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Mailbag: Finding the best new prospect in the Tigers’ farm system

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Spoiler: it’s the guy in the picture above.

Jay Markle/Bless You Boys

There are only so many ways to start off an article by saying “man, the Detroit Tigers really stunk this year,” and I feel like I have used all of them in the past few weeks. The Tigers are well aware of their predicament, and have since made four blockbuster trades, all focused on acquiring prospects.

Naturally, all anyone wants to talk about is the farm system. For starters, it most certainly ranks in the upper half of MLB now. The Tigers don’t have the depth that some other organizations do, but they have four top-100 prospects and a few more — Daz Cameron, Isaac Paredes — that could jump up the rankings soon. The Tigers also didn’t graduate anyone from last year’s preseason rankings, and would have naturally moved up anyway. I’m not sure if it’s a top-10 system yet, but it probably will be after the 2018 MLB draft.

Anyway, let’s jump into the prospect questions.

The Tigers have acquired several talented players in trades this year, but I’m most intrigued by shortstop Isaac Paredes. Still only 18, Paredes hit .264/.343/.401 with Chicago’s Single-A affiliate before the trade that brought him to Detroit. He faltered down the stretch, but this was his first full season in the professional ranks. There aren’t many teenagers in the Midwest League to begin with, and Paredes was able to hold his own while hitting for a bit of power along the way. He has even been compared favorably to former Cubs prospect Gleyber Torres, Baseball Prospectus’ No. 15 prospect in all of baseball before a midseason Tommy John surgery.

Paredes’ upside is limited by his defense; many scouts think he will move to second or third base in the future as he matures physically. However, if he fills out and continues to hit for both average and power, the glove won’t matter. He has already flashed enough pop to hit 11 homers in a pitcher-friendly league, and could find a bit more as he develops further.

I also like Jeimer Candelario. The Cubs developed a bunch of dudes who can hit, and Candelario’s biggest knock was that he was blocked by Kris Bryant.

The Justin Verlander trade took the teeth out of my answer to this question. General manager Al Avila was able to extract top dollar from the Astros in the waning seconds of the August waiver trade period, jumpstarting the Tigers’ rebuild in one fell swoop. Adding in a better-than-I-first-thought return* for the final month of Justin Upton’s contract was icing on the cake.

They can still do more, though. Trading one of Jose Iglesias or Ian Kinsler this winter should be Avila’s top priority, along with acquiring a few potential bounce-back candidates on short-term contracts to fill holes throughout the roster. Carlos Gonzalez on a one-year deal in left field? Check. Marco Estrada or Jaime Garcia to fill out the rotation? Sign me up. [Insert reliever here] who is signed just to be flipped at the trade deadline? Give me three. Finding the right players for this is difficult, but can pay off in a big way. Ask Orioles fans about Jake Arrieta.

The real work needs to come behind the scenes, though. The Tigers are doing well to develop their own analytics department and proprietary software. They have also hired several new scouts since Avila was hired as the general manager. We have advocated for the Tigers to spend more on the international free agent market for years, and this is where they need to sink their teeth. They will have one of the biggest bonus pools in baseball next year, and should look to grab an impact talent or two, along with their usual grab-bag of Venezuelan teenagers. The New York Yankees blew past their spending limits a couple years ago to restock their system, and it’s paying off already. The rules are different now, but that arguably gives the Tigers even more of an edge on the international market next year.

*MLB Pipeline currently has Grayson Long ranked as the Tigers’ No. 15 prospect. If he turns into a serviceable No. 5 starter, that’s a whale of a trade for Avila.

The West Michigan Whitecaps have consistently been one of the better teams in the Midwest League, especially over the past few seasons. They won a championship in 2015 armed with prospects acquired when Dave Dombrowski was the Tigers’ general manager, so this predates the shift in organizational philosophy that took place when Al Avila was handed the job.

It’s anyone’s guess as to why the Whitecaps have been so good. They have seemingly been managed and coached well — I was very high on then-pitching coach Mike Henneman a few years ago — but I think their success is largely due to the type of prospects on their roster. The Tigers have a well-deserved reputation of drafting hard-throwing college pitchers, and those players tend to fare very well in the lower minors. The Midwest League is one of the more pitcher-friendly leagues in all the minors, and the Tigers have sent wave after wave of advanced college arms to that level over the past several years.

Sure, we might not celebrate names like Buck Farmer, Austin Kubitza, Artie Lewicki, or Spencer Turnbull, but all of those pitchers (and several others) starred at major college programs. Many of these teams are facing talent on par with the lower minor league levels, so it’s almost like the Turnbulls and Farmers of the world have been playing Single-A ball for a year or two before they actually arrive there.

From there, I think a lack of success higher up the chain is due to a dearth of impact talent throughout the system. The Whitecaps have been able to dominate with advanced college arms and just enough offense, but those players lack the ceiling to take the same developmental steps more promising players in other organizations do as they rise up the minor league ladder.

The Tigers are already well stocked on the mound. Our friends at Minor League Ball recently ranked the Tigers as one of the top five systems in baseball (!) based on pitching talent alone. For an organization that was recently among the very worst in the game, that’s a massive improvement.

The team’s biggest needs are on the other side of the ball. They recently bolstered their middle infield depth with the pair of deals they made at the July 31 trade deadline, and added solid catching depth in the June amateur draft (Joey Morgan, Sam McMillan) and via the Justin Verlander trade (Jake Rogers). Christin Stewart and Mike Gerber are a pair of promising outfielders, but the team doesn’t have much waiting behind them. Derek Hill is still a bit of an enigma, and we will learn a lot more about him over the next year. The same can be said for Daz Cameron, who put together a solid year in the Midwest League. Grabbing another toolsy outfielder in next year’s draft would be nice, as those players tend to flame out regularly.

That said, never draft for need. Just acquire talent.