The Detroit Tigers’ 2017 season has not gone to plan, to say the least. Instead of contending for a playoff spot, they were forced to sell at the July non-waiver deadline. In doing so, they acquired a quintent of middle infield prospects with promising futures. Those new players, along with a solid 2017 draft class headlined by hard-throwing righthander Alex Faedo, have given the Tigers their deepest farm system in years.
Naturally, Tigers fans are excited. In order to capitalize on that fervor, we polled our commenters on how they would rank the Tigers’ prospects. If you’re interested in the individual rankings (and how certain players were clustered), you can check out our master spreadsheet.
Now, onto the countdown!
#30: RHP Jason Foley
MLB Pipeline Grades: Fastball 70 | Slider 40 | Changeup 50 | Control 50 | Overall 45
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: an undrafted reliever flashes dominant stuff and overwhelms hitters in the lower minors, putting himself on the prospect map and endearing himself to Tigers fans longing for a decent bullpen. Jason Foley is no Joe Jimenez, but the 21-year-old righthander came out of nowhere in 2017 and had a monster first half for the Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps. He posted a 1.55 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 29 innings, with 36 strikeouts to just five walks. He earned a promotion to High-A Lakeland, where he only pitched 7 1⁄3 innings before suffering an elbow injury. Now, Foley’s rising status has been stunted by Tommy John surgery and the subsequent recovery.
Hopefully everything goes well in his rehab, because Foley has plenty of natural talent. His fastball has reached 100 miles per hour, and has picked up a touch of velocity on average since he played in rookie ball last year. He also features a decent slider and splitter that TigsTown’s Mark Anderson graded as a potential plus pitch. Emily Waldon of 2080 Baseball described Foley’s delivery as “an easy-effort arm action,” though his injury suggests some sort of minor mechanical flaw.
Tigers scouts and coaches alike were amazed that Foley, who stands a sturdy 6’5, went undrafted in 2016. However, Foley’s numbers at Sacred Heart — a small university in Connecticut tucked away from most scouts — were not great. He only struck out 47 batters to 28 walks in 58 2⁄3 innings in his junior season, and allowed a 5.68 ERA. Foley’s command issues continued in 2016, when he walked seven batters in his first 7 1⁄3 pro innings.
#29: C Grayson Greiner
Tigers fans have gone back and forth on Greiner ever since he was drafted out of South Carolina in 2014. The 6’6 backstop mashed in his pro debut, posting an .839 OPS in 104 plate appearances for Single-A West Michigan. His offensive production fell off a cliff in 2015, as he managed a paltry .504 OPS in a full season at High-A Lakeland. He turned things around in 2016, though, hitting .312 with a .385 on-base percentage at Lakeland before moving up to Double-A Erie. However, a sluggish performance in the Arizona Fall League and slow start to 2017 has since muted any excitement he generated last year.
However, Greiner’s profile was never all that sexy. Despite being a tall catcher, his glove and arm strength are his carrying tools. TigsTown’s Paul Wezner gave both average or better grades in early 2016, and he has continued to refine his defensive skills over the past year and a half. This gives him a relatively high floor; though he has generally posted below-average pop times in the minors, he could probably handle himself defensively at the major league level right now.
The bat still needs work, though. Greiner has never flashed much power despite his size, limiting him to a catcher-only profile (Joe Mauer, he is not). He has drawn walks at an above-average rate throughout most of his time in the minor leagues, and only this season topped the double-digit home run mark for the first time. Playing in the hitter-friendly Eastern League likely has had some benefit, but he has also walked in over 10 percent of his plate appearances. However, this advanced approach at the plate has not allowed him to overcome more glaring deficiencies, such as a relatively long swing and his inability to translate decent raw power into game situations. He should make a nice backup catcher, but doesn’t project much beyond that.
#28: OF Jose Azocar
MLB Pipeline Grades: Hit 50 | Power 40 | Run 60 | Arm 55 | Field 60 | Overall 45
Last year, Azocar was one of the darlings of the Tigers’ farm system, and for good reason. He had a solid age-20 season at Single-A West Michigan, hitting .284 with 19 extra base hits and 14 steals. His numbers tailed off towards the end of the year and his walk rate left something to be desired, but Azocar was one of few young, athletic position players in the organization’s pipeline.
While that is still the case, the numbers aren’t quite as appealing. Azocar has hit just .223 with a .248 on-base percentage at High-A Lakeland this season, and his flaws have become more exposed. He offers little power — and at a slight 5’11, 160 pounds, won’t develop much — and his hit tool still needs some work. He has been hyper-aggressive at the plate as well, leading to a 27 percent strikeout rate and just a three percent walk rate throughout his minor league career. His plate discipline probably won’t get much better long term, so he will need to cut down drastically on the strikeouts as he moves up the minor league ranks.
However, I think the BYB commentariat was a little harsh on Azocar. Still only 21, Azocar is an excellent defender, one capable of handling all three outfield positions. MLB Pipeline has him ranked as the No. 20 prospect in the system, and TigsTown has him 19th. FanGraphs graded him as a plus runner, with a double-plus (70 grade) arm in the outfield. He isn’t a defensive wunderkind like Derek Hill, but could be a capable center or right fielder if the bat comes around.
And at age 21, he still has plenty of time for that to happen.