Keith Law released his annual top 100 prospect list for ESPN this week, and he is decidedly less impressed with the Tigers’ rebuilding efforts than some. In Law’s view, the organization did very well in the Justin Verlander trade back in August. Starting pitcher Franklin Perez, and outfielder Daz Cameron, came over from the Astros in the deal, and each finds himself ranked in Law’s top 100 for 2018. However, those two players were the only Tigers farmhands to make an appearance.
Matt Manning and Alex Faedo didn’t crack the list, which is a surprise as each has been consistently ranked in the top 100 by Baseball America, as well as MLB Pipeline and other prospect sites. Law himself ranked outfielder Christin Stewart 92nd on his 2017 list, but dropped him after a season that didn’t feature much progress from Stewart at the Double-A level. And despite a good year that saw him rack up some serious strikeout totals, right-hander Beau Burrows didn’t make an impression on Law either.
Manning and Faedo are the notable omissions here, however. In a conference call on his prospect rankings, Law cited some of the same concerns that Baseball Prospectus referenced in ranking Manning sixth among Tigers prospects. He saw Manning back in spring training when he was struggling to throw strikes and couldn’t control his breaking ball. His velocity was also sitting 91-94 during Law’s viewing, all of which led to him dropping the big right-hander out of the top 100. One wonders how things would shake out had Law seen Manning later in the year when reports were far more positive.
Particularly notable is the fact that Franklin Perez was ranked 66th on Law’s 2017 preseason list, then moved to 43rd on his midseason list in July. Here we are in January of 2018, and Perez has fallen back down to 67th overall. Most of this has to do with the influx of prospects after the 2017 draft versus players who were already on the list graduating to the majors. But it’s somewhat surprising that after drawing excellent reviews all season long as a 19-year-old with advanced stuff and command for his age, that he actually heads into 2018 a notch lower than he did last season in Law’s eyes. Many other observers have ranked Perez solidly in the top 50 prospects in the game.
On the other hand, Law likes Daz Cameron more than any other site to weigh in this offseason.
He might be a “post-hype” guy now, having fallen off the radar a bit after his huge bonus and modest early returns in the minors, but he looks as if he’s growing into an even better player than projected when the Astros drafted him.
Considering the relative strength of the pitching in the Tigers’ farm system, at least according to most observers, it’s actually good to hear some real praise for a position player. In his conference call, Law cited comparisons to Daz’ father and former All-Star, Mike Cameron, as having tainted some impressions and expectations of his son as he entered the league with a substantial signing bonus. Law grades Cameron as a well above average center fielder, and while he doesn’t expected him to develop the power his father had, still sees him as having the potential of a future All-Star.
But it’s still a reminder of the range of opinions out there to find that only one pitcher in the Tigers’ organization impressed Law enough to be ranked in the top 100 here. The Tigers have invested an awful lot of resources in pitching talent over the past three drafts. Should Law prove accurate on this front it would really take the wind out of a rebuild that is just starting to build momentum.
Of course, all prospect lists are snapshots. Writers like Law can’t see all these players with any regularity and rely on a mix of observation and sources to draw a bead on a prospect’s value at a given point. The widely varied opinions between observers who saw Manning early in the year, and those who saw him finish the season strong for the West Michigan Whitecaps is a pretty good illustration of how such wide swings in opinion on a player may come to pass. Forecasting young baseball players is still a very tough task.
Still, from this perspective, Al Avila’s first two drafts as general manager have gone poorly. Law has a reputation for going his own way, and plenty of other observers are much more bullish on the Tigers’ farm system at this point. Law’s assessment of the Tigers’ organizational talent and draft acumen is relatively damning by comparison. Still, even his perspective is that the Tigers are generally moving in the right direction. However, it’s a good reminder that no one is raving about the farm system just yet.
Either way, the Tigers have to win big in the next two drafts, and become more adept at plumbing the international market as well. If they fail in those tasks, they may find themselves stuck in a perpetual rebuilding mode, instead of on a trajectory back toward October baseball. That would be a pretty inexcusable position to find themselves when you consider their recent draft position and the caliber of players they’ve traded away over the past year. For the organization’s sake, as well as for general manager Al Avila’s job security, they better hope Keith Law’s forecasts turn out to be on the pessimistic side.