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Travis, Castellanos lead exciting Tigers

Duo to usher in a new wave of top young talent in Motor City
November 4, 2013

This offseason, is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

In many respects, the Detroit Tigers were average across the Minor League board in 2013. They ranked 15th out of 30 organizations in terms of winning percentage, and the fact that they finished at exactly .500 gives you a pretty good idea of the season they had as a whole -- not above-average, not below-average, just, well, so-so.

The teams that were good -- Erie won an organization-best 76 games and the Dominican Summer League affilliate went 49-23 -- were very good. But at the other end, Toledo (61-83) and Connecticut (33-42) posted losing records despite some strong individual performances.

None of the Tigers' teams finished 2013 with a trophy, with the SeaWolves falling to Harrisburg in the first round of the Eastern League playoffs and the DSL squad losing out to the Rangers in four games in the Championship Series.

Catcher -- James McCann, Erie (119 games): Now in his third year of pro ball, the former University of Arkansas standout continued to make strides at the plate and behind it. His eight homers and 54 RBIs, as well as being career highs, were also the most of any backstop in the Tigers system. He led all full-time catchers with a .277 batting average, and he also ranked first with 30 doubles, 178 total bases and 50 runs scored. Behind the dish, McCann owned a .991 fielding percentage, having made six errors in 678 total chances. He also threw out around one-third (28 of 76) of would-be base stealers.

"Obviously he's a take-charge type of catcher and he really handled the pitching staff well," Tigers director of player development Dave Owen said. "He catches and throws well, and this year he made some good strides offensively with [Minor League roving hitting coordinator] Bruce Fields and [Erie hitting coach] Gerald Perry using the whole field to go the other way with pitches and stay on breaking balls better. Mac had a very solid year for us."

First base -- Jordan Lennerton, Toledo (139 games): Lennerton moved up to the International League in 2013 and never missed a beat. He led all Tigers first basemen with 17 homers and set a new career high with 143 hits, also the best in the system at his position. He finished second in the organization with 84 walks (Jamie Johnson topped the system with 101) and was fourth with 221 total bases. Selected by the Tigers in the 33rd round of the 2008 Draft out of Oregon State University, Lennerton's 57 RBIs ranked fourth among all Detroit first basemen.

"He had a nice year offensively with the home runs, he showed some power and he has the ability to drive the ball the other way," Owen said. "Being a left-handed hitter, he has the ability to drive the ball to left field. He had a nice year as far as learning about himself and the rigors of playing every day, even though he had been an everyday player at Triple-A. He really learned a lot and it showed in his performance."

Second base -- Devon Travis, West Michigan (77 games), Lakeland (55 games): The 22-year-old Florida State product led all Detroit middle infielders with 16 homers and 76 RBIs, and his 261 total bases were the most in the organization at any position. He hit .351 over two levels -- only Avisail Garcia hit for a higher average -- and he swiped 22 bases in 26 attempts. He was one of just seven Tigers farmhands to record a 20-steal season. No other second baseman on the farm hit more than five homers or plated more than 38 runs.

"He's a grinder, a little gritty player than loves to come to the ballpark to play," said Owen. "He had a nice year offensively -- to start the year out in West Michigan and make the All-Star team there. We moved him right after that to Lakeland and he didn't miss a beat. It was really wild that he hit .350 at both places."

Third base -- Wade Gaynor, Erie (136 games): The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Gaynor hammered 12 homers in 2013, his second-highest single-season tally in pro ball and the most of any Tigers third baseman this year. The third-round Draft pick's 108 hits and 179 total bases also ranked first among players at the hot corner, as did his 64 RBIs, 31 doubles and 12 stolen bases. In all, his 45 extra-base hits were the second most of his five-year career. He had 53 as a sophomore with West Michigan in 2010.

"He's a very good player," said Owen. "His offensive numbers might be down from -- if you talk to Wade -- what he would have like them to be, but here's a guy that has the ability to drive the ball and move the ball. Plus he's a solid third baseman. He's another young man that you love writing his name in the lineup every day."

Shortstop -- Eugenio Suarez, Erie (111 games), Lakeland (25 games): A Venezuela native, Suarez batted .264 with a career-high 10 homers and 57 RBIs in 545 at-bats across two levels this year. He plated more runs than any other shortstop in the organization, all while leading Tigers shortstop farmhands with six triples and 70 runs scored. Only Argenis Diaz could match Suarez's 30 doubles, which fell four shy of his personal best. Detroit's No. 4 prospect was also an Organization All-Star in 2012 when he was a Midwest League midseason All-Star with West Michigan.

Said Owen: "When you analyze what he did, you'll see he had a solid year for us. He has very good instincts for the game, he's a very nice young player. You always want your shortstop to be able to defend, but when you have a shortstop that can swing the bat, it's always a nice package. We really are excited about having him and we expect him to get better and have some nice years in front of him."


Danny Dorn, Toledo (137 games): Dorn led all Tigers Minor Leaguers with a career-high 25 homers and 82 RBIs. The eight-year veteran was signed by Detroit as a Minor League free agent in July 2012, and all he's done is hit. He averaged 15 long balls a year over his past four seasons at Triple-A, so his uptick in power production may have come as a little surprise. Dorn ranked second in the system with 228 total bases -- also a personal best -- in part because he was able to stay healthy the entire year and collect 496 at-bats over 137 games.

