It's that time of the year: everyone's top 30 and top 10 and top something lists are coming out. This is no top-anything list. Consider these guys the X-factors. These are the guys whose development in 2018 will be the most interesting, and the biggest determinants of the state of the Tigers' pipeline going forward.
Also, they're in no particular order. Just the five prospects who bear the most watching as summer 2018 progresses.
Already older - and theoretically more advanced - than the previous two top picks in the Tigers system, the consensus seems to be that the organization should be aggressive with Faedo's development. The next pitch he throws in a Tigers-affiliate uniform will be his first, but being drafted out of college gives him a head start on Beau Burrows and Matt Manning.. He should be rested and itching to go. High-A Lakeland seems like his most likely starting point, but the goal should be to see him in AA Erie by the end of the year. The College World Series is roughly similar in competition level to High-A ball, so a dominant display at Lakeland will show he's ready to move past college ball and take on more serious professional challenges. A realistic early projection might see him with the big club by the end of 2019 - if he can hit the ground running this spring.
Almost unanimously, Rogers is the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues, anywhere. That's his ticket to the majors. Now, can he hit? Early returns are promising. In A-ball last year, he hit his way to an .856 OPS; promoted to High-A early in the year, he followed that up with .805. If he continues to keep his hitting numbers elevated as he moves through the system, he has a chance to play catcher at an All-Star level in the majors someday. Despite the presence of the promising Sam McMillan in the system, Rogers is older by four years and looks like the Tigers' catcher of the future, if his bat cashes the checks that his glove writes.
To call someone a five-tool prospect attaches huge expectations to them. It's synonymous with "future star." Or current one. So I hesitate to hit Cameron with that label - but, that said, the Tigers have struggled to find outfielders to put in their system that have all the tools necessary to be a major-league regular. Christin Stewart's glove has "designated hitter" written all over it. Derek Hill has spent more time injured than not. Reynaldo Rivera....uh, probably had no business getting picked within ten miles of where the Tigers picked him. Cameron has a well-rounded game and represents the Tigers' best shot at producing an outfielder out of their own system. Only 21, he's nevertheless outgrown single-A West Michigan and will likely play at Lakeland all year. The Tigers will want to see his bat continue to develop, and a year statistically similar to last season would be encouraging.
The Tigers' best hope for any solid return (at least in the short term - who knows what will happen with Jose King?) from the J.D. Martinez trade lies with Lugo, a relatively versatile infielder who will probably leave shortstop behind and play third (and possibly some second) at Toledo this year. Experts can't figure out what to make of Lugo. Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus think he's a top-ten prospect in the Tigers' system; Keith Law and MLB Pipeline are considerably more down on him. He hit solidly if unspectacularly in AA ball last year. How he performs in Toledo willl help solidify the expectations and give the Tigers' evaluators a much better idea of what to expect.
Acquired in the trade for Justin Upton, Long's evaluations tend to land on "4th-5th starter". This is essentially damnation with faint praise. He's on nobody's top-ten lists and didn't even make Keith Law's top 20. Yet his numbers at AA last year were excellent. Long is likely to start at Erie again, but would probably force his way to Toledo sooner rather than later with another year similar to 2017. He's reminiscent of Artie Lewicki, who made a blip on nobody's top-prospect radar but kept on pitching well anyway and all but forced the Tigers to give him a cup of coffee in September, where he was neither good nor disastrous. Long could do the same and be in a Tigers uniform this September himself if all goes well.
There are, of course, some big names who didn't make the list. Here's a selection of those, and why I didn't pick them:
- Franklin Perez: Already a high-floor guy, his future is almost certainly in the bigs. It's his eventual pitching there, not in the minors, that will be scrutinized.
- Beau Burrows: Progression so far has been steady but uninteresting, except for a dominant stretch at Lakeland. Probably best if it stays that way.
- Matt Manning: Minor league stats can be deceptive, especially in the case of a development project like Manning. Stats that are too good could mean using an already-good pitch as a crutch; bad stats could likewise be a sign of pitch development.
- Christin Stewart: Pretty much is what he is. Can he hit in the bigs? That's the only question left.
- Derek Hill: Probably the sixth man on this list. Needs a good year to put injury history behind him.
- Kody Eaves: To me, an intriguing player and could also have found his way on the list. Didn't choose him for it because he's running out of things to prove in the minors and mainly needs to use his AAA experience this year to prep him for his major-league tryout.
- Isaac Paredes: Still very young. His major-league impact, though potentially highly interesting, is likely a few years off. Worth pointing out, though: while playing with players of all ages in the Mexican leagues this winter, he's been absolutely ripping the ball. Could become the Tigers' version of Willy Adames.
- Michael Gerber: It's at Comerica Park that I want to see what he can do, not Toledo.
- Reynaldo Rivera: .187/.261/.280 at low-A Connecticut. Barf. Hit better than a mannequin and we will take another look next winter.
Now, come back this way, sports fans: whose progression are you most interested in watching this summer?