Breaking down the Detroit Tigers
After an impressive run under the ownership of Mike Ilitch that saw them win the AL Central each year from 2011 to 2014, the Detroit Tigers have torn the team down. With the departure of JD Martinez, Justin Verlander, and Justin Upton, the Tigers are officially rebuilding. What is left is a lineup mixed with both veterans and young, up-and-coming players, and a pitching staff that is anything but solid. The team with the 1st overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft may not be set to win many games next season, but the Tigers still offer options for your fantasy squad.
Top Player 2017
Using the ESPN Player Rater, Detroit’s top performer for the season was 3B Nicholas Castellanos. The 25-year-old had his best season of his young career in 2017, totaling 26 HR, 36 2B, 101 RBI, and 73 R to go along with a .272/.320/.490 slash line. The increase in power was a welcome development as many of his underlying statistics points towards growth. Castellanos has lowered his K% (21. 4%) two years in a row (25.5% in 2015, 24.8% in 2016) while his BB% has remained static. Castellanos’s biggest step forward came in his quality of contact.
Only 6 players (J.D. Martinez, Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge, Miguel Sano, Paul Goldschmidt, & Corey Seager) hit the ball hard more frequently than the Tigers’ third baseman in 2017. This prestigious group includes three of the top batters in baseball – Goldschimdt, Judge, and Martinez – along with two prolific power hitters in Gallo and Sano, while Seager’s high GB% keeps him from capitalizing on his hard-hit rate. Of the 29 hitters that had a hard it percentage over 40% in 2017, Castellanos’s 14.3% HR/FB rate ranked 26th, indicating that he may have been a bit unlucky in the power department. I would expect improvement from Castellanos in 2018, as his hard-hit rate alone, along with his other gradually improving stats show that he may be primed for a breakout.
After a disappointing season, many are backing off of Miguel Cabrera, fearing that this is the beginning of the end for the 34-year-old. In the early FanGraphs mocks (https://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/2018-too-early-mock-drafts-adp/) Cabrera is going 76th overall, the 11th 1B off the board. At that price, I am in. With fear and doubt baked into the price, Miggy offers so much upside in the 5th or 6th round that any team could afford to take him, plan to have a solid backup 1B – such as Justin Bour, Justin Smoak, or the like – and be willing to drop the aging 1B if he struggles in April and May.
Let’s not forget that Cabrera is one year removed from a 38 HR, 108 RBI, 92 R, season with a .316/.393/.563 slash line in 2016. Cabrera has stated that his back was bothering him this season, a likely cause of his sharp downturn in production. If he can come into spring training healthy and show that he is prepared to hit the ball with authority, I expect to have Miggy on a few of my teams in 2018.
Pitchers are the most fickle and frustrating parts of fantasy baseball. Injuries along with inconsistent production can make projecting and drafting a pitching staff seems like trying to untie a Gordian knot. I myself generally try to avoid pitchers already at a heightened injury risk, which is why I will not have Michael Fulmer on any of my teams next season. Fulmer is being drafted 135th overall, the 37th SP taken, and I think that is still too high. The Tigers’ top starter underwent ulnar nerve transposition surgery in September. The recovery time for the procedure should allow Fulmer to be back to full strength prior to Spring Training 2018, yet I am still skeptical. While I will acknowledge that Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom had the same procedure last September and was able to throw 201.1 successful innings, I would argue that Fulmer’s K-rate is not worth the risk. In his rookie season, his K% sat at 20.6% and it fell to just 16.9% this past season. When I weigh upside versus risk, Fulmer is one pitcher I will not be drafting in March.
Finding an unknown commodity that may offer surplus value next season is not an easy thing to do in Detroit. The player that fits that description best is 3B Jeimer Candelario. Candelario came over from the Cubs in the Justin Wilson and Alex Avila deal, and almost immediately was inserted into the Tigers everyday lineup, pushing Castellanos into the outfield. Slashing .330/.406/.468 in 27 games with the Tigers, the 23-year-old rookie more than held his own after the trade, though a .392 BABIP certainly contributed to that success. While I do not expect Candelario to outhit Castellanos, the incoming 3B should get plenty of at-bats. Opportunity counts for quite a bit when looking into fringy players, and while the Tigers will have a new manager setting the lineup in 2018, Candelario is definitely among the best hitters available in Detroit and deserves a regular place in the lineup.
The Detroit farm system is much improved from this date one year ago. Despite their lack of top prospect talent – the newly acquired Franklin Perez comes in at number 40 in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 – the Tigers are well on their way to having built a respectable minor league system. In 2018, you can expect to see the big league team in Detroit look to their farm for an outfielder, likely Mike Gerber or Christin Stewart. Both offer power upside, hitting 22 and 28 HR respectively at AA Erie. If given every day at-bats, I could see either of them hitting 20-25 HR for the Tigers in 2018. Though I wouldn’t draft them unless, in a deep AL-only, they might be worth watching your waiver wire for.