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.
#12: OF Derek Hill
MLB Pipeline Grades: Hit 45 | Power 30 | Run 70 | Arm 50 | Field 60 | Overall 45
When Hill was drafted back in 2014, scouts raved about his speed and defensive prowess. Lofty comparisons like a prime Torii Hunter and the good version of Austin Jackson were thrown around, elevating Hill to near god-like status in an otherwise barren Tigers farm system.
And then he struggled, because that’s what high school prospects do.
Worse yet, Hill struggled to stay on the field. He only played in 53 games for Single-A West Michigan in 2015, and another 93 the following year. His 2016 season ended when he underwent Tommy John surgery, a procedure (and rehab) that has limited him to just 54 games this year. To his credit, he earned a promotion to High-A Lakeland after hitting .285/.367/.444 in 168 plate appearances with the Whitecaps, but his status as a top prospect has cooled considerably.
However, Hill is far too young and talent to write off. Still only 21, he is blessed with true double-plus speed and a glove in center field that might be the best in the entire organization. Some scouts even graded his speed at an elite (80) level while he was in high school. His arm doesn’t live up to that standard, but it’s still an average tool. The bat is still a work in progress — and he won’t hit for much power even at his peak — but getting him to an average level with a few walks would make him a productive major leaguer capable of winning a couple Gold Gloves in center.
#11: LHP Gregory Soto
MLB Pipeline Grades: Fastball 60 | Curveball 45 | Changeup 40 | Control 40 | Overall 45
We labeled Soto as a potential sleeper prospect before this season, and were hardly the first to do so. The 22-year-old Dominican has long been on the radar of most Tigers prospect hounds thanks to a mid-90s fastball from the left side. His secondary pitches and command still lack consistency, but he has flashed enough potential to produce a 2.21 ERA in 22 starts across two minor league levels this year.
MLB Pipeline also has Soto ranked as their No. 11 Tigers prospect because of his high ceiling.
The Tigers have long liked Soto's stuff. He'll sit comfortably in the low-90s and touch the mid-90s on occasion, thrown with good life. His secondary stuff still needs some work, but he has improved in that area as well. He does show a feel to spin a breaking ball and will flash an above-average one from time to time. It will vary from curveball to slider shape. He does have a changeup that has the chance to eventually become an average offering. Soto's biggest issue has been with his command. He cut his walk rate considerably in the New York-Penn League in 2016, but he still carried a 5.7 BB/9 ratio into the 2017 season.
Prior to this season, many thought he would eventually become a bullpen arm. That may still ultimately be the case if he can’t refine his command, but jumping to High-A Lakeland mid-season without skipping a beat is an impressive feat, and one that should see him moved fairly aggressively in 2018.
#10: OF Mike Gerber
MLB Pipeline Grades: Hit 50 | Power 45 | Run 50 | Arm 50 | Field 50 | Overall 45
Gerber is one of the more divisive prospects in the Tigers system, but only because of his ceiling. Nearly everyone agrees that he will be a productive fourth outfielder thanks to a diverse skill set. He does a bit of everything well, and is on the doorstep of the major leagues thanks to a productive 2017 season at Double-A Erie. He has only played in 90 games for the SeaWolves due to an injury, but is hitting .289/.363/.471 with 12 home runs. Platoon splits are still an issue — his OPS against righthanders is nearly 150 points higher than against lefties -- but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the majors as soon as this September.
Once he get there, it’s anyone’s guess how good he will be. The grades provided by MLB Pipeline show that he does everything well enough to hold his own in the majors, and he has flashed enough speed to play a bit of center field in a pinch. He won’t be the starter out there, but a solid arm and fringe-average game power should earn him a few reps in right field. He supplements those physical tools with good instincts in the outfield, which could make him a starter in a platoon role.
There are some issues with his swing, though. FanGraphs’ Eric Longehagen detailed that flaw prior to the 2017 season.
He has issues with swing and miss that stem from excessive length, curveball recognition and middling bat control. These issues are especially evident against left-handed pitching, though Gerber has improved against southpaws over the last several months. There’s a chance these issues are exploited in the big leagues but Gerber, who has an excellent eye for the strike zone, survived his 2016 foray into Double-A. Even if his issues against lefties only make him offensively viable as the larger half of a platoon, he still might merit playing every day because of the quality of the defense.
To his credit, Gerber has cut his strikeout rate to just 21.5 percent in Double-A action this year. He has continued to produce at all levels so far, and might do so once he reaches the majors. Barring injury or a weird free agent signing, we should get a long look at him in 2018.