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Introducing the Bless You Boys 2019 top 30 Tigers prospect rankings

Rather than go one-by-one, we wanted to introduce our entire list all at once this season.

MLB: All Star Game-Futures Game
Sorry, Casey. You’re our No. 1 guy but you need to get photographed more.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone! Our top 30 Detroit Tigers prospect rankings for the 2019 season are here, and we figured there wasn’t a better time to share the list with you than on Christmas Day. Rather than roll our list out one-by-one like we have in previous years, we figured we would do away with the mild suspense and give you a chance to digest the entire list while you’re digesting your holiday dinner.

As always, our list was a mix of numerical rankings and intense(ish) debate between our staff members — we spent far more time debating the bottom five players on this list than the top 10, naturally.

We will start rolling out individual profiles, like usual, in January. We’ll also be adding in our usual “next five” and “under the radar” lists, along with a few new ideas. While the Tigers don’t expect to be very good in 2019, we hope that our coverage of both the major league club and the farm system is the best you will find anywhere on the internet.

Without further ado, here are our top 30 Tigers prospects for the 2019 season.

1. RHP Casey Mize

Even though he has only logged a handful of professional innings so far, Mize’s combination of raw stuff and polish is unmatched in the Tigers system. His splitter was ranked as one of the best pitches in the entire 2019 draft class, and Baseball America is also calling his fastball a double-plus pitch. Even if he doesn’t start the year at Double-A Erie, he might still be the first of Detroit’s “Fab Five” pitching prospects to reach the majors.

2. RHP Matt Manning

Manning’s 2018 season could not have gone any better. He pitched at three different levels, and struck out at least 11 batters per nine innings at each one. His ERA climbed a bit at Double-A Erie, but that is to be expected for any 20-year-old at that level. Manning’s quick rise isn’t a huge shock — his raw stuff is simply too good for Single-A hitters — but his passable command and secondary pitches are coming along quicker than expected. He still has the highest upside of anyone on this list, and his floor is much, much higher than it was at this time last year.

3. SS Isaac Paredes

Paredes and Daz Cameron finished in a dead heat on this list, so think of them as 3a and 3b. We’re listing the 19-year-old shortstop first because of the rarified air he found himself in for the second half of 2018. Paredes hit .321/.406/.458 with 12 extra-base hits in 39 games for Double-A Erie. He was one of just four teenagers to play in the Eastern League last season — you may have heard of his peers, Juan Soto and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — and faced competition that was, on average, more than five years his senior. Paredes may not ultimately stick at shortstop, but will still find himself shooting up prospect lists this spring thanks to what he managed at the plate last year.

4. OF Daz Cameron

Paredes may have been the one putting up historic numbers last year, but Cameron’s ascent up the rankings is just as important for the Tigers’ rebuild. The son of former MLB outfielder Mike Cameron (there it is), Daz looked a lot more like his old man in 2018, mashing 42 extra-base hits in 126 games across three levels. He followed that up with an impressive run through the Arizona Fall League, and now finds himself on the doorstep of the major leagues. You shouldn’t expect to see him in Detroit very much (if at all) this year, but he could be ready to take a starting spot in the Tigers’ outfield in 2020.

5. RHP Franklin Perez

While there are other prospects in this system whose stock took a bigger hit last year, Perez’s injury-riddled 2018 season definitely let the air out of the balloon a bit. He was only able to log 19 13 innings between High-A Lakeland and the Gulf Coast League, with lat and shoulder injuries sidelining him for most of the summer. But even after losing a year of development, Perez is still a 21-year-old with Double-A experience already on his résumé. He is a polished pitcher with four quality offerings and the potential to be an above-average starter at the MLB level.

If he can stay healthy, that is.

6. OF Christin Stewart

Yes, Stewart’s defense is a question. It always will be. But for 17 games at the MLB level in 2018, Stewart looked like he belonged. He drew 10 walks in just 72 plate appearances, and added a pair of home runs and 10 RBI. DRC+, Baseball Prospectus’ new hitting metric, was even more impressed with what Stewart has managed in the minors, where he has managed 83 home runs over the past three seasons.

There’s no guarantee he will hit at the MLB level going forward. But at this point, it looks pretty damn likely.

7. RHP Beau Burrows

Poor Beau Burrows. Not only was he forgotten on the Tigers’ Christmas card, but it feels like everyone has forgotten what he accomplished in 2018. His 4.10 ERA at Double-A Erie wasn’t sexy, but let’s peel back the layers here. Burrows struck out 127 batters in 134 frames, nearly a batter per inning. He limited opponents to just 12 home runs in 26 starts, no small feat in the hitter-friendly Eastern League. He logged 130 innings for the second consecutive season, which is more than we can say for most of the pitchers on this list.

