Does anyone else feel like the Tigers have been tanking forever? I know it’s only been a few seasons, but they burned a couple years chasing the twilights of their veteran core. When you wait a long time to start the sell-off, the rebuild feels longer, I guess.
Detroit failed to get much for JD Martinez, Justin Verlander or Nick Castellanos when they finally did sell. They have very little positional talent in the system, which feels odd because they haven’t graduated anyone of note, so they don’t have positional talent in the majors either. It’s jarring to look around an entire organization and find zero long-term regulars. We can count Riley Greene if you want. Niko Goodrum, too, if you like.
Do you though?
CJ Cron was a good signing. Jonathan Schoop made sense. It’s smart for Detroit to be all over this corner of the market, but it’s even smarter to find the Travis Demerittes of the world. The 4A flier discount is a Dodger specialty that Farhan Zaidi has applied in San Francisco to decent effect already. I’d like to see Detroit exploit the AAA afterthoughts like all full rebuilds should be doing. It’s worth a lot more to unearth a player with years of cheap control than it is to give an average veteran a short-term gig hoping to flip him for low-level fliers at the deadline.
In my early days considering this system, I figured the Tigers would hold all their relevant prospects back until 2021, but after rolling around in the roster for a while, I decided that everyone who can help is probably coming up this year. It would be yet another narrative-leaning move rather than what seems best for winning in the long term, but it makes business sense. They risk losing fans if they play the timeline game on all their arms, and if they’re letting even one come to the big leagues, why not just bring them all up and enjoy the energy surge of having exciting young arms to watch every other day. If they fail, send them back down. The fans will be on board with the slow-burn at that point. Makes sense to dodge AAA with Mize, Manning and Skubal if at all possible, too. If you’re going to experience the juicy-ball confidence-death that awaits pitchers these days, why not let it happen at the big leagues to soothe the mind. Better to give up an oppo cheapie to Ronald Acuna Jr. than Yasmani Tomas, confidence-wise.
Player | Age on 5/1/2020 | Highest Level Played | ETA
1. RHP Casey Mize | 23 | AA | Mid 2020
2. RHP Matt Manning | 22 | AA | Mid 2020
I flip-flopped a bit on the top two. Wound up on Mize–at least while I’m writing this sentence–because their fantasy outlooks are close enough that we might as well default to perceived prospect value, and I think Mize has a decent-sized edge there. He’s likely to be good, in case you hadn’t heard. He’s not the world’s smoothest athlete, and I’m worried his repertoire–Fastball, Slider, Splitter, Cutter–might be on too tight a velocity band to consistently disrupt big league hitters’ timing, but we shall see. When he’s on, it will be fun to watch.
At one point I was just Out on Matt Manning. Too crossfire for me. His front leg went 40 degrees or so towards third base and then he had to tuck and launch himself over his front hip. He’s an incredible athlete, so he made it work but also worked on building a smoother delivery. The crossfire is less extreme today, and he’s all but eliminated the little launch/hop. If he can repeat and command where he’s at right now, he’ll be devastating. I wish I hadn’t traded him. A good reminder that humans are more clay than stone.
3. LHP Tarik Skubal | 23 | AA | Mid 2020
4. OF Riley Greene | 19 | A | 2023
In an organization with any number of problems, young pitching is not one.
If all the top four all actualize, I think Tarik Skubal will be the best of the group. A peak Skubal outcome bests a top-end Mize outcome, is all I’m saying. Please don’t hate me. They just don’t make em like Skubal, as the saying goes. He looks like a nightmare come to life. Remember when Carter Capps was cheating? Think that, only legal and left-handed. It figures to be incredibly hard for him to repeat and command with such a delivery, but if he does, look the eff out. Like, starting now. If he’s on form when he gets to pitch in Spring, it could be crazy. Like 2 innings, no hits, five Ks, big hype. And again the next time out. Maybe with 3 innings, 7 Ks. I’m not saying it’s going to happen. I’m just saying there aren’t many guys who have it within their range of outcomes.
All three of these guys do, I suppose. I just think Skubal is the most likely to tear through the league. I thought Josh Hader would do the same, and maybe that’s kind of what we have here when all is said and done. Skubal doesn’t look like Hader on the hill, but his release point, delivery and stuff are all unique enough to cause hitters the kinds of problems Hader does. If he gets his first look in relief, it could be tough to put the genie back in the lamp. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’ll start. But I thought the same about Hader, and he might actually be his best self as he’s deployed now.
A high school outfielder selected fifth overall in June, Riley Greene carries a lot of hope and hype into 2020 after a draft-year promotion timetable that put him in the Midwest league for the final month. Feels like an understatement to say he’s an important player in Detroit’s long term fate, so it’s interesting to seem them immediately smash the accelerator. Bold strategy.
5. SS Isaac Paredes | 21 | AA | Early 2021
6. SS Willi Castro | 23 | MLB | 2019
7. C Jake Rogers | 25 | MLB | 2019
8. OF Daz Cameron | 23 | AAA | Mid 2020
9. LHP Joey Wentz | 22 | AA | Mid 2020
10. OF Bryant Packard | 22 | A+ | 2022
Isaac Paredes is a smart play in most leagues heading into 2020, especially 50-round draft and holds. He takes his walks, doesn’t strike out, and hasn’t tasted the forbidden fruit of the juicy-ball tree.
Arriving just in time to earn a long opportunity-runway, Willi Castro could be pretty good for our game. Or he might not hit at all. His 63 wRC+ in 30 games did not inspire confidence. He stole 17 bases in AAA last season, so that’s something. Got caught just four times. Could be 20+ bags in the bigs. Could be 5. He’s a Cleveland guy–developed for six years in their system–so that’s a good thing. He’s been a slightly plus hitter against older competition two of the last three years.
Jake Mister Rogers visited the big neighborhood last year and did not hit if off, but that’s pretty standard with new neighbors. He’s set to be the starting catcher at some point in 2020 and could be a value, especially in OBP leagues. I don’t think he’ll make the experienced catcher leap for a couple seasons yet, but it’s a new year, and I’m trying to be a little more optimistic.
Justin Verlander was a different pitcher when Detroit traded him in a deal that netted Daz Cameron and Franklin Perez. He seemed to be fading but fighting it. The last-second return for a pricey pitcher on the downside seemed decent enough.
Now that Verlander’s an ageless ace winning another Cy Young and Perez appears to be carrying some dreadful curse, Daz Cameron finds himself the center (pun!) of an expectation storm few prospects face. He’s the near-term hope for a star-level regular but struggled throughout 2019. He was young for AAA and has time to adjust, but I’ve never loved the base mechanics of his swing or his plate approach, so I’m in wait-and-see mode here. Love the angle on playing time and steals. Might be worth a spec buy if you can get him cheap now.
Joey Wentz went nuts after being traded for Shane Greene, posting a 33.7 K-BB percentage across five starts. It’s a small sample to be sure, but middle-ranked command pitchers sometimes exceed their prospect stock in part because command is the hardest thing to scout. Detroit has become a home for spin specialists, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if Wentz makes a tiny tweak or two and unlocks a little more something long term. Not that they’d necessarily be better than Atlanta at development–just that more perspectives can be good and new voices and habits can make a significant difference.
While his printer company is flailing, Bryant Packard aced the 2018 Cape Cod League (.305/.421/.576) after absolutely demolishing his competition as a sophomore at East Carolina (.406/.462/.671). He came back to earth a little as a junior (.358/.444/.576), but the Tigers pounced to draft him atop the fifth round and sent him to low A, then, medium A, then high A in a little more than a month. So far, he’s identifying spin, and his quiet approach with a quick trigger enhances his patience because he can wait an extra beat to fire . . . so far. I’m curious to see how he responds to the elite stuff he’ll see in 2020. He’s not a great defender, but that’s mitigated some in an American League (DH) organization as wide open as this one.