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.
So... we got sidetracked. A couple of franchise-altering trades to close out the month of August put our midseason prospect rankings on the back burner just as we were getting to the good part. We’ll still finish, of course, and we hope these posts don’t ring a little hollow now that there are four new talented prospects to account for.
The countdown will continue as it was originally voted, and then we’ll finish up with a post depicting where the four new guys would have ranked on our list.
#9: IF Dawel Lugo
MLB Pipeline Grades: Hit 50 | Power 40 | Run 40 | Arm 60 | Field 50 | Overall 45
Tigers fans were disappointed that Lugo was the centerpiece of the J.D. Martinez trade, but the 22-year-old infielder is no slouch as a prospect. He spent the whole year at Double-A and hit .277/.321/.424 with 13 home runs, including six in 43 games with the Erie SeaWolves. While his .731 OPS in an Erie uniform isn’t knocking anyone’s socks off, it’s a solid number for an aggressive hitter who was young for that level. Better yet, Lugo started to make the transition over to second base later in the year, which could put him in line for some major league at-bats once the Tigers move on from Ian Kinsler.
At first, this seems like a terrifying proposition. However, Lugo started to tap into his raw power a bit more last season, something Minor League Ball’s John Sickels noted last August.
Lugo is more aggressive than Leyba but is getting to his power much more often this year, thanks to maturity and some tweaks. His strengths and weaknesses as a hitter are otherwise similar. Defensively, Lugo has played mainly third base this year out of deference to Leyba at shortstop. Lugo himself is a natural shortstop but has done a very good job at third, with the range, arm, and reliability to stay there.
The aggressiveness Sickels notes is something that probably won’t change. Lugo only walked in 5.9 percent of his plate appearances this year, and that was a big improvement on what he did in 2016. That aggressiveness has also led to a low strikeout rate, so it’s not all bad. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen gave Lugo’s raw power a plus grade at peak, but his hyper-aggressive approach will likely only lead to league average in-game power at best. He will need to maximize every bit of power out of his 6’, 190 pound frame in order to be a productive hitter, unless his plate discipline somehow takes a huge step forward.
Defensively, Lugo started out as a shortstop, but moved to third base (as Sickels noted above). He has a plus arm that should help him slide over to third capably — MLB Pipeline says he could be an above-average defender there — or allow him to make throws from deep in the hole at second base. If he can find enough range to handle second, it takes a little more pressure off his still-developing bat.
#8: RHP Joe Jimenez
Jimenez’s major league career has gotten off to a rough start, but there’s a lot to like about the hard-throwing righthander. He’s only 22 years old, so
stop complaining he still hasn’t had much time in the professional ranks. He has only thrown 210 2⁄3 innings at all levels since signing with the Tigers as an amateur free agent in 2013. His poor numbers in the majors didn’t stop him from having an excellent season at Triple-A Toledo; he gave up just four runs in 26 innings while striking out 37 hitters.
The biggest problem for Jimenez in the majors thus far has been his command. He has had trouble locating his fastball, which usually sits in the mid-90s. He has reached triple digits on the radar gun in the minor leagues, but will probably top out at 96-98 mph on Statcast. TigsTown’s Paul Wezner noted that it has “tremendous life that leads to weak contact and missed bats,” and gave it an elite (80) future grade. Jimenez also throws a plus slider that will be a true swing-and-miss weapon as he refines his command. He has already leaned on it quite a bit at the major league level, and opponents are whiffing on it 18.6 percent of the time. Jimenez also throws a developing changeup that has also generated its fair share of swinging strikes.
Despite being a reliever, Jimenez features so highly on our prospect list because of a very high ceiling. He has the raw stuff to be one of the dominant relievers in the game, and he has proven that he has nothing more to learn in the minor leagues. His struggles in the big leagues have mostly been related to iffy command, which he should be able to sort out with more reps. His overall ceiling will be determined by how much better that command gets, and his floor only goes up from here.
#7: RHP Kyle Funkhouser
MLB Pipeline Grades: Fastball 60 | Slider 50 | Curveball 45 | Changeup 45 | Control 50 | Overall 50
If Kyle Funkhouser had stayed healthy, he likely would have graded even higher on this list. The 23-year-old righthander came out of the gate on fire, and struck out 49 hitters in just 31 1⁄3 innings at Single-A West Michigan. His strikeout rate fell to “only” 27.9 percent when he moved up to Advanced-A Lakeland, but he gave up just six runs in five starts before he was sidelined with an elbow injury.
Unfortunately, that elbow inflammation ended his season, and perhaps stunted some much needed growth after he struggled in his senior season at Louisville in 2016. He likely would have made it to Double-A at some point, and could have been in line for a big league debut in 2018. Instead, both of those dates will probably be pushed back a year, and only if he can stay healthy next year.
Should he stay on the mound, Funkhouser has the raw stuff to be a solid mid-rotation starter. His fastball is a plus pitch that sits 92-93 miles per hour during starts, and can reach the mid-90s at times. His slider is his best secondary pitch, with the curveball and changeup lagging behind. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen even suggested that Funkhouser might want to drop the changeup altogether.
Funkhouser’s secondary pitches have been similarly volatile in quality and usage. His slider, somewhat blunt but late-biting, has historically been his best secondary pitch and was routinely plus early in college. His curveball has some power to it, and most scouts think it works best as a change-of-pace, early-count strike. Because the changeup is below average and lacks projection, however, the curve might also be his best option against left-handed hitters if he can learn to locate it down and in.
More importantly, Funkhouser also needs to refine his command. He only walked 19 batters in 62 2⁄3 innings this year, but Single-A hitters were never going to be much of a challenge for the former first round pick. If he can continue to keep the walks down at the next level, the Tigers might still be looking at their steal of a fourth rounder as a potential call-up bys eason’s end.