DETROIT -- The Tigers haven't had a first-round selection in three years. Their farm system has managed to survive.
Perhaps it was fitting timing that, as Major League Baseball was wrapping up the opening round of this year's First-Year Player Draft, the Tigers announced they'd promoted top hitting prospect Nick Castellanos to Double-A Erie. After he hit .405 for two months at Class A Lakeland, they ran out of reasons to hold him back despite being just 20 years old.
Barely 24 hours later, they broke the news to catcher Bryan Holaday that he was being promoted from Triple-A Toledo to Detroit to fill in at catcher while Alex Avila is on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Holaday became just the third position player drafted in 2010 by any organization to make it to the big leagues, joining teenage sensation Bryce Harper of the Nationals and Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun.
In the process, Holaday also became the third Tigers Draft pick from 2010 to make it to the Majors. Chance Ruffin had a cup of coffee with Detroit last summer before Drew Smyly cracked Detroit's rotation out of Spring Training and became a rookie surprise.
That 2010 Draft was the first of what is now three straight years for the Tigers without their first-round pick, having forfeited it as compensation for signing Type A free agents the previous offseason. Castellanos was their top pick that year, and he came after the first round as free-agent compensation. Smyly was a second-rounder. Holaday was a sixth-rounder. Third-rounder Rob Brantly, a highly touted catching prospect, earned a promotion to Triple-A Toledo to fill Holaday's spot.
When he gets there, his work will include catching a rotation that includes top pitching prospect Jacob Turner, the last Tigers first-round pick, back in 2009. Meanwhile, James McCann, last year's top Tigers pick in the second round, was promoted to Double-A Erie to take Brantly's spot.
The overriding theme is that good picks move fast through the Tigers' system.
"I'm extremely proud," Tigers vice president David Chadd said on Wednesday. "I'm proud for Bryan Holaday, and I'm proud for Rob Brantly. I'm proud for all those guys, and the kids that are continuing to come up through the system, even at the lower levels. But to get to the Major Leagues with that limited time of development, I think is just a testimony to their own ability and their own work ethic and their own desire and passion for the game.
"What we do is part of it. That's where I think a lot of people miss what's going on. We Draft, we sign, we put them in the system, then they have to develop. And then that's player development. That's [player development director] Dave Owen and his guys getting these guys better. You don't get to the big leagues unless you actually do something along the way that allows you to get to the big leagues."
Castellanos is a prime example, currently ranking among the leaders among all Minor League hitters, not just Tigers prospects, with his .405 batting average. The Tigers' original plan was for him to spend most if not all of this season in Lakeland. The way he continued to hit pushed up the timetable.
It's similar to what Smyly did last year in his first professional season. When Turner was promoted from Erie to Toledo for his Major League debut last July, Smyly was promoted from Lakeland to Erie, and continued to baffle hitters. He earned a non-roster invitation to Spring Training off of that and ran with it, swiping the last spot in the Tigers' rotation.
The Tigers have a talented group of pitchers at Toledo, though their results have been inconsistent. It's the next wave of pitching help that Detroit wanted to stock with this year's Draft. The strengths at Lakeland and Erie are in position players, from Castellanos in Erie to multi-tooled outfielder Avisail Garcia to defensively stingy middle infielders Dixon Machado and Hernan Perez. Lakeland has a potential future closer in big, hard-throwing Bruce Rondon.