The much maligned Detroit Tigers’ farm system looks a little better than it did a year ago, but General Manager Al Avila and his staff have a long, long way to go. The new emphasis on supporting the major league club with better homegrown talent, instead of trade bait, is the right direction, but skepticism is well warranted. The front office has added scouting, coaching and analytics personnel since Avila took over from Dave Dombrowski, but the fruits of those moves won’t be realized for several years, even assuming improvement in their development of young talent. And the decision-makers don’t have the best track record to stand on. In the meantime, major help for the Tigers is still years away.
The Tigers also traded away solid talent in the recent past, hoping to further their pursuit of a World Series title. Players like Drew Smyly and Devon Travis haven’t lit the league on fire, but they’ve been good when healthy. The one former prospect who the Tigers may miss is current top shortstop prospect, Willy Adames, traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in the David Price deal. Considering that the Tigers acquired both Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd for Price a year later, that isn’t a move the Tigers regret at all.
Yet you have to go back almost a decade to find Boston Red Sox’ starter, Rick Porcello, as the last major Tigers’ draft pick to achieve a modest level of stardom. The Tigers have lacked high end first round picks due to their own success, and have been slow to start investing in top international free agents. As a result, the system is healthy in terms of good prospects, but lacks the standout top 100 talent of the better organizations. Still, while the Tigers have little beyond their 2016 first round pick, Matt Manning, to really excite prospect watchers, that doesn’t mean they’re completely lacking in interesting talent.
JaCoby Jones and Dixon Machado made the Tigers’ 25-man roster to start the season, so they’ll have a chance to make an impact. Top relief prospect, Joe Jimenez, may also prove an important addition to the Tigers’ bullpen as the year progresses. Beyond that, there are a few pitchers who may see limited duty as a spot starter, but little beyond that to support their parent organization this season. Beyond 2017, there are plenty of names worth keeping an eye on.
The Tigers do have several quality starting pitcher prospects in their system at this point. Their number one overall prospect, Matt Manning, ranked as the 72nd prospect in all baseball according to MLB Pipeline, leads the way. Manning is, of course, far from the major leagues. So too is 2015 first round draft pick Beau Burrows, who will start the year in High-A Lakeland.
Closer to the majors are Myles Jaye and Tyler Alexander, who have a shot at making a spot start here or there this season for the Tigers. If Spencer Turnbull returns in good form from shoulder surgery and an abbreviated workload in 2016, he may have a slim chance of getting a brief call-up as well. More likely, Buck Farmer, Drew VerHagen and Warwick Saupold, who are unranked, will get those opportunities first. A few higher upside starters to keep an eye on include Sandy Baez, Kyle Funkhouser, and Anthony Castro, though none of the three is likely to see major league action any time soon.
This group is led by the Tigers’ number five prospect, Joe Jimenez, who will start the year at Triple-A, but seems a lock to see major league action this season. Beyond Jimenez, none of the relievers ranked in the Tigers’ top 30 prospects is all that likely to see even a cup of coffee in 2017. A few to keep an eye on, are Mark Ecker, Gerson Moreno, Drew Smith and Paul Voelker, who, though a distinct long-shot, is probably closest to advancing to the majors, if only briefly, in 2017.
This is obviously the area where the Tigers have failed miserably throughout recent memory. With JaCoby Jones and Dixon Machado starting the year with the Tigers, there is no real positional talent in the upper minor leagues at all beyond Christin Stewart, who is already seen as essentially a bat only player. Outfielder Michael Gerber, with five essentially average tools, will join Stewart at Double-A Erie. Both are longshots to see major league time in 2017.
Beyond those two, players to keep an eye on include catcher Grayson Greiner, who made a nice step forward offensively last season. Possible future center field candidates Jose Azocar, and Derek Hill are two others who will bear the closest attention. Hill won’t return from rehabiliation from Tommy John surgery until mid-summer, but he’s probably the Tigers only hope for an elite defensive center fielder to roam Comerica Park’s vast lawns any time in the near future. Azocar impressed many with his speed and defensive ability for the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2016, and, were he to progress offensively, may move rapidly into the upper minor leagues at some point this season.
Tigers top 30 prospect assignments
The minor league season kicked off Thursday night, and to prep you for the season around the Tigers’ farm system, here are their top 30 prospects according to MLB Pipeline, and their assignments to begin the season.
2017 Prospect Assignments
|Matt Manning-RHP||Extended Spring Training|
|Matt Manning-RHP||Extended Spring Training|
|Christin Stewart-OF||Erie SeaWolves|
|Beau Burrows-RHP||Lakeland Flying Tigers|
|Tyler Alexander-LHP||Erie SeaWolves|
|Joe Jimenez-RHP||Toledo Mud Hens|
|Kyle Funkhouser-RHP||West Michigan Whitecaps|
|Michael Gerber-OF||Erie SeaWolves|
|Derek Hill-OF||Injured-No assignment|
|JaCoby Jones-OF||Detroit Tigers|
|Dixon Machado-SS||Detroit Tigers|
|Sandy Baez-RHP||Lakeland Flying Tigers|
|Jose Azocar-OF||Lakeland Flying Tigers|
|Adam Ravenelle-RHP||Injured-No assignment|
|Gerson Moreno-RHP||Lakeland Flying Tigers|
|Spencer Turnbull-RHP||Lakeland Flying Tigers|
|Myles Jaye-RHP||Erie SeaWolves|
|Drew Smith-RHP||Lakeland Flying Tigers|
|Arvicent Perez-C||Lakeland Flying Tigers|
|Matt Hall-LHP||Lakeland Flying Tigers|
|Mark Ecker-RHP||Lakeland Flying Tigers|
|Jairo Labourt-LHP||Lakeland Flying Tigers|
|Zac Shepherd-3B||Lakeland Flying Tigers|
|Artie Lewicki-RHP||Erie SeaWolves|
|Paul Voelker-RHP||Erie SeaWolves|
|Victor Alcantara-RHP||Erie SeaWolves|
|A.J. Simcox-SS||Erie SeaWolves|
|Daniel Pinero-SS||West Michigan Whitecaps|
|Wladimir Pinto-RHP||Extended Spring Training|
|Grayson Greiner-C||Erie SeaWolves|
|Bryan Garcia-RHP||West Michigan Whitecaps|