Remember when the Detroit Tigers selected Kyle Funkhouser in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB draft? Fans got excited, and for good reason. Funkhouser was one of the big stories of the 2015 draft, when his once-bulletproof stock fell. He dropped all the way to the Los Angeles Dodgers at No. 35 overall, and ultimately decided to return to the University of Louisville for his senior season. A year later, Funkhouser’s reputation was damaged to the point that the Tigers were able to snag him at No. 115 overall, their second pick of the entire draft.
Now, nearly one year later, Funkhouser might be the one saying “told ya so.” The 23-year-old righthander enjoyed modest success at short-season Connecticut in 2016, fanning 34 batters in 37 1⁄3 innings pitched. He blew the doors off the Midwest League, though, striking out 49 hitters in just 31 1⁄3 frames. With his fastball velocity returning to the high 90s, Funkhouser was impressive enough that the Tigers recently promoted him to High-A Lakeland. He will make his first start for the Flying Tigers on Sunday afternoon at Joker Marchant Stadium.
The uptick in Funkhouser’s velocity makes things even more exciting. He snuck into the top 10 in TigsTown’s preseason prospect rankings, and was No. 8 on our list as well. Mind you, these rankings came before he started blowing 97 mile-per-hour fastballs by hitters in the Midwest League. Now that he’s doing that, it’s like the Tigers have another top 10 draft pick in their farm system. Funkhouser is one of the few prospects in the Tigers system with true upper-rotation upside, and the lower minors are proving no match for him so far. He still has a ways to go before even reaching the majors, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on him every step of the way.
Single-A West Michigan: LHP Austin Sodders
Teammate Gregory Soto grabbed what few headlines exist for players in the Midwest League after going all of April without allowing an earned run, but lefthander Austin Sodders has been just as dominant in a Whitecaps uniform. A seventh round pick in the 2016 MLB draft, Sodders has a 5-0 record and 0.73 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 37 innings pitched. Opponents have only managed 25 hits in those 37 frames, and he has allowed just one home run thus far.
However, Sodders’ numbers might be somewhat of a mirage. The 22-year-old lefthander pitched at UC Riverside, and the competition in the Midwest League isn’t much of a step up from his college days. TigsTown’s Chris Brown noted that Sodders has some of the best command in all the Tigers’ farm system, but his overall evaluation wasn’t promising.
Sodders is another lefty with fringe stuff that plays up due to his command. His secondary pitches are a bit lacking, but he has no issue working his fastball to either edge of the plate.
Sodders didn’t even make TigsTown’s top 50 prospect list earlier this spring, and his expected success at a low level shouldn’t move the needle much. We have seen fellow finesse lefty Tyler Alexander struggle mightily at Double-A so far this year, and Sodders is likely to do the same unless his arsenal improves considerably.
Double-A Erie: IF Kody Eaves
Forgive me for scouting a stat line here, but Kody Eaves has gotten off to a monster start this season. The 23-year-old infielder — yeah, I thought he was older too — is hitting .294/.368/.471 with three home runs in 20 games played this season. Two of those home runs have come in consecutive days, and he is showing no ill effects from a hamstring strain that sidelined him for two weeks in early May.
Eaves’ early season power surge is a surprise because he has never hit for power before. In fact, he hasn’t done much hitting at all. He batted an unimpressive .222/.312/.422 for the SeaWolves last season, and posted matching .308 on-base percentages in 2014 and 2015 at lower levels when he was in the Los Angeles Angels’ farm system.
While it’s easy to peg Eaves as a future utility player, the uptick in production might signal something greater. A left-handed hitter with quick hands and a decent approach at the plate, Eaves compiled an .804 OPS against right-handed pitching last season. He hit 11 home runs and stole 21 bases in High-A ball the year before, when he also demonstrated significant platoon splits. He might not be the heir apparent to Ian Kinsler at second base, but his athleticism, strong arm, and left-handed bat could afford him consistent playing time against righties if things break the right way.
In other words, exactly what Jefry Marte provided for the Angels last year.