While 2017 was a failed season for the Detroit Tigers organization, it was a wild success for the West Michigan Whitecaps. Strong in just about every measurable category, they finished the season as Midwest League standouts. No team in the league had a lower collective ERA or WHIP, and none allowed fewer hits or walks. In fact, the Whitecaps posted their all-time shutout record. Yes, pitching truly created a gem in the Tigers' farm system.
That will probably not be the case in 2018. The cream of the crop among the Low-A pitchers were promoted to Lakeland. Gone are Greg Soto, Kyle Funkhouser, Austin Sodders, and Zac Houston, with Matt Manning and Tom de Blok likely to open the season in Lakeland as well. That leaves behind the equivalent of a skeleton crew. Who should we watch this season?
West Michigan has a 3-game set in Dayton against the Dragons during the last week of May. If I can only make it to one game, who's the one @wmwhitecaps pitcher I should try to see?— KJC at the bat (@Tiger_Lifer) March 8, 2018
One interesting pitcher who will likely play in Grand Rapids this season is Max Green. He is a lithe and lanky lefty with a fastball that can reach 97 miles per hour, and the Tigers were able to grab him with a late pick because of personal problems. The son of a well-to-do family that raised him in an extravagantly wealthy neighborhood, he was a poor student and ended up rendering himself academically ineligible.
"Everything kind of crashing down at once. Really, it was just me not being accountable. Pepperdine is a school where you have to ... do the extra stuff, and really I wasn’t being the student I should have been I was justifying it like 'Oh, I’m working hard on the baseball field.'"
His actions had consequences, serving as a kind of wake-up call. With renewed devotion, he brings an interesting mix of talents to the table. His velocity took a spike last season, while his slider and changeup both flash above average. While Green served as a reliever in college and during his pro debut, he is a candidate to move to the rotation. He posted a mediocre walk rate during his 25 2⁄3 inning stint last season, but tempered it with an excellent strikeout rate and ended up with a 2.81 ERA and 3.16 FIP.
Best prospects that we’ll see in Toledo this year for the Tigers?— Peter K (@FrogTownTigers) March 8, 2018
The top prospect to reach Triple-A this season will probably be the organization's top current prospect, Franklin Perez. The Tigers received Perez from the Houston Astros in the Verlander trade. Using his plus fastball and curve, he was able to reach the high minors as a teenager, pitching a brief stint in Double-A at the end of the 2017 season. He will start the new season there, as he only managed seven games after the promotion. It should be no surprise to see him get a shot with the Mud Hens halfway through the season.
Another headliner that should see significant time in Toledo is Christin Stewart. Despite developing a reputation as an exceptionally bad defender, he is quite gifted at the plate, and his bat will keep him afloat in Toledo. He strikes out a bit more than you would hope, but he also takes quite a few walks. It will be interesting to see if he can keep his strikeout-to-walk ratio at a reasonable level against tough competition.
Also expected to open the season in a Mud Hens uniform are Mike Gerber, Grayson Long, Dawel Lugo, Grayson Greiner, and Troy Montgomery.
Who is NOT a top ten pitching prospect that we should be watching?— Tom (@sevrorising_) March 8, 2018
Looking past the first tier of pitching prospects, one name that stands out to me is Gio Arriera. The Tigers' fourth-round selection in the 2017 draft, he wasn't listed on MLB.com's list of the top 200 draft prospects and failed to make the top Tigers top prospects list produced by any major outlet entering the 2018 season.
A typical Dombrowski-era Tigers pick, this JuCo righty centers his game around a fastball that grades as his best pitch. It sits in the 90-95 mile-per-hour range and features heavy sink. He backs up his heater with a curveball that was called above-average by the Collegiate Baseball Scouting Network on draft day. As with so many others, Arriera's shaky command is the biggest fault in his game and is what dropped him to the fourth round.
Interestingly, Arriera was among the players that participated in the state tournament that took place in Joker Merchant Stadium, giving up a homer to eventual teammate Reynaldo Rivera. Because of the location of that tournament, the Tigers were able to collect Trackman data on the players that other teams didn't have prior to draft day, leading them to draft Rivera. It’s possible that the data also revealed something about Arriera Detroit's brass found intriguing. In any case, his progress will be interesting to watch in the coming months.
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