Over the years, ESPN Insider analyst Keith Law has drawn the ire of many Detroit Tigers fans for his critique of the team’s lackluster farm system. Law released the first batch of his latest MLB organizational rankings on Wednesday, and things are trending the right way. For the second year in a row, the Tigers have moved up his list; they now sit 24th out of 30 major league teams.
While 24th isn’t great, it is certainly better than under the previous regime. Dave Dombrowski did a lot of great things as the team’s president and general manager, but his persistent depletion of an already taxed farm system is one reason why the Tigers have missed the playoffs the last two years. New GM Al Avila has vowed to build up the farm system and promote more players from within, and Law’s rankings — along with others like them — are the first sign of that improvement. That they moved up despite graduating Michael Fulmer from their ranks last year is further testament to the overall health of the farm system.
Naturally, Law is quick to note the Tigers’ love of power arms.
The Tigers do love them some hard throwers, so that’s the obvious strength of the system, with 2016 first-round pick Matt Manning -- who’s consistently throwing up to 98 mph as a starter -- standing as the exemplar of a "Top Tigers Prospect."
Manning is the team’s consensus top prospect, and (spoiler!) will be atop our list to be released next month. He was quite impressive in his professional debut last summer, striking out 46 batters to seven walks in 29 1⁄3 innings in the Gulf Coast League. He has the highest ceiling of any pitching prospect in the system, with true top-of-the-rotation potential if everything clicks. Manning is likely the only Tigers prospect who will appear on Law’s top-100 prospect rankings, to be released on January 23.
Law also went on to praise reliever Joe Jimenez, who has drawn mixed reviews from various publications this year. Baseball America excluded him from their top-10 prospect rankings, while FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen was effusive in his praise of Jimenez’s future value. Law will release his organizational top 10 lists later this month, with the Tigers (and the rest of the AL Central) to come on January 31.
Not all prospect growth is linear, and Law is quick to note that with recent draftees like Derek Hill and Spencer Turnbull. Both players have dealt with multiple injuries since arriving in the Tigers’ system, and Law hints that 2017 could be a critical year for both. Turnbull only made six starts at Advanced-A Lakeland in 2016 after being sidelined for most of the year, but struck out a respectable 27 batters in 30 innings. Hill will miss part of 2017 after having Tommy John surgery last summer, but showed glimpses of improvement when he hit .266/.312/.349 at Single-A West Michigan last year. If either player — or righthander Beau Burrows, who Law also mentions — have a big year, the Tigers’ farm system could take another step forward heading into 2018.