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.
#21: OF Reynaldo Rivera
MLB Pipeline Grades: Hit 45 | Power 55 | Run 40 | Arm 55 | Field 50 | Overall 45
The Tigers moved Rivera to the outfield shortly after he was drafted in hopes of boosting his value, but that powerful left-handed bat will determine how high his ceiling is. He put up staggering numbers at Chipola Junior College in Florida, hitting .438 with 20 home runs and 77 RBI in 59 games. However, the transition to pro ball has been rocky. Rivera is hitting just .195/.269/.296 with a pair of homers in 193 plate appearances in the short-season New York-Penn League. His 8.0 percent walk rate isn’t bad — and should hopefully improve as he starts hitting better — but the rest of the profile isn’t very encouraging.
It’s far too early to panic, though. Rivera just turned 20 in June, and has been labeled as a raw player even for that age. He has plenty of raw power, as his 6’6 frame suggests; TigsTown’s Paul Wezner said, “some scouts suggest plus-plus on the raw side with potential for plus in-game power as hit tool gains refinement.” Rivera should put on some shows during batting practice, but it might take a while before we see him hitting bombs with regularity during games.
This isn’t a Steven Moya situation, though. Rivera’s hit tool is raw, but he has shown both a decent approach at the plate and a willingness to adjust as the at-bat progresses. He will always have some swing-and-miss to his game, but that’s not a problem as long as he draws walks along the way.
In the field, Rivera is a potential average defender with a strong arm. MLB Pipeline says he “runs better than you'd think given his size,” which will lend itself well to his move to right field. There’s a lot of volatility in his profile, but his ceiling is as high as any position player in the system.
#20: LHP Austin Sodders
There’s a certain danger to “scouting a stat line,” as prospect evaluators call it. When a player puts up dominant numbers in the minor leagues but doesn’t receive recognition for it, fans often wonder why. This has been the case so far with Austin Sodders, a seventh round pick out of UC Riverside in 2016. The 22-year-old lefthander made short work of Single-A West Michigan this year, posting a 7-0 record and 1.40 ERA in 11 starts for the Whitecaps. He has not slowed down much in Lakeland either, with a 2.37 ERA in 57 innings.
So, why isn’t he a top prospect? For one, Sodders’ fastball sits in the high-80s and tops out in the low 90s. Being left-handed helps, but the margin for error is much smaller when you don’t sport premium velocity. He commands all of his pitches well, and has only walked 25 batters in over 120 innings across both levels of A-ball this season. His changeup is his self-professed best pitch, but he also throws a curveball in the high-70s.
The Tigers have a few players like this in their system. Matt Hall and Tyler Alexander have also made our list, and both also enjoyed wildly successful runs through the lower minors. However, as we’ve seen with Alexander for most of 2017, soft-tossing lefties can run into trouble when they reach Double-A. This will be Sodders’ next test, and where he will likely spend most of 2018. We will know a lot more about his future after next season, but even a poor showing shouldn’t stop him from at least reaching the majors as a reliever someday.
#19: RHP Sandy Baez
MLB Pipeline Grades: Fastball 65 | Slider 50 | Changeup 45 | Control 50 | Overall 45
Sandy Baez didn’t turn many heads in his first few years as a Tigers prospect. Even after a solid 2016 season, not many were paying attention to the then-22-year-old righthander. However, since the Tigers had to add him to the 40-man roster during the offseason in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, fans have taken notice.
There are certainly reasons to be interested. Baez can reach the upper 90s with his fastball, making it a true double-plus offering. It has a bit of sink to it, and Baez’s “slightly funky and deceptive” delivery helps that play up. That fastball helped him produce a 3.81 ERA in 113 1⁄3 innings for Single-A West Michigan last year, and a 3.86 ERA in 17 starts for High-A Lakeland this year. Walks also haven’t been much of an issue, a stark contrast from flamethrowing Tigers prospects of yesteryear.
However, the rest of Baez’s profile still needs work. Both his curveball and changeup are below average offerings at present, with neither projected to become above-average pitches. This has suppressed his strikeout numbers for the most part, though he is fanning over a batter per inning for the Flying Tigers this year. His arm action has been an issue in the past, especially with the changeup, but that might be improving.
Sits between 81-83 mph. Plays well off the fastball keeping hitters off-balance and guessing. Has feel, maintaining arm speed to sell the pitch, giving it swing-and-miss potential moving forward. Arguably still a work in progress, however, in its current state, as his consistency varies.
If Baez is to remain a starter, his secondary offerings will need to take a step forward. He could be a decent back-end starter at best, but might be better served dropping one of his off-speed pitches and airing out that big fastball in the bullpen.