Why Leonys Martin is the perfect signing for the Detroit Tigers

Newly-signed outfielder Leonys Martin could provide plenty of value for the Detroit Tigers.

In an offseason that has been stagnant to say the least, the Detroit Tigers have actually been active.

Well, “active” doesn’t necessarily paint the whole picture.

“Relatively active” is probably more apt.

In the early stages of a rebuild that was kick-started by a number of high profile, mid-season trades, the Tigers front office has largely stuck to signing free agents on minor league deals this winter.

There have been some potentially useful finds among the haul of players who have recently joined Detroit on minor league contracts from former first-round pick Kevin Comer to ex-Twin Niko Goodrum and longtime Yankee prospect Mark Montgomery.

Comer and Goodrum are both just 25, while Montgomery is 27.

The Tigers are unlikely to find another J.D. Martinez-type player—in terms of impact— in free agency, but they could very easily stumble upon a bench piece or two, a platoon starter, a back-end rotation arm or a relief pitcher.

Comer, Goodrum, Montgomery and Ryan Carpenter, who signed a Major League deal, all look like quality additions that will provide new Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire with improved depth.

Up until Tuesday, Carpenter was the only player the Tigers signed to a big-league deal.

That changed, as the club announced in a tweet that outfielder Leonys Martin has joined the organization on a Major League deal.

The tweet also included the signings of four other players to minor league deals, including outfielder Jim Adduci and former All-Star Derek Norris, but Martin is the most intriguing of the group by far.

In a rebuild, franchises need to throw as many low risk, high-upside players at the proverbial wall as possible to see if anything sticks.

Whether said players develop into long-term pieces, trade chips or are simply designated for assignment or cut at a later date, teams like the Tigers need to be taking fliers on players with high ceilings.

That’s certainly what Martin has.

High Ceiling

A 29-year-old outfielder, the veteran previously spent parts of five seasons with the Texas Rangers from 2011 to 2015. He was a regular starter in both 2013 and 2014, while seeing significant playing time in 2015.

Martin was also an everyday player for the Seattle Mariners in 2016, before splitting last season with the M’s and Chicago Cubs.

His 2017 stats (-0.4 fWAR, 35 wRC+ and a .224 wOBA) won’t show it, but the outfielder has plenty to offer at the Major League level.

As recently as 2016 he notched a 2.2 fWAR. It was the veteran’s third season in the last five campaigns with an fWAR north of 2.0.

Part of what has made Martin so valuable in the past has been his ability to make an impact on the base paths and in the field.

Since the beginning of the 2013 season—when he started seeing consistent at-bats—only 12 players have stole more bases than Martin.

The former Ranger is tied with a certain Mike Trout with 112 swipes over that span.

If raw stolen bases totals don’t tickle your fancy, perhaps some more advanced metrics will. Martin ranks 13th in Major League Baseball over the same span with a collective BsR of 21.9.

That 21.9 BsR includes respective outputs of 7.7, 6.6, 2.7 and 4.6 from 2013 to 2016.

In the last three seasons, Detroit’s leaders in BsR include the following:

2015: Yoenis Cespedes, 2.3.

2016: Ian Kinsler, 3.6.

2017: Mikie Mahtook, 3.2.

The three, along with Cameron Maybin in’s 2.5 BsR in 2016, are the only players to even come in above the 2.0 mark.

In that regard alone, Martin’s addition could provide instant dividends.

Another area where the 29-year-old could make an impact is in spacious Comerica Park.

Detroit’s defensive struggles have been well-documented, and the team’s outfielders struggled mightily at times in 2017.

Overall, Detroit outfield players ranked 18th in UZR/150 (-1.8), 20th in collective DRS (-10) and 29th in ARM (-14.2).

The outfield stats were largely weighed down players like J.D. Martinez (-16.4 UZR/150, a -6 DRS and a -4.9 ARM), Nicholas Castellanos (-80.5 UZR/150, -7 DRS and a -3.2 ARM) and Alex Presley (-8.0 UZR/150, -11 DRS and a -0.5 ARM).

These statistical outputs overshadowed players who were actually quite dependable in the outfield grass, including Justin Upton and his +13 DRS, Andrew Romine and his team-leading 7.9 UZR/150 and JaCoby Jones.

Despite seeing considerably less playing time, the rookie logged a 4.3 UZR/150 and a +5 DRS in Comerica Park’s spacious center field.

Still, whichever way you slice it, the Tigers needed defensive help in the outfield.

Upton was traded to Anaheim on the eve of September, while Romine also now calls the American League West his home division after being claimed on waivers by the Mariners.

Jones is still a Detroit Tigers player, but his offensive struggles—which we’ll get to in a bit—make it somewhat difficult to play him every day.

Gardenhire and the Tigers should have no problem playing Martin every day, especially considering he can make a serious impact in the outfield grass.