"Here's a guy that ended up hitting 25-plus home runs and played a nice outfield. It was very nice to watch Danny play." Owen said. "Very quiet demeanor guy that just shows up and plays baseball. He's a guy that can play the outfield and also play a good first base, too. We could give Jordan [Lennerton] a day's rest and we could plug Danny in and keep on going. It was a nice thing to have and we were very happy with the way Danny played this year."

Tyler Collins, Erie (129 games): Collins ranked second in the organization (to Danny Dorn) with 21 homers and 79 RBIs. The 23-year-old batted .240 with 29 doubles -- the second most of any outfielder -- and 67 runs scored in 129 Double-A contests. The Texas native gave the SeaWolves a productive left-handed bat in his first look at the Eastern League. While he had seven fewer at-bats (466) than a year ago in Lakeland, he tripled his home run output and improved his slugging percentage from .429 to .438.

"Tyler is a guy that is a high-energy guy that loves to play the game," said Owen. "He's a very hard-nosed player and he has some power and he really works his tail off to be a good defensive outfielder. You have a corner outfielder that can hit with some power and do some damage. We expect Tyler to really do some good things for us."

Nick Castellanos, Toledo (134 games), Detroit (11 games): Castellanos led all Tigers outfielders with 240 total bases and 81 runs scored. He ranked third in the system with a career-best 18 homers and 76 RBIs, which tied his personal single-season mark set in 2011 with West Michigan. He drew more walks (54) than in any other season and cut down on his strikeout totals from a year ago (118 to 100) despite a jump in level. The Tigers first-rounder made his Major League debut with Detroit and figures to have a realistic shot at making the big club out of Spring Training next April.

"Just a fabulous year for Nick," said Owen. "He's obviously our top prospect and he did a great job. You think back what were we doing at 21 years old and it wasn't making an All-Star team at Triple-A. He's come a long way defensively and he'll tell you that he still has a ways to go and we understand that, but he has made some tremendous strides in the outfield with his defense, and his offense really speaks for itself. Here's a kid that really understands how to hit."

Utility -- Daniel Fields, Erie (118 games): The 6-foot-2 Michigan native combined power and speed in 118 games with the Tigers' Double-A club. Ten of his career-high 43 extra-base hits cleared the fences, and he finished 2013 with 58 RBIs, 24 steals and 71 runs scored, all personal highs. Detroit's No. 7 prospect entering the season, Fields batted .284, 18 points higher than 2012 when he split time between Lakeland and Erie.

"Danny had a good year for us. He would up hitting .280 and is a kid that is still learning himself," said Owen. "He's understanding what it takes to play every day and he has some good skills. He can play center field and he has size and strength. He's got a nice package to work with and we're expecting nice things out of Danny. It was the tip of the iceberg for him breaking out this year."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Wilsen Palacios, Lakeland (24 games): Palacios ranked third in the system among qualifying starters with a 3.07 ERA and fourth within the organization with 109 strikeouts. He went 7-8 with complete games and one shutout in 24 games, including 23 starts. The Venezuela native held opponents to a .238 average and a 1.23 WHIP. Signed by the Tigers as a non-drafted free agent in 2006, Palacios is getting some extra work in this fall, pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League where he has yet to allow a base runner over three relief appearances.

"He's a guy that can show you four average pitches. He had a good year," said Owen. "Velocity wise, he has a plus fastball and he can show you a plus curveball. He's a guy we really expect to be a contributor for us, and we're excited to see how he develops. He's still working on everything. His curveball has some depth and he commands his slider. It can be sharp at times and he's working on his consistency of all of his pitches."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Kyle Lobstein, Erie (15 games), Toledo (13 Games): Lobstein posted a 13-7 record in 2013, leading the organization in wins and strikeouts (148). His 3.27 ERA across two levels ranked sixth in the system and he struck out nearly three times as many batters as he walked (52). He had a .264 batting average against and surrendered eight homers over 167 2/3 innings. The 24-year-old Arizona native had never pitched at Triple-A before 2013, having only advanced to Double-A Montgomery during his time with the Rays, who originally selected him in the second round of the 2008 Draft.

"Lobstein had a very good season," Owen said. "He has a very good arm. He's a guy that won't overpower you, but he's a very smart guy that knows how to pitch up and down, in and out and change speeds and read hitters and keep them off balance.

"He pitches off his fastball, but he has a very good changeup. He works into that and it's a very good pitch. Just working on his consistency and command and throw those pitches where he wants to any time he wants to. He's still a very young guy and he's very comfortable and he made good strides this year with his curveball and mixing up his pitches."

Relief pitcher -- Cory Knebel, West Michigan (31 games): The University of Texas product found immediate success with the Whitecaps after joining the team straight out of the 2013 Draft. The first-rounder saved 15 games, the fourth-most in the system, and he had a 41-to-10 strikeout to walk ratio. He held opponents to a .133 average and he posted a 0.87 ERA over 31 innings, all out of the bullpen.

"He has four pitches and the mentality of a closer," said Owen. "We'll talk about what we want to do with him as an organization down the road, but if we leave him in the bullpen he'll do a good job. He has that mentality where he wants the ball at the end of a game."

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB.