With the Tigers well into full rebuild mode at this point, fans have turned their attention to the minor leagues for hope, optimism, and the future of Detroit baseball. With that critical attention comes plenty of questions about players, positions, and trends, so let’s look at 20 of those prospect-related questions as we enter the 2020 season.
1. Is Casey Mize healthy?
Durability and health have been about the only questions in Mize’s profile the last two years. From some elbow issues in college to shoulder inflammation last year that ultimately shut him down, Mize needs to prove he’s healthy this spring and follow that up by logging considerable innings without issue this year. Mize has all the ingredients to front the Tigers rotation for the next decade, assuming his right arm can withstand the workload necessary to fill that role.
2. Can Tarik Skubal repeat his breakout 2019 performance?
Skubal was one of the fastest rising prospects in all of baseball last year, blowing through two levels while going from ninth round pick to consensus Top 100 prospect in a matter of months. With a fastball heavy approach, improved command, and a quality breaking ball, Skubal has the swing-and-miss stuff to succeed in a variety of roles at the big league level. After nine dominating starts with Double-A Erie in 2019, Skubal will be in the mix for a rotation spot in Toledo to start the year as he tries to prove he wasn’t a flash in the pan.
3. Where does Nick Quintana go after an abysmal pro debut?
The Tigers second round pick last summer, Quintana couldn’t get on track after the draft, striking out in 31% of his plate appearances with Low-A West Michigan before rebounding some (though he still struck out 31% of the time) with short-season Connecticut. Quintana will always have swing-and-miss in his game, meaning he’ll have to show he can do some damage when he does make contact in 2020 and that his defense comes as advertised at the hot corner.
4. Can Franklin Perez actually stay on the mound?
Since coming to the Tigers as the centerpiece of the Justin Verlander trade in 2017, Perez has thrown a total of 27 innings across two seasons, including eight innings in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. As the injuries continue to pile up for the now 22-year old, it is an open question whether his raw stuff will return to previous levels and whether he can ever truly get back to flashing the mid-rotation potential he once had.
5. What does Parker Meadows’ next step look like?
The .221/.296/.312 line Meadows posted last year in the Midwest League certainly doesn’t jump off the page, but he did hit .253/.321/.360, or just about league average throughout June and July before tiring down the stretch. Meadows also played last year over two years younger than the average MWL player. With a likely promotion to High-A Lakeland on the horizon, Meadows’ tools flashed enough last year that fans should expect to see his blend of power and speed show up in games a little more often, even if the final line still lacks some star power.
6. Who is Roberto Campos?
A veritable international man of mystery, the Tigers surprised many by giving Campos $2.85 million during last year’s international signing period. All reports indicate Campos has already begun to fill out his athletic 6-foot-3 frame, which lends to the power projections scouts have long seen in his profile. Campos is likely to start the year in the Dominican Summer League where his solid approach and advanced power could result in one of the league’s more impressive stat lines.
7. Is Bryant Packard a legitimate MLB corner outfield bat or more like Ryan Strieby?
I’m admittedly the “low man” on Packard based on my looks at him while at East Carolina and in another brief look last summer with Connecticut, so I may be the only person asking this question. That said, Packard’s profile is a tough one to navigate. His defensive ability is lacking in the outfield, putting more pressure on his bat; a bat that I’m not sure will withstand the pressure once he gets to the upper levels of the minor leagues. Packard can hit, but so could Ryan Strieby, and in the end being able to hit and being able to hit enough to carry you to the big leagues are two different things.
8. Where does Isaac Paredes’ defense go from here?
For the first time in his career, Paredes spent more time at a position other than shortstop in 2019, playing over two-thirds of his games at third base. His range, instincts, and athleticism all fit better (though not perfectly) at the hot corner, but he’s made it quite clear he still fancies himself a shortstop. The scouting community tends to disagree and sees the permanent move away from shortstop as a given, and while most believe he can survive at third base, there is a small subset that sees him as a future first baseman. His final defensive disposition will be important given his offensive projections as a solid, if unspectacular, hitter.
9. Which relievers are poised to help in Detroit later this year?
Tiger fans already had a sneak peek at right-hander Bryan Garcia last year and they should expect to get an extended look in 2020, quite possibly with improved results as he will be another year removed from Tommy John surgery. Other upper minors relievers with a chance to break through and see Detroit this year include right-handers Wladimir Pinto and Alex Lange, and while they have yet to see time in Double-A, right-hander Jason Foley and left-hander Max Green both have the high-octane stuff to force their way to Detroit in the second half. On top of that, relievers can come from a variety of places and there’s a few arms that could shift to the bullpen and find Detroit quickly, including Beau Burrows, Kyle Funkhouser, and Anthony Castro.
10. Do Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser stay healthy enough to get to Detroit?
As already mentioned, both Burrows and Funkhouser could be candidates to reach Detroit this year as relievers, though the door certainly hasn’t closed on either getting a handful of starts with the Tigers either. Injuries derailed excellent opportunities for both pitchers to make their debut with an abysmal club last year, and if they can’t stay healthy and perform this year, they could be lapped by superior prospects (Mize, Manning, Skubal, Wentz, etc.) forcing their way to Detroit. Both Burrows and Funkhouser have a window to contribute in Detroit, but they’ll need things to break right, including their health in order to take advantage.
11. Can Wenceel Perez bounce back?
The answer to this question centers more on Perez’s physical development than it does his baseball skills. Perez appeared overmatched physically last year with West Michigan and will need to show added strength as he enters his twenties in order to have more success at the plate. Perez was only 19 all of last season, has a knack for contact and showed signs of life with a .274/.317/.376 line in August. His athleticism, defensive ability, and feel for the game make him an exciting prospect if he can just add the strength necessary to contribute offensively.
12. Will the real Daz Cameron please stand up?
Everything that could have gone wrong in 2020 did as Cameron struggled to a paltry .214/.330/.377 line with Triple-A Toledo. Even the juiced-up Triple-A ball couldn’t help Daz as he tried to reach the big leagues. Behind that triple slash line, both his strikeout (28.8% from 25.6%) and walk (11.7% from 9.7%) rates jumped from the prior year, though the former isn’t an egregious spike. Strikeouts will always be part of Cameron’s profile and if he can make modest adjustments to more advanced arms this year, his numbers could rebound considerably. Still just 23-years old, Cameron’s stock may have slipped from this time last year, but he should be far from written off.
13. Can Jake Rogers’ bat find another gear?
For the entirety of Rogers’ minor league career his strikeout rate has hovered in the low- to mid-20% range before spiking to nearly 40% during his first taste of big league pitching last summer. With that type of swing-and-miss Rogers has little chance at turning in a productive big league career beyond backup duty, no matter his stellar defensive gifts. There has been hope in the past that Rogers could be a launch angle success story, generating plenty of power in and around his strikeouts, but the Tigers don’t seem convinced that is a viable path forward. No matter what the approach or new swing looks like, Rogers will have to hit a little bit for his glove to matter at all.
14. Do the Tigers have any catchers that could emerge as viable prospects?
Since the Tigers found success drafting and developing Alex Avila as their primary catcher over ten years ago, the position has been a near wasteland for prospects. Jake Rogers has the glove but may not have the bat to be a legitimate big leaguer, and there are many in the scouting community that believe 2019 draftee Cooper Johnson could follow the same path. Joey Morgan looks the part of organizational filler and Sam McMillan has a ton of work to do in order to resurrect his prospect stock. The best bet to be a viable two-way catching prospect in the system may be youngster Eliezer Alfonso, but even he has question marks surrounding his ability to drive the ball and how his glove will evolve. Catcher development is a tricky and unpredictable animal across baseball and as of now it is hard to see a prospect that Tigers fans should be confident they can project to play every day in the big leagues.
15. What can we expect from the stateside debuts of Adinso Reyes and Jose De La Cruz?
As 17-year olds in the DSL, both Adinso Reyes (.331/.379/.508) and Jose De La Cruz (.307/.375/.556) inspired Tiger fans to dream big on their potential. Now, I will be the first to tell you to simply ignore statistics from the Dominican Summer League, but the intrigue is justified even if the numbers are meaningless. Both players possess the raw skills to have an impact at the plate and both could cement their prospect standing with a strong showing in the Gulf Coast League this summer.
16. Which short-season players emerge as real prospects in full-season ball?
Every season there’s a player or two that seemingly comes from the fringes of the radar to make a name for themselves in full-season ball. This year will be no different. The Tigers have a variety of places to look for intriguing names, and a few to keep an eye on early in the year could be catcher Eliezer Alfonzo, outfielder Kerry Carpenter, right-hander Xavier Javier, or left-hander Cristhian Tortosa. Whether it is one of these young players or someone else, the Tigers will inevitably have some “new” names step forward this season.
17. Who surprises from the 2019 draft class?
It is invariably hard to assess draft picks in the weeks immediately following the draft. Many of them are coming off lengthy college or high school seasons and are now being asked to play dozens more games than they ever have in their careers. As a result, scouts are left trying to get a good read on fatigued, and sometimes overwhelmed, players. Tiger fans are likely hopeful that Nick Quintana bounces back with a surprise strong showing and could be looking for right-hander Zach Hess to find early success in A-ball out of the bullpen. A little further off the radar, there were scouts that liked Kerry Carpenter (OF) as a polished player capable of moving quickly, while others were intrigued by the large frame, heavy low- to mid-90s fastball, and average slider that right-hander Ted Stuka (14th round) flashed last summer.
18. Are there any off the radar sleepers to watch in 2020?
As the prospect writing community becomes deeper and deeper it becomes more difficult to identify prospects that are truly sleepers. Players get more coverage at the amateur levels guys with intriguing tools have video and articles written about them at the complex level. That doesn’t leave much room for calling out true sleepers. That said, there’s always a handful of guys waiting in the wings for more name recognition. One pitcher that’s been on the radar before but has been forgotten about since undergoing Tommy John surgery is right-hander Gerson Moreno. Once the proud owner of an electric fastball, if Moreno is healthy and pumping high-end fastballs again he could re-emerge quickly. Though he has name recognition, third baseman Pedro Martinez’s stat line (.221/.329/.320 over two seasons) has yet to inspire much confidence. There’s underlying baseball ability here and if he continues to mature, both physically and mentally, the numbers could improve. One more name to watch could be 20-year old outfielder Lazaro Benitez. Since signing out of Cuba, Benitez has filled out his 6-foot frame with additional muscle mass, improved his ability to get the barrel to the ball, and has the type of athleticism that could allow him to emerge as a serious prospect later this year.
19. Behind a strong top four prospects, what needs to happen to improve the system’s overall depth?
It’s no secret the Tigers have arms for days with premium pitchers littering the Top 10 prospects in the system. What isn’t as frequently discussed is the relative lack of depth in the system as they navigate a challenging rebuilding period. The Tigers are woefully bereft of high-end positional talent and need last year’s top pick, Riley Greene, to cement his status as a premium offensive talent. In addition, the club needs young bats like Parker Meadows, Daz Cameron, Wenceel Perez, and others to prove they can make adjustments and establish themselves as potential big league regulars. Without these players making strides this year the Tigers rebuild will be in jeopardy of stalling before it even really gets going. Depth is always the key to overcoming the natural attrition of prospects and the Tigers need to establish some modicum of depth in order for the rebuild to take the next step.
20. Which direction do the Tigers go with the 1-1 pick?
The industry consensus has the #1 overall pick down to three players at this early stage of the game: Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, Vanderbilt infielder Austin Martin, and Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock. All three are premium talents worthy of the top pick in the draft, and where the Tigers go with this pick could be a pivot point for the health of their farm system – and rebuild – over the next few years. Torkelson appears to be the odds-on favorite with just one weekend of college ball played to date, but the Tigers will have to weigh the risk of popping a right-right first baseman with the top overall pick. This is going to be a critical storyline for the team’s farm system as summer approaches.