The modest resurgence of the Detroit Tigers farm system over the past two seasons has largely gone through West Michigan. A 2015 Midwest League championship has been followed by two highly successful seasons — including a 91-45 record in 2017 — powered by their parent organization’s influx of prospect talent. Now, with many of the Tigers’ top prospects advanced to the upper levels of the farm system, a new manager and coaching staff will look to mold a few more gems as the season gets underway on Thursday, April 4.
Former Tigers great Lance Parrish moves from a very successful tenure with the Erie SeaWolves to West Michigan in 2018. He will pilot a young squad that will feature two of the Tigers’ best young catching prospects. Joey Morgan, the Tigers’ 2017 third round selection from Oregon will start the year with the Whitecaps. Fifth round prep catching prospect Sam McMillan will stay in Lakeland for extended spring training, but could join the Whitecaps sometime this summer. Those two should benefit from their proximity to Parrish, one of the greatest catchers in the franchise’s history.
.@wmwhitecaps catcher Joey Morgan chats with the media before tomorrow’s Opening Day, while peaking the interest of a few teammates. pic.twitter.com/S77pOxbiWr— Dan Hasty (@ThatDanHasty) April 4, 2018
The marquee name on the board is Matt Manning. Our No. 3 Tigers prospect entering this season, Manning will be sidelined for a few weeks with an oblique strain suffered in spring camp. When he returns, it will be his task to show that his strong finish in 2017 has been consolidated, and that he’s ready for a move to Lakeland. The Tigers considered moving him up to begin the season, but the oblique injury ended the debate.
The Tigers rightly handled Manning’s raw potential carefully over the past season and a half, looking to streamline his mechanics, improve his secondaries, and build up his arm. As a valuable prospect who didn’t even commit to pitching full time until his sophomore season of high school, Manning needs extra time to develop. This season, the kid gloves will be off, expectations will be higher, and the organization will look for the 20-year-old to quickly push his way back to Lakeland early in the 2018 season.
Your Opening Day starter is Dane Myers, the Tigers’ 2017 sixth round pick out of Rice, who got off to a nice start in Connecticut last summer. He is potentially the key name to watch in the rotation, but there are several other interesting arms who could distinguish themselves along the way. Elvin Rodriguez came over from the Angels in the Justin Upton trade, and he has enough arm talent to open some eyes if he is able to refine his secondaries and command a bit along the way. Lefty Eudis Idrogo had a nice first season at A-ball last year. He returns looking to build on the progress he made last year. Hard-throwing right-hander Wladimir Pinto is the key piece in the bullpen, though there are a few other talented arms, such as Max Green and Brandyn Sittinger, that could move quickly this year.
In terms of position players, there isn’t much here beyond catcher just yet. Derek Hill, Daz Cameron and Isaac Paredes have all graduated to High-A ball, so the Tigers will be sifting through a lot of late round college players. Third baseman Zac Shepherd showed some flashes of power last season and may still have a chance to move into actual prospect status in 2018.
Perhaps the most intriguing position player here is second round Reynaldo Rivera. The powerful left-handed hitter flamed out in short season ball last season, but will look to reset this year. He has enough power and plate discipline to break out in 2018, but the early returns were rough.
Of course, the nature of the Midwest League’s split-season schedule means that this preview is really only applicable in the short term. Several of these players could quickly graduate with a fast start. And the Whitecaps will no doubt receive another big infusion of talent after June’s amateur draft.
Here is your Opening Day roster, courtesy of Emily Waldon of the Athletic and Peter J. Wallner of MLive.
Matt Manning (DL)
Reynaldo Rivera (DL)