And he did so at just 21 years old, three years younger than most of his competition. Burrows may not be an ace in the making, but he looks more and more like a solid mid-rotation starter each and every year.

8. C Jake Rogers

Remember all those fun debates we had about Alex Avila’s batting average? Get ready for even more with Rogers. The 23-year-old backstop hit just .219 in 99 games at Double-A last year, angering your grandpa and uncle who just can’t understand why hitters don’t shorten up and put the ball in play. But along with that low batting average came a 10 percent walk rate and 17 home runs, which made him a roughly league-average hitter by year’s end.

Still not convinced? Rogers hit .257/.344/.528 from June 1 onward and is one of the best defensive catchers in all the minor leagues. His development may take some time — the Tigers have already committed him back to Erie in 2019 — but Rogers could be worth the wait.

9. RHP Alex Faedo

Going from the bright lights of the College World Series to half-empty minor league stadiums has to be a tough transition for any player, and Faedo was no exception. He managed a solid 3.10 ERA in 12 starts for High-A Lakeland, but his ERA jumped to 4.95 when he was promoted to Double-A Erie. There were rumblings that Faedo’s conditioning and fastball velocity were not as good as expected, but we are willing to overlook a rough year if he can bounce back in 2019. If so? The Tigers’ 2017 first round pick is looking more and more like a steal. If not? Faedo might still be able to hack it as a bullpen arm thanks to a wipeout slider.

10. OF Parker Meadows

If the Tigers’ 2017 draft class was a hint that the team was finally looking for more upside on draft day, they beat everyone over the head with that idea with their 2018 class. The first of many high-risk, high-reward picks, Meadows is a toolsy outfielder who can hit, run, and field. He will likely be limited to a corner outfield spot in the future, but he has the arm to play right. He also has plenty of raw power to tap into, which we saw in a short stint in the Gulf Coast League.

11. RHP Kyle Funkhouser

For all of the concerns surrounding Funkhouser’s health over the past few years, many forget that he nearly logged 100 innings across two levels in 2018. The 24-year-old struck out nearly a batter per inning in 2018, and was (mostly) able to limit home runs. His command was a bit of a problem, but one that he has ironed out in the past. A healthy 2019 season would go a long way towards putting himself back on the map as the Tigers plan out their future roster.

12. SS Willi Castro

We scoffed at the Leonys Martin signing initially, but Castro was a capital-G Get for the Tigers at the deadline. He is an above-average defender who will definitely stick at shortstop, and a switch-hitter to boot. The problem? We’re not sure how good his bat will be. Castro hit a disappointing .245/.303/.350 in 97 games for Cleveland’s Double-A affiliate, but exploded for a .921 OPS in 26 games for the Erie SeaWolves. Overall, a .708 OPS isn’t bad for a 21-year-old in the upper minors, but the Tigers are hoping Castro’s stick takes a step forward this year. If so, they have the makings of a very strong middle of the diamond (catcher, middle infield, and center field) at the top of their farm system.

13. 2B Kody Clemens

Speaking of middle of the diamond players, Clemens might be able to force his way into the conversation. The son of should-be Hall of Famer Roger Clemens, Kody broke out with 24 home runs in his junior season at the University of Texas. He continued mashing after the Tigers drafted him in the third round, with five home runs and an .816 OPS in limited action in Single-A ball. He still has a ways to go — he struck out in 26.1 percent of his plate appearances at High-A Lakeland — but could fight his way into the conversation if he keeps hitting.

14. RHP Spencer Turnbull

Another fast riser based on his September call-up to the majors, Turnbull has always had major league stuff. He came out of the University of Alabama throwing smoke, and the only thing that has stopped him so far has been a gimpy shoulder and inconsistent secondary pitches. He seems to have found a formula for success with his cutter, a low-90s beast of a pitch that looked like a winner in his late September audition. Whether he stays in the rotation remains to be seen, as he could be a fearsome weapon out of the bullpen when his stuff plays up.

