Tigers protect top prospect Fulmer from Rule 5

Club also purchases contracts of Labourt, Robertson

Tigers protect top prospect Fulmer from Rule 5

DETROIT -- The Tigers protected their recently replenished young pitching ranks from potential poaching in the Rule 5 Draft, adding top prospect Michael Fulmer, lefty Jairo Labourt and reliever Montreal Robertson to their 40-man roster.

All three had their contracts purchased, bringing Detroit's total to 38 players on their 40-man roster. With the Tigers in the market to add two starting pitchers, a reliever and a left fielder -- in addition to contract decisions on arbitration-eligible players -- more roster shuffling could be coming. But with Friday marking the deadline for teams to protect eligible players from next month's Rule 5 Draft, the decision time on prospects was now.

For Fulmer, the decision was easy. The 22-year-old right-hander was the prized prospect in the return package from the Mets in the Yoenis Cespedes trade, and he vaulted atop MLB.com's Tigers prospect rankings after winning Eastern League Pitcher of the Year honors. Fulmer went 10-3 with a 2.74 ERA in 22 starts between Double-A Binghamton and Erie, striking out 125 batters over 124 2/3 innings against just 30 walks. He's expected to compete for the fifth-starter spot, but general manager Al Avila said last week he could battle for a bullpen role.

Top Prospects: Labourt, DET

Labourt, the third prospect from Toronto in the David Price trade and the Tigers' 11th-ranked prospect, had a statistically rough season in the Class A Advanced Florida State League (3-12, 5.12 ERA) after dominating low Class A ball a year ago, but the 21-year-old pitched in the All-Star Futures Game a few weeks before he was traded.

Labourt has a sinking fastball and slider and a big frame. He has yet to pitch above Class A ball, but he could make a quicker jump if he shifts to a bullpen role.

The 25-year-old Robertson was more of a surprise, but made his case in the Arizona Fall League, where he allowed three runs on 12 hits over 14 2/3 innings. He didn't make the Tigers' prospect list, but get past a 4-10 record between Lakeland and Erie, and the big right-hander had his best season as a pro, from a 3.31 ERA to 58 strikeouts over 68 innings against 63 hits allowed. On a Tigers squad that badly needs to develop young relievers, he would've been difficult to lose.

The moves leave some lower-level pitching prospects exposed, not to mention a couple of hitters. But as in past years, part of the decision process rests with weighing the chances of a prospect actually sticking on another Major League club for an entire season next year. Josh Turley could be the most intriguing case.

Turley, a 25-year-old left-hander with a knuckleball among his assortment of offspeed pitches, posted a 13-8 record at Erie with a 3.29 ERA, making him a darkhorse candidate as an insurance starter or relief specialist. He ranks 25th on MLB.com's Tigers prospect list. Right-handers Endrys Briceno and Edgar De La Rosa have gifted power arms and towering frames but have battled injuries.

On the hitting side, Dean Green was an Eastern League All-Star after batting .300 with 16 homers, 65 RBIs and an .839 OPS between Erie and Triple-A Toledo, making him a potential insurance policy against another injury to Victor Martinez or Miguel Cabrera. However, his positional limitations to first base and designated hitter hamper his Rule 5 chances. Speedy Jason Krizan can play all three outfield spots and bats left-handed, but hit .252 with a .684 OPS between Erie and Toledo.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.