While Brennan Boesch, Casper Wells, Danny Worth, Charlie Furbush and other recent picks continue to make big contributions to Detroit's charge toward the top of the American League Central, Jacob Turner and Chance Ruffin remain on track to threaten for spots on Detroit's pitching staff as soon as next year. Casey Crosby appears to be back to healthy form to potentially provide the Tigers another lefty power arm as he puts his injuries in the past.
After that, the next wave of Tigers prospects are beginning to work their way up the system, headlined by Nick Castellanos, Drew Smyly and a couple of talented catchers.
The headline name in the system, and the one guy whose time frame to the big leagues is more when than if, is Turner. Detroit's 2009 first-round pick came out of another solid Spring Training as one of the Tigers' "insurance starters," guys Detroit could call on if injuries forced it to fill a spot or two. Dominant starts from Andy Oliver and Furbush earned them the first chances in Detroit, but they did nothing to dampen Turner's standing. Nor has a deceptive record for the 20-year-old right-hander at Double-A Erie.
A strong year for pitching in the usually hitter-friendly Eastern League and an offensive challenged SeaWolves club have combined to hold Turner to one win in 10 starts this year, with eight no-decisions. Yet eight of those outings have been quality starts, and he has pitched through the seventh inning in his last four outings.
Even with a 2.79 ERA, Turner entered Wednesday just outside the league's Top 10. His 57 strikeouts ranked him ninth in that regard. But he remains at the top of the Tigers' pitching prospects. The contributions of Oliver and Furbush, plus the solid work from Detroit's rotation in general, afford the Tigers some patience with Turner, who doesn't look as nearly a safe bet he once appeared to be for a 2011 appearance in the Majors.
It wasn't long ago that Crosby was in that group of when, not if, for a shot in the big leagues. He was a fifth-round pick -- but a first-round talent -- in the same 2007 Draft that produced Rick Porcello, and the Tigers got a steal when they enticed him out of a football scholarship to Illinois. But while Porcello went on the fast track to the big leagues, Crosby went through injuries that limited him to 30 starts over his first three pro seasons.
It's still early, but 10 starts into his comeback at Erie, Crosby appears to be on his way back. His 32 walks over 54 1/3 innings are a pressing concern, including two six-walk outings in a five-start stretch, but his 2.82 ERA ranks him just behind Turner among the Eastern League leaders. Opponents are batting just .222 against him, and his groundout-to-flyout ratio of 2.24 is a huge part of his success. The Tigers will be careful with Crosby to try to keep him healthy, but there's reason for optimism.
Ruffin went to the Tigers in last year's sandwich round as their latest effort to add young relief talent to the system, having closed well for the University of Texas. He has had a similarly high workload with the SeaWolves, but while 13 walks over 23 1/3 innings are a concern, his 32 strikeouts and .212 average against provide a resume boost.
Between Ryan Perry's struggles and Joel Zumaya's injuries, Detroit needs to identify right-handed arms that can help in the middle-to-late innings behind closer Jose Valverde and setup man Joaquin Benoit. Al Alburquerque was a huge find for the Tigers, but only part of the answer. Ruffin likely isn't ready for that just yet, but it wouldn't be a shock to see him compete for that kind of role next year.
Castellanos and Smyly both are in their first full pro seasons and showing the growing pains. Castellanos, Detroit's top pick last year, has had his expected ups and downs at low Class A West Michigan, but his .261 average and .692 OPS show signs of holding his own. Smyly, Detroit's second-round pick last year, picked up his first pro win in his fifth start at Class A Lakeland last week, and he is averaging just under six innings per outing.