Tigers Prospect Primer: Stewart slugs on

No. 2 prospect brings power to upper levels; Funkhouser ready to strike

Christin Stewart has a .514 slugging percentage in 199 career games in the Tigers system. (Mark LoMoglio/MiLB.com)

By Kelsie Heneghan / MiLB.com | March 23, 2017 10:00 AM

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2017 season approaching, MiLB.com takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.

Shining Star: Christin Stewart, LF

Spending most of last season in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League did not have much effect on Stewart's powerful bat. Including an August leap to Double-A Erie, the Tigers' top hitting prospect led the system with 30 homers and ranked second with 87 RBIs. While that power comes with a propensity to strike out, it doesn't mean Stewart can't show patience at the plate. The 34th overall pick in the 2015 Draft ranked sixth in the Minors with 86 walks.

"Christin is a well-rounded hitter in that he is mature [and] has a good idea of what he wants to try to do at the plate," said Dave Littlefield, the Tigers' vice president of player development. "He's obviously shown impressive power and yet works the count fairly well and is able to get on base as well as have power. Like any young player, there is room for improvement, but he's off to a very good start."

In the outfield, Stewart has committed just five errors in 174 career games, spending all of his time in left. If the 23-year-old gets off to a good start with the SeaWolves this season, there's a possibility fans could see him play at Comerica in September.

"For a guy who's just out of his first full season, he is showing strong signs that he's got a chance to be a real nice offensive player in the Major Leagues," Littlefield said.

Full-season debutant: Kyle Funkhouser, RHP

Considered a steal in the fourth round of last year's Draft, Funkhouser quickly got to work for the Tigers. The 23-year-old did not allow a run in nine of his 13 starts with Class A Short Season Connecticut, resulting in a 2.65 ERA with 34 strikeouts and eight walks over 37 1/3 innings.

"He's a very mature person and intelligent and I think combined with having a big, strong body and four pitches that he throws for strikes, I think he's an advanced pitcher in our system that has potential to take off as he gets a little more time," said Littlefield. "He did a real nice job at Connecticut, and we're very optimistic about him being a starter and moving quickly through the system."

With an above-average fastball and a good walk-to-strikeout ratio, Funkhouser should quickly move through the system, potentially even skipping Class A West Michigan. Littlefield said Funkhouser is more advanced than his Draft classmates, and the Tigers are confident he'll have a good year.

Major League-ready: Joe Jimenez, RHP

In just his second full season, Jimenez worked his way into a Triple-A closer by the end of the year. Starting with 17 1/3 scoreless innings at Class A Advanced Lakeland, the 22-year-old continued his late-inning dominance with Erie, notching a 2.18 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. And for his final 15 2/3 frames, Jimenez posted a 2.30 ERA for Toledo.

In total, the Puerto Rico native converted an organization-leading 30 saves in 31 opportunities with 78 strikeouts, 17 walks and a 1.51 ERA in 53 2/3 innings (55 outings).

"He has such a good arm and good command that he's been able to get away with a lot so far with just using his fastball and locating it. And he throws very hard," Littlefield said. "So to be the kind of pitcher he wants to be, he's working hard right now and finishing off a couple breaking balls, and I think that will give him some additional weapons as he gets closer to the big leagues."

Jimenez has drawn international attention this spring, competing for his native country in the World Baseball Classic. The 6-foot-3 hurler worked around two hits and a walk with a pair of strikeouts in two innings through his first two outings.

Back and healthy: Spencer Turnbull, RHP

After being selected in the second round of the 2014 Draft out of the University of Alabama, Turnbull got off to a strong start. In his first full season, the 6-foot-3 hurler went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 116 2/3 innings for West Michigan in 2015. But then the injury bug nipped him.

After his first bullpen of Spring Training last year, Turnbull's right shoulder felt tight. The problem persisted and he ended up missing the first three months of the season. After a couple rehab outings in the Gulf Coast League, Turnbull made six starts with the Flying Tigers, going 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 10 walks in 30 innings.

"Obviously it's frustrating to lose time, and he's a competitive guy, so that was something I think he used very effectively," Littlefield said. "When he was able to get out and throw during the later part of the summer, he went to Lakeland and had some nice starts there."

Turnbull got more innings in the Arizona Fall League, where he continued to show a healed shoulder. The 24-year-old notched a 3.60 ERA with 20 punchouts and eight walks in 20 innings across six starts for Salt River.

"He showed some good signs [in the AFL] and has looked very good in Spring Training here, so we're very optimistic about Spencer," Littlefield said. "He's got a lot of good stuff and some high-end power."

Loudest tool: Gerson Moreno, RHP

At the age of 20, Moreno broke out with the Whitecaps last season, allowing just three earned runs in 25 innings (1.08 ERA) over 23 appearances to start the season. The Dominican Republic native ran into a little trouble when he was promoted to the Flying Tigers -- 6.93 ERA in 24 2/3 innings -- but his 70-grade fastball remained strong as he fanned a career-high 54 batters while walking 28 across the two levels.

"He's maturing all the time. He had a fantastic start in West Michigan -- he's a big, strong, athletic guy who throws very hard and has a slider that's above average," Littlefield said. "Like any young guy, he needs a little more consistency with location and with consistency of his breaking ball. But he's done exceptionally well and we're very, very optimistic that he's going to have a nice career with us."

If the right-hander can build on the command and control he had in the first half of last year to the upper levels, he is sure to be a viable bullpen option for the Tigers down the road.

Others to keep an eye on: Tigers No. 8 prospect Derek Hill had his season halted last August when he underwent Tommy John surgery; the outfielder will miss most of 2017. ... After injury cut his first full season short, Will Maddox broke out in 2016. The left-handed hitter led the organization with a .339 average and ranked second with 28 stolen bases for West Michigan. ... With a 50-game suspension and his Major League debut behind him, JaCoby Jones looks to get solid at-bats in the Minors before proving he's ready for a return to Detroit.

Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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