Meet the Pioneers of the Tigers’ ‘Rebooting’ Process

Dave Dombrowski entered unfamiliar territory at the 2015 MLB Trade Deadline. A struggling pitching staff and untimely hitting left the Detroit Tigers 11.5 games back in the AL Central and 3.5 games back in the AL Wild Card race on July 31.

Understandably, many Tigers’ fans are upset on the organization giving up on the season, especially after notching four consecutive division titles. However, a general lack of organizational depth limited the Tigers’ ability to buy the starting pitcher and bullpen help they needed for a chance at a postseason berth. Trading impending free agents like David Price, Joakim Soria, and Yoenis Cespedes provided the Tigers with a unique opportunity to rebuild quickly, acquiring several upper level prospects that can contribute readily in 2016. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal even reported that trading Yoenis Cespedes provides the Tigers’ with the best opportunity to sign him long-term.

Let’s breakdown the haul the Tigers’ acquired at the 2015 deadline. Before getting to the list, let’s recap what the Tigers would have gotten had they not traded Price, Cespedes, and Soria.

  • Ability to resign Cespedes the rest of 2015 plus five days after the World Series. After that window, they would have to wait until May 15, 2016
  • A compensation draft pick for David Price and Joakim Soria
  • 2-3 more months of production from the trio

Daniel Norris

Position: LHP

ETA: 2015

Pre-2015 Rank: #18 (Baseball America), #17 (MLB), #34 (Baseball Prospectus)

Norris was the key piece in the David Price trade and for good reason. He is the most MLB-ready player the Tigers’ acquired at the deadline and will make his first start with the club Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles. His best pitch is his mid-90s fastball, but he also has a plus change-up in his repertoire. Norris struggled with command earlier in his professional career, but a delivery change in 2013 made his release point much more consistent and allowed his fastball to reach its full potential at 95. Last season, he struck out 11.8 batters per nine innings in 26 combined appearances in A, AA, and AAA. In 2015, he started five games with Toronto for a 3.86 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings.

Game 1: at Cleveland Indians: 3IP, 4H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K

Game 2: at Tampa Bay: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 K

Game 3: Atlanta Braves: 2.2 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K

Game 4: Tampa Bay Rays: 5 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K

Game 5: at New York Yankees: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K

From his basic stat-line, it is clear Norris has struggled with his command, but has front-of-the-rotation stuff and can strike out big league hitters. He provides the Tigers with left-handed depth in the organization, something they have seemingly lacked for decades. Look for him to be in the rotation on Opening Day in 2016.

Here’s a quick preview of what Norris can bring to the club in the near future.


Projection: #2 or #3 starter

Michael Fulmer

Position: RHP

ETA: Late 2016 or 2017

The main piece of the Cespedes trade, Fulmer has a plus fastball that can reach up to 97 MPH, but also has potential for a plus slider and an above average curve. The 2011 first round draft pick pitches aggressively and racks up strikeouts in bunches, accumulating 332 in 351 innings of professional baseball at the Rookie, A and AA levels. The 22-year-old has shined in his first season of AA ball in 2015. He was 6-2 with a 1.88 ERA and 1.12 WHIP with Binghamton.

Fulmer’s biggest weakness is his change-up, which he has been working on heavily since 2012. (His growth halted a bit the last two seasons due to a knee surgery and a minor elbow surgery) Put simply, Fulmer either refines his command and becomes a middle-of-the-rotation arm or he moves to the bullpen and becomes a lock-down late inning reliever. Whatever he becomes, he certainly has a future with the Tigers. He instantly becomes the Tigers’ second or third best pitching prospect and a top 5 prospect overall.

Projection: #3 starter/Set-Up Man

Matt Boyd

Position: LHP

ETA: 2015

Boyd doesn’t have the fastball that Norris has, but he also possesses an above average to plus change-up and has shown much better command at the professional level. At 24 years old, he is two years ahead of Norris in development and it shows. In 18 starts at the AA and AAA levels in 2015, Boyd is 9-2 with a 1.68 ERA. Despite a dominant fastball, Boyd has 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings while keeping walks to a minimum at 1.9 per nine.

The main knock on Boyd is he has struggled in his two starts in the majors. The main reason for his struggles was an inconsistency with his curve. As Keven Ruprecht from Beyond the Box Score noted in June, Boyd’s curve in his first MLB start against the Texas Rangers on June 27 was perhaps both his greatest strength and biggest weakness.

Check out this pitch that had 7.95 inches of horizontal break and 7.34 inches of vertical drop against Joey Gallo.

As filthy as that curve against Gallo was, Boyd threw the pitch six other times in his two starts, two resulted in hits (one was hit for a home run) and the other four resulted in balls.

For Boyd to succeed, he has to vary his speeds well and develop his curve more in AAA. I’m not sure he could contribute this season in the rotation, but I see him competing for a spot in the rotation next spring.

Projection: #4 or #5 starter

Luis Cessa

Position: RHP

ETA: Late 2016 or 2017

Cessa is a 6’3” righty that signed with the Mets out of Mexico in 2008 when he was just 16 years old. After spending several years converting to a pitcher (he was a SS out of Mexico), he has ascended to AAA and could be ready for the major leagues in 2016.

On the mound, Cessa possesses a plus fastball that can reach 95 and can flash plus control. This season, he has a 7-7 record with a combined 3.98 ERA in AA and AAA. While he doesn’t walk many batters (1.8 BB/9 in his minor league career compared to 7.3 K/9), he tends to pitch to contact, allowing 10.4 hits per nine innings in 2015.

In all, Cessa has above average command of his pitches, but needs one or two effective off-speed pitches to consistently fool pitchers in AAA and in the big leagues. His change-up and slider currently lack movement, although he throws them consistently for strikes.

Projection: 7th inning reliever or #5 starter

JaCoby Jones

Position: SS, OF

ETA: 2016

Jones’ greatest strength is his plus speed, but he complements his legs with decent power and an above average throwing arm. Scouts say his biggest weakness is he has a tendency to swing for the fences on pitches he should slap for singles or drive into the gap. Despite adjustments that need to be made, his upside is intriguing. He hit 23 home runs with 70 RBI  and 17 steals in 117 games of A ball last year. There’s potential for 15-15 seasons at the major league level.

With Jose Iglesias at shortstop long-term, it is likely the Tigers will try Jones in the outfield, where he hasn’t played since 2013. He has the arm and speed to play all three outfield positions well.

Projection: Platoon outfielder

Jairo Labourt

Position: LHP

ETA: 2017

Labourt is a big Dominican lefty that stands at 6’4”.  At 21 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to fully develop his plus fastball and work on his control to succeed at the big league level. Scouts say his slider has plus potential and his motion generates sinking action on his pitches. This season, he has started 18 games in advanced A ball and has decreased his walks per nine innings from 6.0 in 2014 to 4.9 in 2015, but there’s still obviously a lot of work to go with his command.

Labourt’s season has been highlighted by a perfect inning in the 2015 Futures Game in Cincinnati for the World team. He alsoled short season A ball with a 1.77 ERA last year in 15 starts.

In all, Labourt is the biggest wildcard in the Price trade and will need the longest time to develop. I see him converting to the bullpen at the MLB level. He at least offers the Tigers with more left-handed pitching depth and is a possible trade piece in the future.

Projection: #5 starter or late inning relief

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