really punish the baseball, especially fastballs. He still needs to learn to read the breaking stuff and refine his overall approach at the plate, but with a return to health, this could be the year that the Tigers' No. 20 prospect starts to figure things out and gives Detroit's brass even more things to smile about.