15. IF Dawel Lugo

We’re torn on Lugo. A couple of us had him ranked even higher than this, while some others on our staff had him down in the early 20s. His numbers weren’t great — he ranked among the worst hitters in the International League last year, and produced a 57 wRC+ in 101 plate appearances for the Tigers — but there are still reasons for optimism. For one, Lugo was still young for the Triple-A level, at just 23 years old. He also looked more comfortable at the plate in Detroit, with nearly as many walks (7) as he drew all season with the Mud Hens (9). He was also transitioning over to a new position at second base, adding even more to his plate. At worst, Lugo has already reached his floor: a utility infielder who has enough power to punish a fastball when challenged.

16. OF Jake Robson

For a little while, Robson was looking like the next big thing in the Tigers farm system. From May 1 to July 4, he hit 10 home runs — more than he had in 2016 and 2017 combined — and produced a .983 OPS between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. Some clamored for him to be called up to the majors, while others wondered if he would escape the “fourth outfielder” tag placed on him the moment he was drafted in 2016. He still has a chance to escape that ominous label, especially thanks to his speed and glove work in center, but he fell back to earth after his hot start; from July 5 to September 3, he managed a .715 OPS with just one home run.

17. RHP Elvin Rodriguez

Our streak remains intact! Last year, we identified Rodriguez as an under-the-radar player who could break out in 2018. He did exactly that, maintaining a 3.34 ERA and 3.41 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 113 13 innings at Single-A West Michigan. Still only 20, Rodriguez has three potentially above-average pitches. He could still stand to add some meat (and thus, velocity) onto his slender frame, as his fastball only sits in the low-90s right now. The 2019 season will provide a nice test for him as he moves up to High-A Lakeland.

18. SS Wenceel Perez

Those who watched Perez’s brief cameo at Single-A West Michigan came away thinking that he is the next big thing in the Tigers farm system. The 18-year-old provided plenty of reasons for optimism, hitting .309 with a few extra-base hits in 16 games for the Whitecaps. His time at short-season Connecticut told a different story, however; he hit just .244 with a .287 on-base percentage. This may be the book on Perez for a while, especially since he doesn’t have much power to speak of. However, with smooth mechanics and room to add muscle to his frame, he could turn into one of the more well-rounded prospects in the system.

19. RHP Sandy Baez

Speaking of players that looked markedly different across levels, Baez looked like a weapon in the making in his few appearances with the Tigers. Thanks largely to a big fastball with plenty of life on it, Baez could be exactly that out of the ‘pen as early as this season. His middling minor league numbers, including some newfound command issues at Double-A Erie, say otherwise. This will be a make-or-break season of sorts for Baez, who only has one more minor league option remaining.

20. SS Sergio Alcantara

We have avoided any one-for-one comparisons on this list so far, but Alcantara is basically a clone of former Tigers infielder Dixon Machado. Both are glove-first shortstops with excellent range and rail guns attached to their shoulders, and both have slight builds that limit their ability to make hard contact at the plate. Like Machado, Alcantara has a good feel for the strike zone and can work a count, but he needs to develop physically to profile as anything more than a utility infielder.

21. RHP Logan Shore

Throughout his college days, Shore was arguably better than several of his teammates who were eventually taken in the first round — including Tigers prospect Alex Faedo. But while Shore dominated the college ranks as Florida’s Friday Night starter for three years, his raw stuff doesn’t translate to the pro game quite as well. His fastball sits in the low 90s and he features a true plus changeup, but the breaking ball is lacking. Worse yet, he has struggled to stay healthy over the past couple years, topping out at just 91 innings pitched in 2018. If he can sort out the issues with his third offering, he has the command and smarts to hack it as a back-end starter.

22. RHP Anthony Castro

While he only just reached Double-A in 2018, Castro has been on our radar for a few years now. The 23-year-old righthander missed the entire 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery, and only just reached Single-A ball in 2017. He hasn’t blown away hitters with his raw stuff at that level, but has managed a sub-3.00 ERA at both West Michigan and Lakeland over the past two years. He might eventually be destined for the bullpen — that pesky third pitch is still eluding him — but has the stuff to succeed in that role, or as a back-end starter if everything suddenly clicks in 2019.

23. LHP Gregory Soto

It was easily to believe in what Greg Soto was selling in 2017. Then in his age-22 season, Soto was (mostly) able to rein in his command. He struck out 144 batters in 124 innings, and was named the Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year. But while he was able to maintain a low ERA at Lakeland in 2017, all that heavy traffic on the bases caught up with him last year. Soto allowed 101 hits and walked 70 batters in 113 13 innings at High-A Lakeland in 2018, resulting in a 1.51 WHIP and, eventually, a 4.45 ERA.

While Soto has dominant stuff — he only allowed four home runs in 25 appearances last season — he frequently does not know where it is going. Should he harness his command, he could be a true shutdown lefty out of the bullpen.

