While our chief concern revolves around players and not team records in the Detroit Tigers’ farm system, several teams are off to strong starts under new management. The Toledo Mud Hens, whose fans have suffered in recent years with inferior talent, are off to a spectacular start in International League play under new manager Doug Mientcewicz. As the proud recent tradition of the West Michigan Whitecaps demands, the ‘Caps are doing well in Lance Parrish’s first season as skipper. Currently, they are second to the Lansing Lugnuts, who took a head-to-head series with the Whitecaps over the weekend.
Meanwhile, the Erie SeaWolves are languishing in last place in the Eastern League’s Western division at 7-14. The offense is suffering from a series shortage of power. At the same time, a rotation that was expected to be strong leads a staff with the worst ERA in the league. Kyle Funkhouser, Sandy Baez, and Spencer Turnbull have hurt themselves with wildness and high walk totals, while Beau Burrows and Tyler Alexander have been solid but unspectacular. The bright spots in the bullpen continue to be side-armer John Schreiber and lefty Matt Hall. Schreiber has been victimized by the new extra inning rules a few times already, but both look as though they may be major league ready late this season.
The Advanced-A Lakeland Flying Tigers have split the difference. Their record is a game under .500, but they have also seen many of the best performances by Tigers prospects thus far. The pitching staff has the fourth best ERA and is third in total strikeouts. The offense has been a bit power challenged, but grade out in the middle of the pack in the Florida State League.
Isaac Paredes is on fire
Most of the digital ink on the Tigers’ farm system has focused on the bushel of power arms they have built over the past few seasons. However, shortstop Isaac Paredes is well on his way to stealing the show. Paredes just recently turned 19 years old, but he has been a man among boys in the Florida State League so far.
The burgeoning power, advanced approach, and contact ability Paredes displayed last year has carried over to the next level. In just 74 at-bats, Paredes has 10 extra base hits, including three home runs in a difficult league to hit for power in. Facing successful college pitchers several years older than he is, Paredes continues to draw walks and hit for power. Reports on his defense at shortstop have been relatively positive as well.
In recent games, opposing pitchers have already displayed a propensity to work around the young shortstop with runners on base. If that proves a trend, the Tigers will have little choice but to move Paredes to Double-A Erie this summer. With Jeimer Candelario off to an outstanding start at the major league level, the Justin Wilson trade to the Cubs is rapidly looking like one of the best of the past decade for Detroit.
Reynaldo Rivera returns with a bang
When a team with a middling-at-best farm system has their second round pick barely make an appearance on top 30 lists the next season, it’s pretty hard to like the pick. The Tigers reached for Reynaldo Rivera when they didn’t have to in the 2017 draft. Though they saved a bit of money for the Sam McMillan signing, the entire draft industry appeared surprised that Rivera went higher than the third round. The Tigers have been interested in Rivera since his high school days, and are more bullish on his potential than anyone else. There’s nothing to do now than see it play out.
Still, we can probably ignore Rivera’s disastrous introduction to pro ball last summer. He struck out too much, but he was also plagued with bad batted ball luck. There are a host of factors involved in transitioning from college to pro ball, and many players find themselves temporarily overwhelmed. On the plus side, he continued to show the same discipline the Tigers valued in him coming out of Chipola College. The power and ability to draw walks seem quite legitimate. The question is whether he can make enough solid contact.
Rivera missed the first few weeks of the season with a back strain, but he’s announced himself loudly since his return. He has a home run and three doubles in five games. While there is reason to complain about the Tigers’ decision to select him so highly, Rivera is young for a college hitter and deserves time to see what he can do before he’s written off. If he had been selected in the fourth round, many would have been excited. He has plus raw power potential at a minimum, the discipline to take walks that always eluded Steven Moya, and compares reasonably well to other players his size in terms of athleticism.
Who is this Blaine Hardy and what has he done with our Blaine Hardy?
When the Tigers designated Blaine Hardy for assignment in late March, one had to wonder if his days with the organization were at an end. The decision, which cost Hardy a small fortune in salary, could have led to some bitterness for a guy who has been a fairly useful reliever for his team over the past half-decade. Instead, the 31-year-old lefty cleared waivers and returned to the fold with renewed motivation. Somewhere along the way, he appears to have become a completely new pitcher, reinvented as a dominant starter at the Triple-A level and drawing a steady chorus of “Blaine Hardy did what?” from the Tiger faithful in recent weeks.
Hardy made his fourth start of the year on Sunday, and was spectacular. He struck out 10 with no walks and one earned run. On the young season, he has a 30-to-4 strikeout to walk ratio, and a 0.74 ERA. Hardy has worked his rusty slider into his four-pitch mix, and is thriving in the role thus far. As Chris McCosky unpacked in a fine piece for the Detroit News, Hardy has rolled with the punches with a remarkably cool head, understanding his role in the larger picture of baseball as a business. While he isn’t on the 40-man roster right now, the Tigers will no doubt eventually tire of trying worse options in Hardy’s stead. He’s only dominating minor league hitters right now, but that’s more than we can say for many other non-prospects on the 40 man roster.
Playing defense behind Matt Manning is boring
Matt Manning continues to make clear that his only real opponent in Single-A ball is himself. The big righthander is just getting warmed up, with two short starts since returning from an oblique strain that delayed the start of his season. They have been eye-popping appearances, though. He holds an amusing 4.70 ERA with only two hits allowed in 7 2⁄3 innings of work. He already has 16 strikeouts. He also has eight walks issued. Hence, the spot of trouble and short outings.
Manning is touching the mid-90s with enormous extension, and is also spinning a more consistent curveball in the early going. Opposing hitters are just throwing the bat at the ball in desperation. Once he gets in rhythm, with better ability to self-correct the long-levered catapult that is his delivery, the Tigers aren’t going to have much choice but to move him to to Lakeland. Like any dynamic power pitcher, he will move as fast as his control takes him. The ball is entirely in Manning’s hands.
Here are the highlights of his first outing back on April 20, courtesy of our old friend Hookslide.