Ranking prospects is tough. We have tried our best at it over the years, combining expert opinions with our own observations to give you one of the most detailed looks at the Detroit Tigers farm system available. We even gave it a go when the system was at its worst — Steven Moya was our top prospect just three years ago.
Things are better now, at least for the farm system. With more prospects to talk about, we’re expanding our list to the largest it has ever been. Our prospect writers had a lengthy debate over which players should rank where. While this farm system isn’t the deepest — Baseball America was all too ready to remind us of that earlier this week — it’s still one of the largest prospect pools we’ve had the pleasure of covering in recent memory.
Some of those players didn’t make our top 30 list. Here are a few we thought deserved a mention.
No. 31: RHP Jason Foley
Players from cold weather climates often go under-scouted during draft season, and that goes double for cold weather players at small colleges with ugly stat lines. Foley posted ERAs above 5.00 in both his sophomore and junior seasons at Sacred Heart University, all while struggling with his command. He went undrafted, and signed with the Tigers in August 2016. Even down the stretch that year Foley struggled, walking as many batters as he struck out in a handful of appearances.
Something clicked in 2017, though. Foley was a monster out of the bullpen for Single-A West Michigan, striking out over 11 batters per nine innings while holding opponents to a 1.55 ERA. He did so while sporting a high-90s fastball that has been clocked in triple digits on a few occasions. He also throws a splitter and a slider, with the former showing more polish at present.
Foley was promoted to High-A Lakeland in late June, but didn’t get much of a chance to further his progression. He underwent Tommy John surgery in July, ending his season. The timing of his surgery is especially bad, because he will miss most (if not all) of 2018 as well. We like Foley just as much as the No. 30 prospect on our list, but only one of them has a functioning right elbow at the moment.
Wait ‘til next year: SS Alvaro Gonzalez
Not known for throwing big money bonuses at international prospects, the Tigers splurged when they gave Gonzalez $1 million last July. The young infielder was touted as “one of the best all-around prospects from Venezuela in this year’s class” by MLB Pipeline, who ranked him their No. 23 prospect in this year’s international class.
Gonzalez doesn’t have any standout tools at present, but he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses either. He makes solid contact and is a sound defender, albeit one that may have to move away from short if he continues to grow. That move may hurt him if he does not develop more power, which is his weakest tool at the moment.
#Tigers VS J2 signing ($1M), Alvaro Gonzalez, is already physical (6-0,170), may keep growing, + arm, likely 3B, good contact w/ gap power.— Mark Anderson (@ProspectMark) July 2, 2017
While this profile might not sound overly flashy, Gonzalez is still only 17. He has a lot of growing to do, both physically and as a baseball player, before we can better determine what to expect from him. He’s a project, but one that will be fun to follow.
The 25-year-old: C Grayson Greiner
Some prospect raters will graduate players if they hit a certain age, regardless of whether or not they retain their rookie eligibility. We’re sort of doing that with Greiner, who turned 25 last October but still has yet to reach the major leagues. Yes, we realize we will have players older than him on our upcoming list.
Does it make sense? We think so. Ever since Greiner was drafted in 2014, people have largely known what he would be. Greiner is very tall for his position, but is a no-doubt catcher thanks to surprising athleticism and an above-average arm. However, he was never expected to develop much as a hitter, and was pegged as a likely backup from day one.
Well, here we are. Greiner will likely make his major league debut in 2018 after a solid season at Double-A, and fans have already moved on to the next big things in Jake Rogers and Sam McMillan. The Tigers are hoping one of those two will become their future starter, providing the team with cheap, above-average production for years to come.
Backup catchers are important too, though. We don’t know how exactly the roster will shake out down the road, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Greiner spelling one of those two once or twice a week.
Hot dang look at those numbers: LHP Austin Sodders
For the second year in a row, a young left-handed starter made West Michigan Whitecaps fans sit up and take notice with a dominant performance. Following in the footsteps of Matt Hall was Sodders, who posted a 7-0 record and 1.40 ERA in 11 starts with the ‘Caps. Midwest League hitters were clearly no match for the 22-year-old southpaw, striking out 26.8 percent of the time. Even FanGraphs took notice.
The Tigers promoted Sodders to High-A Lakeland in late June. While his ERA didn’t rise much — he posted a 2.17 ERA in 74 2⁄3 innings — his peripherals weren’t quite so staggering. Still, Sodders struck out 3.35 batters for every walk and managed a healthy 2.71 FIP.
Some fans don’t understand why pitchers like this don’t get more love on prospect lists. Sodders’ performance has been exemplary thus far, but advanced lefties like him don’t often get challenged by A-ball hitters. Adjusting to a good curveball is hard enough at that level, but someone like Sodders who can locate it fairly well and mix in a changeup will carve up just about anyone before he gets to Double-A.
Even then, Sodders might not get much prospect love. His fastball doesn’t get any higher than the low 90s, and his secondary pitches aren’t plus offerings. His ticket to the majors will come in the form of commanding the strike zone and changing speeds, two skills with a razor-thin margin for error.
The biggest faller: OF Jose Azocar
Technically, lefthander Tyler Alexander took the biggest spill in our rankings over the past year. However, most knew that his margin for success as a starter would be razor thin. Just after Alexander in our 2017 rankings was Azocar, a speedy outfielder who drew plenty of hype after hitting well for Single-A West Michigan as a 20 year old. If his tools could take a step forward and he developed a little more power, there was starter potential to be found.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen. Azocar’s second half splits from 2016 came to fruition at High-A Lakeland, and pitchers started to take advantage of his hyper-aggressive approach at the plate. He hit just .220/.246/.292 in 456 plate appearances, and struck out nearly nine times for every walk. While he did add a bit of power — including his first three home runs since coming to America — it wasn’t nearly enough to outweigh the drop-off in other areas.
This isn’t to say Azocar doesn’t have major league potential. He’s an above-average runner who fields well and has a cannon for an arm. Even modest success at the plate could turn him into a useful fourth outfielder. He’s just no closer to making that happen than he was at this time last year.