Baseball Prospectus released their top 10 Detroit Tigers prospects list for the 2019 season last week. As a contributor at that site, I had a unique perspective on how the list was assembled.
[Ed.: Jay’s name is on the byline at BP, so he has more than “perspective.” He helped make the dang list, so we asked him to break down how it came together.]
One big change reflected in the top 10 list list is that arms no longer have a monopoly on the top spots in Detroit’s farm. Isaac Paredes and Daz Cameron, ranked third and fourth, respectively, were able to break into the the top five group that was once held entirely by pitchers. Right-handed pitcher Casey Mize is the club’s top prospect, followed by 2016 first round pick Matt Manning. Righthander Beau Burrows, the Tigers’ first round selection in 2015, rounds out the top five.
Paredes, a shortstop for now, is a recent acquisition from a 2017 trade with the Chicago Cubs. The more touted of the players received at the time was third baseman Jeimer Candelario, but that transaction is the gift that keeps on giving for the Tigers (so far). Paredes is stepping into the limelight now, though, and we (BP) are pretty bullish on his bat.
“He’s an aggressive hitter with some length to his swing, but his bat speed/control are sufficient to smooth the edges enough to project at least an average hit tool,” writes lead prospect writer Jeff Paternostro. “The fire hydrant physique belies above-average raw power, and Paredes should get to enough of it to be a 15-20 home run guy.”
Cameron is a trickier prospect to get a bead on, but we ranked him fourth in the system. He was a developmental mess when he was included in the Justin Verlander deal, but Cameron was finally able to translate tools to performance in 2018. His contact plays better than his power, but it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the difference could narrow. The tools are there for him to see time in center field long-term.
“In the end, his role will be determined by how his bat plays against major-league arms,” I wrote. “It won’t take much more polish to turn him into a glove-first fourth outfielder.”
Fast-forward to the 10th entry on the list and you will see a name you may not know. Slotting in there is righthander Carlos Guzman, an arm that we like quite a bit more than most publications. Signed as a Venezuelan shortstop in 2015, Detroit decided that Guzman has more potential on the mound. Long story short, he has taken to it well. Although he can ramp his fastball up to 95 miles per hour, Guzman’s best offering is a changeup.
“It’s got circle action with ten mph of velocity separation. He doesn’t slow his arm. He’ll throw it in any count to either side,” wrote Paternostro back in July. “He’s been pitching for two years. What even is this?”
Inherent risks in this kind of profile are obvious. Guzman lacks seasoning and the clock is ticking on his Rule 5 eligibility. He will likely spend the 2019 season at Single-A West Michigan. It will be interesting to see how well he holds up to the rigors of a full season of baseball.
Another prospect we included in the list, Wenceel Perez, was relatively unheard of when he signed for $550,000 in 2016. He caught our attention this season, though, as worked his way up to the Single-A Whitecaps. Although he is generating a lot of buzz in the hardcore prospects community, I’m probably the low watermark when it comes to opinions on the young shortstop.
True, Perez has an innate ability to make bat and ball meet like few others. However, there just isn’t enough oomph behind the swing. That’s understandable, as he’s only 18, but there also isn’t enough bat speed to be projectable. How well that profile plays will likely be determined by the BABIP gods. It would be fine if Perez were a slam-dunk shortstop, but he’s not. With relatively stiff defensive actions and subpar reaction time, he looks more like a second baseman. There’s still a chance he can stick at the position as he improves with more reps, but with a bat like his at second, you’re looking at more of a utility player.
Other suggested entries to the back end of the list included first baseman Rey Rivera and outfielder Derek Hill. Both were bumped for a lack of offensive performance. Rivera looked like he could be Christin Stewart’s successor as a left-handed likely DH who mashed, but he faded badly down the stretch. His tools have been called into question in the past and he has known struggles with anxiety, so he was left off our list.
Hill is a speedster whose defense could play in the majors yesterday. He has never been able to hit for power, though, and his contact ability dried up in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. The Tigers aren’t doing him any favors either; one roving Tigers representative I spoke to told me they were working with him mainly on bunting. He still has a non-zero shot at the bigs, especially with his speed, but the odds are fading fast.
Make sure to check out Baseball Prospectus for the full list of Tigers top 10 prospects.