Among center fielders with at least 4,000 since the start of the 2013 season, Martin ranks fourth behind only Billy Hamilton, Lorenzo Cain and Carlos Gomez in Def, or defensive runs above average.

The ex-Ranger checks in with a 41.3 stat in the category.

He also ranks behind Cain, and only Cain, in DRS, with a positive output of +48.

In terms of ARM, Martin finally comes in ahead of the longtime Kansas City outfielder, along with all other outfielders, with a 34.7 metric.

Offensive Boost

Now we’ve circled back to the JaCoby Jones offensive production portion of the column. The former Pirates farmhand shows considerable potential, but struggles mightily at the plate.

In 154 plate appearances, the 25-year-old managed just a 34 wRC+ and a .229 wOBA. He also put up a .240 on-base percentage and a .270 slugging percentage.

While struggles at the plate are nothing new for players breaking into the Major Leagues, Jones continues to swing and miss far too often.

The center fielder posted a 42.2% strikeout rate in 2017, which was only a slight improvement over the 42.9% rate he logged in 28 plate appearances in 2016.

Jones’ defense and base running ability will continue to play at the Major League level, but until he can develop at the dish, he may be better suited as serving as a defensive replacement and pinch runner late in games.

With Mike Gerber and Christin Stewart far from locks to play early for the Tigers in 2018, Mikie Mahtook looks slated for the starting gig in left field.

That left Jones the sole starting option in center field.

Now, with Martin in the mix, Detroit’s offensive outlook in center field is much improved.

Offensive upside

The former Mariner is by no means an offensive force in the Majors, but he brings some power to the game as a center fielder, a trait that gives him intriguing potential.

Martin clocked 15 home runs in 2016, and has registered ISO stats over .120 in two of his three seasons as a starting player.

What’s more, he’s coming off an excellent 88 game, 388 plate appearance stint with Triple-A Tacoma, in which he swatted 11 home runs to go along with 63 runs scored, 39 RBI, 25 stolen bases, a .361 wOBA and a 114 wRC+.

Those numbers may not be sustainable in the Majors, but Martin is a prime candidate to bounce back.

His 2017 production was severely hampered by an exceedingly-low .207 BABUP that was well below his career .306 number.

Low BABIP-induced down years are nothing new for Martin.

His BABIP dropped to .270 in 2015.

Following a strong 2014 campaign, his offensive production dropped off considerably.

Leonys Martin 2014 production: .274 batting average, .325 on-base percentage, .364 slugging percentage, .306 wOBA and a 91 wRC+.

Leonys Martin 2015 production: .219 batting average, .264 on-base percentage, .313 slugging percentage, a .254 wOBA and a 52 wRC+.

After an offseason trade to Seattle, Martin bounced back in the Pacific Northwest as his BABIP returned to a more-normal looking .313 number.

In 576 plate appearances for the M’s, the outfielder hit .247 with a .306 on-base percentage, a .378 slugging percentage, a .298 wOBA and an 88 wRC+.

If the BABIP can come up again, Martin has a chance to make a significant impact for the Detroit Tigers in 2018 in multiple facets of the game.

USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale tweeted about Martin’s reported salary in 2018 in a tweet on Tuesday.

Nightengale tweeted the following:

Even if the Tigers end up paying all of Martin’s reported incentives, a reported $2.85 million could turn into a significant bargain if Leonys Martin can regain his past form.

More MLB Columns: With Shohei Ohtani and reportedly Kevin Maitan, the future is bright in Anaheim.

Detroit Tigers: Steven Moya and/or Mike Hessman Should Be Called Up in September

With September right around the corner, the Detroit Tigers will soon be joining the rest of Major League Baseball in the process of calling up players when rosters expand. There are a number of players who seem locks to be called up (Bryan Holaday, Ian Krol and Dixon Machado) while others’ chances aren’t guaranteed (Marc Krauss, Jeff Ferrell and Wynton Bernard).

Regardless of the other players packing their bags and heading to Detroit, there is one type of player the Tigers will almost surely call up– a slugging, bench bat.

As of now, the two obvious (and really only) candidates are Steven Moya and Mike Hessman. Expect at least one of the players to get the call come September—if not both.

The Case for Moya

At 24-years-old, Steven Moya ranks as the Tigers’ prospect—even after the trade deadline acquisitions of top prospects like Michael Fulmer, Luis Cessa, JaCoby Jones and Jairo Labourt.

Moya has (insert adjective here, somewhere between outstanding and exceptional) power as well as a strong arm and the ability to run well. The only knack on him is that he doesn’t really hit for average, and strikes out a lot (129 in 103 games at Triple-A this season). The lack of hitting for average (as well as a low walk rate), could hurt Moya. However, if he can hit even .250, he’ll enjoy at least a 10-year career. He’s got that kind of power.

