For the first time in a number of years, the Detroit Tigers are no longer the most important team in their own organization. Sure, we want to see the big league club succeed, but with the franchise now entrenched in its first rebuild in over a decade, MLB wins aren’t as important as minor league development. The Tigers have bolstered their farm system depth through the draft and trades over the past couple seasons, and now boast one of the better collections of minor league talent in baseball. They’re not a top system just yet — probably not quite top 10 at this point — but there is talent to be found here.
Now that we’re halfway through the season, it’s time to take a look at the farm system as a whole. We put together our top 30 Tigers prospects list at the start of the season, and it’s time to re-evaluate how they (and we) did.
16. Sandy Baez
Stats: 79.0 IP, 5.24 ERA, 65 SO, 32 BB for Double-A Erie
Previous rank: 17
For a few years now, evaluators have been saying that Baez has a big league fastball and a decent changeup, but needs a third pitch to solidify his place as a starter. That breaking ball never came along, but the Tigers continued to use him as a starter in the minor leagues. Makes sense, right? It gave Baez more game reps to work on that third pitch, and maintained hope (albeit slight, in my opinion) that he could figure it out and become a solid mid-rotation starter one day.
Turns out that probably won’t happen. The Tigers have decided to move Baez to the bullpen, something we (and others) called earlier this year. This could work out for all parties, though, especially if the Tigers get creative with his usage. Baez possesses a mid-90s fastball that has drawn double-plus grades from some scouts, along with a fosh changeup that should generate plenty of swings and misses. His strikeout rate has improved over the past couple seasons as well. I’d like to see the Tigers use Baez in a multi-inning role, similar to when he worked 4 1⁄3 scoreless innings in mop-up duty against the Yankees earlier this year. By using him as a bridge to the later innings — or an opener, as the Tigers will see in Tampa on Tuesday evening — could also work.
17. Dawel Lugo
Stats: 344 PA, .272/.282/.364, 19 2B, 7 SB for Triple-A Toledo
Previous rank: 13
Other players have fallen farther on our countdown, but the Tigers fanbase seems to be most disappointed with Lugo’s poor start to the season. We told you his plate discipline was an issue prior to the season, but even we didn’t expect Lugo’s already meager walk rate to crater. The 23-year-old has walked just six times in 80 games, turning a solid .272 batting average into an offensive profile well below league average (he has a 77 wRC+). For context, Lugo walked 12 times in 43 games at Double-A Erie after last summer’s trade, and even that walk rate wasn’t very good.
I pushed against dropping Lugo too far on this list, however, because there are still things to like here. Lugo’s transition to second base has been a success, by all accounts, and he has experience at both shortstop and third base in his minor league career. He still possesses excellent bat-to-ball skills, and at 23 is still higher up the minor league ladder than many players on our rankings at a similar age. He still needs to work on that plate discipline, of course, but everything else is just about major league ready.
18. Reynaldo Rivera
Stats: 275 PA, .273/.335/.486, 23 2B, 7 HR for Single-A West Michigan
Previous rank: 26
Rivera’s 2018 season hasn’t provided encouragement so much as a sigh of relief for Tigers fans. The team’s 2017 second round pick looked awful for short-season Connecticut last summer, striking out 55 times in 207 plate appearances. He drew his fair share of walks, but also hit .187 with very little power. This season has been a different story for the 21-year-old Puerto Rican. He is still striking out at a high clip, but is supplementing those K’s with a slightly higher walk rate and plenty of power. Despite missing nearly a full month due to injury, Rivera is tied for the Midwest League lead with 23 doubles, and his seven home runs rank in the top 20. He has also done this while playing multiple positions, as the team continues to try him out as an outfielder. His future is most likely at first base, though, so we’ll need to see him continue to hit like this at higher levels.
19. Anthony Castro
Stats: 66.0 IP, 2.86 ERA, 58 SO, 24 BB for High-A Lakeland; 10.0 IP, 8.10 ERA, 4 SO, 12 BB for Double-A Erie
Previous rank: N/A
Castro somehow didn’t make our preseason list, which looks to be a major oversight on our part. The 23-year-old righthander has only just reached Double-A — he missed over a year of development due to Tommy John surgery — but he has possessed a starter’s arsenal from day one. His four-seam fastball not only sits in the mid-90s, it has natural cutting action as well, making it a weapon of a pitch. He also has a solid curveball and changeup, the latter of which will likely determine if he stays in the rotation. He can reach as high as 97 mph, but seems to do better sitting in the lower 90s during starts. The velocity and movement on the fastball will play well in a relief setting, but because of his slow development (limited by the surgery), the Tigers are better served letting him continue to develop as a starter for a while longer.
20. Jake Robson
Stats: 311 PA, .286/.382/.450, 7 HR, 11 SB for Double-A Erie; 45 PA, .421/.489/.763, 3 HR, 3 SB for Triple-A Toledo
Previous rank: 24
I said my bit on Robson on Monday, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a useful prospect in this system. The 23-year-old is blessed with double-plus speed, which allows him to comfortably play all three outfield positions. He’s not a plus defender, though, but if he continues to hit he could even challenge for some reps in center field until someone better (Daz Cameron, hopefully) comes along. I’m not yet sold on his power surge this season, but he has consistently hit for a high average and drawn plenty of walks at every level of ball he has played. Thanks to a short, compact swing and a willingness to go the opposite way, that should continue at the big league level. It might take longer than we like to see him in such a role — Mike Gerber and several others are ahead of him on the 40-man roster — but he could also force his way into the picture if he continues to hit for both average and power.