Around this time every year, various publications release their top prospect rankings for each MLB team. There are rarely any surprises. Sure, certain lists may have one player higher than another, but most rankings look fairly similar.
So, when Baseball Prospectus ranked righthander Matt Manning sixth on their Tigers top 10 prospect list on Monday, people took notice.
For the most part, Manning has alternated between second and third on most lists. Many view him on par with 2017 first round pick Alex Faedo, who is more than two years older and far more seasoned a pitcher. We had the same debate for our list, which will be released next month.
This is a testament to Manning’s potential on the mound. While still quite raw as a pitcher — he only pitched for two years in high school before the Tigers drafted him in 2016 — he has the raw stuff, build, and athleticism to be a true No. 1 starter if everything comes together. Baseball Prospectus admits this much, saying “Obviously if he puts it together at some point, there is top-of-the-rotation upside.”
However, he’s still a loooooooong way off.
Even when Manning was going good, the command and mechanics were being battled to at best a stalemate. The fastball will drop down into the 80s even on his good velo days, and I had him as low as 85 by the third inning in one outing. He struggles with his release point and had two different arm slots within ten days of each other. Needless to say he is a work in progress here despite his obvious athleticism.
This report sounds like a very raw pitcher who is still trying to figure himself out on the mound. I wouldn’t expect much different from Manning, who was a teenager in his first season of pro ball — not to mention, the third baseball season of his entire life. Even the radar gun readings should be taken with a grain of salt. Not that they are incorrect, but they are mostly based off of two mid-summer viewings within 10 days of each other. Other reports filed at different points in 2017 saw a completely different pitcher. As mentioned, this variance is expected, and should smooth out over time.
This isn’t to disparage the work done by Baseball Prospectus. They have long been one of the leaders in the industry on several levels, including with their independent prospect coverage. They aren’t even off base with Manning, they’re seeing the exact same thing we are seeing: a young pitcher with a lot of promise, but a ton of risk in his profile.
Will Manning reach that ceiling? We won’t know the answer for several years. In the meantime, expect a lot of conflicting reports on his performance and development.
Single-A West Michigan: OF Daz Cameron
Speaking of surprises, finding Daz Cameron on Keith Law’s top 100 prospect rankings at ESPN was a nice way to start off the week. Daz, the son of former leaguer Mike Cameron, doesn’t have the same explosive tools that his father did. Many have described him as a “greater than the sum of his parts” type of player, despite above-average contact skills and a plus glove in center field.
Turns out Detroit might be onto something here. Law praises Cameron’s developing power and improved eye at the plate, citing his gaudy second half numbers in Single-A ball. It started even earlier than that, though; from June 1 onward, Cameron hit .316/.398/.529 with 10 home runs and 38 total extra-base hits in 345 plate appearances. He drew walks in nearly 10 percent of his plate appearances, and struck out less than 20 percent of the time.
Not only did Cameron improve his fly ball rate considerably from 2016 to 2017, he also improved the quality of said fly balls. Back in 2016, most of Cameron’s flyouts went to right field.
Unless you’re Miguel Cabrera, you don’t want to be hitting too many fly balls that way.
In 2017, things changed. He still hit some flyouts to right, but he also pulled the ball in the air much more often.
Law isn’t the only one on the Cameron Train. MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo identified Cameron as a potential breakout player in 2018 thanks to his strong finish last year.
It started to click a little for him back at that level in 2017, with 14 homers and 32 stolen bases. The Tigers, who got him in the Justin Verlander deal right at the end of the Minor League season, could be the beneficiaries of a huge leap forward in 2018.
Cameron will face a stiff test in the Florida State League to start the year. It has historically been a more pitcher-friendly league, though Tigers prospects Christin Stewart and Mike Gerber made those spring training stadiums seem rather small a couple years ago. If Cameron can continue to develop as a hitter — particularly in the power department — the Tigers could have a true five-tool weapon on their hands.