Adding him to the roster in September would give the team a powerful—if raw—bench option. He can also provide dependable defense while also brining some speed. If called up, the Tigers will be hoping that Moya’s experience in September will help pave the way to bigger things next season, similar to James McCann’s situation last year.

The Case for Hessman

While the 37-year-old Hessman doesn’t possess the same potential as Moya due to his age, he does bring power.

The veteran is the minors’ all-time home run leader, with a whopping 433 minor league bombs. He has 16 in 103 Triple-A games to go along with 52 RBI, 21 doubles and four (!) triples. Like Moya, Hessman has never been much of a contact hitter. He’s hitting .241 this season and is a career .233 hitter in the minors.

For all his power, one would think the minor league home run king would have received an extended look in the big leagues. However, Hessman has never logged more than 32 games in a season and has only played in 109 big-league games.

While his career batting average in the majors (.188) isn’t pretty, Hessman has actually performed solidly while wearing a Tigers uniform. In 29 career games with Detroit the slugger has mashed nine home runs to go along with 19 RBI, a double and 13 runs scored. He hit .256 with a .945 OPS over that span. Here’s hoping, should he be called up, that he repeat those numbers.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

For more Tigers, click here. For more baseball, click here.

Detroit Tigers: Predicting the Lineup in 2020

After trading David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenis Cespedes (in that order no less!), the Detroit Tigers are seem to have an eye on the future. The team will still be ultra-aggressive in winning in the short-term, but the trades of the impending free agents signal that the team is at least conscious of building a long-term winner that is more sustainable. Here’s a look at what that future might entail. Without further ado, ladies and gentleman, you’re 2020 Detroit Tigers (as it stands right now anyways…).

  • C: James McCann

Anyone under the impression that James McCann would take time to acclimate have been dead wrong. The catcher has lived up to his reputation defensively—he leads all catchers in fielding percentage (0 errors) while grading out well in defensive metrics. McCann also has thrown out 45% of would-be base stealers. The 25-year-old is hitting .282 with 22 extra-base-hits and owns a 1.3 WAR as a rookie. The Tigers seem set behind the plate for the next decade.

1B: Miguel Cabrera

By this point, Miguel Cabrera will be one of the game’s greatest all-time players. He isn’t going anywhere, regardless of his salary.

2B: Dixon Machado/ JaCoby Jones

Here’s where it gets interesting. Ian Kinsler will be 38 by this point, and the Tigers have two excellent converted shortstops ready to take the reins. Machado is currently at Triple-A, and is a plus-plus defender while Jones is at Double-A and has tantalizing potential.

Machado has already earned a cup of coffee with the Tigers this season and with a .267 batting average in the high-minors, there’s hope that he’ll offensive potential to go along with his excellent defense.

While further down the minor-league ladder, Jones possess just as much potential as Machado—if not more. The former third-round pick has raw power to go along with elite athleticism and plus-plus capabilities on defense that allow him to play most positions. This will obviously be the case with Jose Iglesias entrenched at shortstop, so expect Jones to be in the Tigers lineup come 2020, if not much, much sooner. The prospect is off to a strong start in Double-A after hitting three home runs in one game soon after arriving from Pittsburgh.  

SS: Jose Iglesias

When a 25-year-old shortstop can do this

And this

Then you’ve clearly found a keeper. Throw in the fact that Iglesias is hitting .318 this year (and in the process earning his first All-Star nod) and you might just see him in a Tigers uniform in 2025, let alone 2020.

3B: Nick Castellanos

Nick Castellanos is finally starting to become the hitter everyone thought he would be.

While his .237 batting average this season is far from encouraging, his recent numbers are. The third baseman is hitting .276 with seven home runs, 24 RBI and an .846 OPS since June 23rd.

Castellanos still has work to do in terms of reaching full potential, but the fact that he has almost surpassed his home run and RBI totals from last season is an extremely good sign moving forward. It seems like he’s been around for ages, but Castellanos is still only 23-years-old. When he reaches his prime, he should be a more-than-competent middle-of-the-order bat.

LF: Anthony Gose/ Christian Stewart/ JaCoby Jones

Again, another tough decision. Gose will only be 29 in 2020, so he’ll likely still be with the team if he performs well. But, by that time he’ll likely have shifted to left in order to accommodate top prospect Derek Hill.

Stewart is one of the team’s better outfield prospects. He may not be on Gose’s level defensively, but it seems that his offense will be his meal ticket in the bigs. Jones’ potential won’t be recounted again, but put it this way—he can be a plus defender in the outfield as well as the infield.

