|The Tigers will use Bruce Rondon in a prominent role this season. (USATSI)|
Prior to the start of the season, we'll highlight a few players in each team's minor-league system to let you know which players you should be paying attention to throughout the year. These aren't meant to be comprehensive top-prospect lists, but should provide a look at some key players within each team's organization.
The Tigers' system has been decimated by recent trades in order to keep the major-league roster in contention. Top prospects such as Rob Brantly and Jacob Turner were dealt away last season, in hopes that Anibal Sanchez would help lead the team to a World Series title. The team was insistent, however, that third baseman/outfielder Nick Castellanos was untouchable in any deal. While he's not the prospect who will make the biggest impact on the team this season, he's the only high-impact player in the system.
2013 Impact Player
RP Bruce Rondon
Rondon entered spring as the favorite to take over the team's vacant closer role. While he's armed with a fastball that consistently hits triple-digits, he has trouble with control, and does not have a polished secondary pitch. He's also had some injury issues in the past, though he was healthy enough to play in 54 games last season. On top of that, the 22-year-old has tossed less than 30 innings above Single-A. Given all of those factors, Rondon sounds like a guy who would be best served getting minor-league experience and coming up during the year. Instead, the team is going to toss him into one of the most pressure-packed spots in the bullpen. His fastball is impressive, but very few pitchers can get by with just one above-average pitch. He'll need to refine a second pitch in order to be successful in the majors.
3B/OF Nick Castellanos
With Miguel Cabrera currently entrenched at third, the Tigers decided to see if Castellanos could handle the outfield last season. While the move will likely take away from the 21-year-old's value, it should enable the team to bring him up sooner. He still needs some time to develop. Castellanos obliterated High-A last season, hitting .405 in 243 plate appearances, but saw his performance dip once he reached Double-A. As long as he adjusts, Castellanos should continue to post high averages, and above-average power numbers. That would have made him a border-line star at third, but probably puts him just below that in a corner outfield spot. He has a chance to be up late this year if he can master Double-A.
Garcia has been limited by a heel injury during the spring, and might not open the year on the major-league club. That might be the best possible scenario for Garcia, who still needs some time to develop in the minors. The 22-year-old had a great run with the team at the end of last season, hitting .319/.373/.319 in 51 plate appearances, but did so with a .405 batting average on balls in play. He's shown promise in the minors, but needs to start showing better plate discipline. Garcia hasn't had a walk rate over four percent in any stop at the minors (he had a 5.9% walk rate in the majors last year, but that was such a small sample). It would have been much harder for Garcia to develop as a part-time major-league player this season. Going to the minors allows him to make progress on a daily basis. If he can work on walking more often, he could turn himself into a very good all-around hitter.
The Tigers find themselves in a familiar position. In years past, the club has been willing to part with top prospects in order to strengthen their chance at winning a World Series. But the system has thinned, with Castellanos being the one player who could bring back a strong piece at the deadline. The team's recent strategy of trading away prospects at the deadline might end this season. Either the team will stick to its guns and keep Castellanos, or it won't have any more prospects to give next season.