LAKELAND, Fla. (FOX 2) - It was a sad, but understandable, day in Detroit: Justin Verlander was traded to the Houston Astros.
In the eleventh hour of August 31, 2017, Detroit traded the star pitcher after 13 years with Detroit and in return, acquired center fielder Daz Cameron, pitcher Franklin Perez and catcher Jake Rogers. Houston would also get a player to be named later or cash considerations.
The day of the trade, Tigers Executive Vice President and General Manager Al Avila said the three athletes would greatly bolster the Tigers minor league system.
"Perez was the headliner for us, cementing himself as a dominant force in each his three years in professional baseball. Daz Cameron is someone that we view as one of the highest-ceiling players in the minors. Cameron is a guy that slipped in the draft because of signability concerns, but has always shown flashes of his dad's play. Rogers plays beyond his years, demonstrating solid pop in his bat while having above average plate discipline, and our scouts have him rated as a reliable receiver behind the plate with an above average arm."
Years later, as they report to spring training in Lakeland, I asked each player about the day they learned they'd be heading to Detroit.
For Franklin Perez, the initial reaction was, well ... why?
"I was surprised and I was shocked. Then I started questioning myself — Why? What happened? Then in the end, I started to understand that this is a business and later, after that, I knew who I was getting traded for and I started understanding what's going on," he said.
Considered the centerpiece of the trade, Perez was 19 years old and ranked the 32nd best prospect in the major leagues, and second-best prospect in the Astros organization by Baseball America. He had appeared in 19 game between Buies Creek and Corpus Christi with a 3.02 ERA and 78 strikeouts. Perez was originally signed as a minor league free agent by the Astros in July 2014.
For Cameron, the idea of joining an organization redefining itself was exciting.
"It was a surreal moment, just coming out here and being with these guys on a rebuild looking for guys to come in and just help the ball club in any way that they can. I'm just glad to be a part of it, glad to be a part of this organization," he said.
Cameron was 20 years old, rated the ninth-best prospect in the Astros organization by MLB Pipeline. He'd spent the 2017 season with Quad Cities, hitting .271 with 79 runs scored, 29 doubles, eigh triples, 14 home runs, 73 RBI and 32 stolen bases. He was drafted by the Astros in the Competitive Balance A round of the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
As for Jake Rogers, he said the news came while watching a movie with some teammates.
"I was kind of shocked. A lot of emotions going through my head. After it all settled down, I was really excited to come over and be a part of Detroit," he said.
At the time, he was 22 years old and ranked the 11th-best prospect in the Astros system by MLB Pipeline. He played 110 games between Quad Cities and Buies Creek in his first full season of professional baseball, hitting .263 with 60 runs scored, 25 doubles, four triples, 18 home runs and 70 RBI. The Astros originally drafted him in the third round of the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
WIth all that being said, how's the deal panning out? Verlander went on to win a World Series with the Astros, but he's not the only part of the deal having some success.
After reaching Double-A in two years with the Astros, the pitcher suffered a few health setbacks once he got to Detroit. First a lat strain in March sidelined him until late June, then the Tigers shut him down for the rest of the season after a shoulder inflammation. He spent his offseason training in Lakeland, and now it's all about easing himself back into the game.
Perez , who is currently ranked third on the Tigers' prospect watch by MLB Pipeline, saw his first game action of the spring when the Tigers took on the Phillies in Clearwater on Feb. 25. Pitching one relief inning, Perez gave up no runs on one hit and struck out one batter. Toledo Mud Hens manager Doug Mientkiewicz, who managed the team that split squad game, had positive reviews.
"He hands it to you. ... I think if you take a piece of paper and draw a pitcher, that's kind of what it's supposed to look like. I know the catchers always talk about the stuff he has is about as good as it gets and we're going to lean on him. Hopefully he stays healthy too all year, (that) would be a big positive for us," he said.
The Tigers system is pretty heavy in starting pitchers. Right now in spring training, they have 61 players in camp, including 31 pitchers -- and eight pitchers are non-roster invitees. That means after an injury-riddled 2018, Perez needs to focus on staying healthy and getting back to old form.
The son of former big league outfielder Mike Cameron, baseball is in Daz Cameron's blood. He's on the cusp of his major-league debut after jumping three levels in the Tigers system in just one year — from High-A Lakeland to Double-A Erie to Triple-A Toledo.
"Overall I think I've progressed. The physical part's there. I know I have to keep working on that. I know they're there. The mental part's the most important part to improving my game," he said.
Currently ranked fifth among Tigers prospects by MLB Pipeline, general manager Al Avila called Cameron the future center fielder of the Detroit Tigers. That starts with spring training.
"Just to become a better teammate, a better player overall. Just coming out here everyday and coming out with a routine, getting ready to work and taking care of the routine of things and going to the game and have fun," he said.
Rogers is ranked 13th of the Tigers' prospects by MLB Pipeline and Detroit's top catching prospect. He's yet to play above Double-A, but the Tigers expect big things out of him. He's considered by many as the top defensive catcher in the minors.
"It's been awesome getting to know all these guys and be here in camp with all these good players and just kind of learning as I go," he said. "As far progress — become a better player and learn how to take the bad times and take it with the good too."
Rogers' strengths lie in defense, but his performance at the plate this season could dictate whether he'll be an essential piece of the rebuild puzzle.
"Working with some of the veteran guys and even the first-year guys ... and seeing what I can do to get better for the pitchers and help them out as far as working with the hitting coaches and working on a good approach and staying smooth," he said.
Wherever he goes this season, he'll spend his time working through all the top pitching prospects making their way through the Tigers system.
So while losing Verlander wasn't fun, the prospects continue to rise in the ranks. Whether they'll be keys to rebuilding this team — only time will tell.