CF: Derek Hill

Hill isn’t going to be a power-hitting player in The Show, but he’s got plenty of speed to help him reach the bigs and stay there. Hill has what scouts would call “plus” speed. The prospect also possesses good plate discipline. He’ll be a dangerous leadoff-type hitter for the Tigers for years to come—not to mention a strong defensive centerfielder.

RF: J.D. Martinez

Maybe the biggest lock here not named Miguel, J.D. Martinez isn’t leaving Detroit any time. Right now its probably a safe bet to assume he’ll be with the team until he retires. The Tigers will need protection for Cabrera once Victor Martinez retires/departs, and they already have that in J.D.

Fun fact: J.D. Martinez has homered in three consecutive games three different times this season.

DH: Steven Moya

If Moya can put it together in Triple-A, this job’s his. Dude can hit the ball a mile.

Bookmark/subscribe/follow/keep on eye on Know Hitter over the next few days—coming soon, predicting the Tigers pitching staff in 2020.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

For more Tigers, click here. For more baseball, click here.

Ben is on Twitter. He promises that he doesn’t always refer to himself in the third person.

Detroit Tigers: Grading the Tigers’ Trade Deadline Trades

As the MLB Trade Deadline passed, the Detroit Tigers firmly planted their flag on the “rebooting” side of things (as they like to call it). For a team that was so used to buying at the deadline, the Tigers replenished their farm system (the most overused term of the day) and generally did well for themselves.

General manager Dave Dombrowski turned rental players David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenis Cespedes into prospects Daniel Norris (Van Man!), Jairo Labourt, Matt Boyd, Michael Fulmer, Luis Cessa and JaCoby Jones.

All seven players are now top-fifteen prospects in the Detroit system, per MLB.com.

While the Tigers system was heavy on position players, Dombrowski and company clearly focused on adding pitching. Norris is already in the Tigers’ rotation while Boyd, Cessa and Fulmer have the potential to join him next season. This won’t happen obviously, but it gives the team more options moving forward than Buck Farmer and Kyle Ryan.

Now onto the grades.

The Trade: Price to Toronto for Norris, Labourt and Boyd

Grade: A

The Tigers probably weren’t going to re-sign David Price thanks to his likely out-of-this-world price tag, and did well to cash in on him when they had the chance. Norris is a future front-line starter and already owns a 3.86 ERA this season in five starts for the Jays. He’ll likely fill Price’s shoes in the coming years and gives the Tigers a legitimate piece to build around—pitching wise.

Labourt is a potential starter, but control issues may force him to the bullpen. At worst, he’s a reliever at the big-league. The former Jays’ farmhand is the “lottery ticket” of the deal and the hardest to project. Norris and Boyd are more surefire bets to make The Show, but Labourt has a chance talent-wise.

Last but not least, Boyd has big league potential. He’s displayed good control and feel for his pitches. This has clearly been on display this season with the left-hander posting a 9-2 record with a 1.68 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 112.2 innings pitched. Opponents are hitting a measly .178 off him. The former sixth-round pick has been effective at both Double-A and Triple-A, so a Major League call up may not be far away. Worst-case-scenario (in terms of his future) he’ll compete for a job with the Tigers next Spring Training.

The Trade: Soria to Pittsburgh for Minor League Shortstop JaCoby Jones

Grade: B+

While not the biggest haul for Soria, Jones is an intriguing prospect. Well, maybe “intriguing” is underselling the point. Tigers’ fans probably thought Soria would bring more of a return, but Jones has the chance to be special.

Granted he’s still a work-in-progress, but the Double-A shortstop has raw power to go along with plus speed. He’s big for a shortstop (6’2”) and has the athleticism to play other positions. The outfield is also a possibility for a player who has drawn comparisons to Adam Jones.

Jones comes with a great deal of risk, but his combination of raw power, plus speed and elite athleticism (not to mention his ability as a plus-plus defender at a number of positions) make him a player with difference-maker/star potential. He’s certainly worth the gamble for a half season of Soria.

The Trade: Cespedes to the Mets for Fulmer and Cessa

Grade: A

If Labourt (acquired in the Price trade), pans out as a big-league starter, the Tigers will have acquired an entire starting rotation for Price and Cespedes. Judging on a number of reports, tweets and what-have-you, the Mets seemed to like Fulmer a lot.

And rightfully so, Fulmer has a mid-90’s fastball and some nasty off-speed offerings. In terms of the future, it’s not hard to imagine Norris and Fulmer headlining the Tigers’ rotation for a decade. The former first-round pick was blocked in New York thanks to the presence all the Mets’ young starters (i.e. Zach Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom), so a move to Detroit is clearly beneficial for his future prospects.

Cessa is another starting pitcher who profiles as a back-end starter more than anything. He’s a converted infielder with a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90’s with two off-speed offerings that could play in the Majors. He’s struggled at Triple-A this season, but nonetheless shows promise.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

For more Tigers, click here. For more baseball, click here.