24. OF Derek Hill

Plagued by injuries throughout his young career, Hill finally played in 100 games last season, albeit barely. His supporters were disappointed, however, as Hill didn’t show the development many hoped for if he could stay on the field consistently. He hit just .239/.307/.318 for the year, and only slightly better (.259/.323/.351, with a .380 BABIP) in July and August. That he went unprotected and unclaimed in this year’s Rule 5 draft says everything about his value right now.

But the elite speed and defensive acumen are still there, so Hill stays on the list. The 22-year-old swiped 35 bases last year, bringing his total to 135 steals in just 357 professional games. He only needs to find a little bit of offensive prowess to find his way onto an MLB roster; the rest of his game is that good.

25. RHP Wilkel Hernandez

Hernandez just missed our 2018 midseason top 30 list and nearly didn’t make my personal top 30 this time around, but the 19-year-old righthander showed plenty of promise in keeping his head above water against much older competition last year. He posted a 2.16 ERA in his last four outings of the 2018 season, and already hits 94-95 miles per hour on the radar gun with regularity. The secondary offerings are a bit lacking, but that’s par for the course with nearly any teenage pitcher. Expect him to spend a little more time at West Michigan in 2019, and keep an eye on him as he rises up the minor league ladder.

26. OF Dustin Peterson

I still can’t, for the life of me, figure out how Peterson was ranked ahead of both Jake Rogers and Isaac Paredes on MLB Pipeline’s final top 30 Tigers list for the 2018 season. While Peterson is a well-rounded outfielder who has the potential to hit, run, and field at a league-average level, he hasn’t put any of those tools on display at any point throughout his minor league career. He finished the 2018 season on a tear, hitting .289/.343/.426 from July 1 onward for Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate, but still found himself on the waiver wire at season’s end. The Braves pushed him through their system quickly, so he has youth on his side (he’s entering his age-24 season in 2019) but we still need to see more before we consider Peterson anything more than a potential fourth or fifth outfielder at the MLB level.

27. OF Kingston Liniak

Liniak’s professional career got off to an abysmal start in 2018, as he hit just .235/.272/.290 with one home run in 48 games. He struck out in 63 of his 213 plate appearances to boot. He’s a project, no doubt, but the Tigers were willing to risk $900,000 that he could figure it out when they made him their fourth round pick last June. The reason? Liniak is a great athlete with above-average speed and plenty of room to grow. He could potentially stick in center, but would be an above-average defender as a corner outfielder, especially if he adds any weight to his 6’2 frame. The Tigers are hoping he adds a bit of power with that weight, which could make him a starting caliber player if everything goes right.

28. RHP Carlos Guzman

Many were surprised to see Guzman’s name pop up on Baseball Prospectus’ top 10 list this spring, but those of you as deep in the weeds as we are figured it was coming sooner or later. Guzman is a former infielder who started blowing heat past hitters at short-season Connecticut last summer, which quickly drew some attention from the scouting community. The fastball is expected — throwing mid-90s isn’t all that rare even for outfield players these days — but the changeup isn’t. Not only does it flirt with 10 mph of separation off his fastball (i.e. a ton) but Guzman is already able to throw it without slowing his arm speed. His starts will be must-see TV for Whitecaps fans this spring.

29. RHP Bryan Garcia

The few publications that get this far down into the Tigers farm system may knock Garcia a bit for undergoing Tommy John surgery last spring. Given how common the procedure is these days and the high recovery rate, we did not. Garcia was a hot ticket item in 2017, as he blew through the entire farm system to reach Triple-A Toledo. He struck out nearly 13 batters per nine innings along the way, and looked poised to compete for a spot in Detroit’s bullpen last spring. His elbow had other ideas, unfortunately, and he missed all of 2018. We probably won’t see Garcia in Detroit early on this year — just getting back on the mound this season is enough — but the 23-year-old righty should be knocking on the door come September.

30. RHP Zac Houston

Houston didn’t move through the system quite as fast as Garcia, but he was on everyone’s mind in late 2018. The huge righthander — we’re talking 6’5, 250 pounds here — fanned 80 hitters in 55 13 innings in the upper minors last season. He reaches as high as 98 miles per hour with the fastball, and has a power slider to back it up. He could stand to improve his command a bit after walking more than four batters per nine innings, but it hasn’t hampered him at any minor league level yet. Barring injury, he will be in Detroit at some point this year.

Want to see our individual top 30 lists? Check them out here.