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, we’ve re-evaluated how they (and we) did. Now that we’ve looked at the top 30 guys in the farm, here arethe players that were closest to making it onto the back end of the list, in no particular order.
RHP Wilkel Hernandez
Stats: 5.2 IP, 7.94 ERA, 11 SO, 4 BB for Short-Season Connecticut Tigers, 13.1 IP, 4.73 ERA, 10 SO, 7 BB for Single-A West Michigan
Previous rank: N/A
Coming to Detroit’s pipeline by way of a trade with the Los Angeles Angels, Wilkel Hernandez was initially seen as a secondary piece to outfielder Troy Montgomery, but he has quickly become the more interesting part of the deal. The 19-year-old opened the 2018 season in extended spring training and threw two starts with the Connecticut Tigers before receiving an aggressive promotion to Single-A West Michigan.
Hernandez shows plenty of promise, with a fastball that sits between 89-92 miles per hour. It tops out at 93 mph and elicits ugly swings. The offering plays up thanks to an arm slot that creates an uncomfortable angle for hitters on his pitches. Hernandez is rather skinny, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he added to that velocity as he fills out his frame. He uses his changeup far more often than the curve, but FanGraphs suggested that a splitter may serve him better — something we’ve seen from more Tigers prospects of late.
In the end, I didn’t put up too much of a fight to keep Hernandez a part of the top 30 list. He is extraordinarily raw and works an inefficient game thanks to command that I will call “unrefined.” His floor as deep as a volcanic pit, and there are multiple ways he could flame out. There’s enough intrigue here to merit a mention, though. If things go right, he could be in top 20 consideration at this time next year.
RHP Johnny Schreiber
Stats: 39.0 IP, 2.08 ERA, 40 SO, 12 BB for Double-A Eire SeaWolves
Previous rank: N/A
Schreiber was one of only a few relief arms that came into serious consideration for placement on our list. Everything the sidewinding closer throws has some kind of bend or break to it. Between the funky arm slot and two-plane movement on his pitches, righties have an awful time trying to make solid contact against him. He shut down the Midwest League last season, and while his numbers aren't as reminiscent of a video game this season, he has still been consistently solid.
Two major problems prevented him from cracking list. He's strictly a relief arm, so that puts a cap on his overall value in the first place. And even though he has shown time and time again he can make minor league bats look silly, he doesn't have overpowering stuff. That lowers his long-term projection to a middle relief role, and those types of players are a dime a dozen. Don't get me wrong, we think he'll hit the big leagues, we just doubt his ceiling. Those doubts are strong enough to keep him off list.
SS Jose King
Stats: 53 PA, .204/.250/.286, 4 2B, 2 SB for Short-Season Connecticut Tigers
Previous rank: 28
Despite being a total wild card, Detroit’s interest was piqued by this shortstop when they grabbed him from the lowest ranks of the Arizona Diamondbacks system in last summer’s J.D. Martinez deal. Remarkable speed offers a distinct carrying tool for King. It’s a weapon on the bases and allows him to be a rangy defender, as he makes the most of an unexciting glove. There are some who think a move to second base is in order due to a below-average arm.
The biggest question mark moving forward is whether he will make enough contact to survive in pro baseball. King struggles with strikeouts; he has been rung up in 25.3 percent of plate appearances since joining the Tigers organization. How he develops his slight build is also a concern. His current approach offers little power, and he can’t afford to get much slower to float the profile.
It’s obvious why King missed the list. There is very little margin for error in his profile as he moves up the ranks, and there are plenty of ways for things to go awry. The upside is that of a light-hitting second baseman or shortstop who is excellent in the field and steals 25 bases in a season. The risk is immeasurable. Check back in three years, and he may be one of the top players in the pipeline. Check back in five, and odds are that few people will know who he is.
RHP Hugh Smith
Stats: Hasn’t debuted yet
Previous rank: N/A
Ah, yes, a Tigers draft pick of olde. Smith throws really, really hard. There are whispers of him reaching 99 miles per hour in post-draft workouts for the team. Some even believe that he could reach triple digits with cleaner mechanics. MLB.com claims his other offerings, a slider and a changeup, are below average. They also say he has below-average command. You are probably rolling your eyes right now, but let me sell you on Smith. He was once a soft-tosser who thrived on working guys inside out and hitting his spots. Baseball America calls his slider plus, and his pitching coach at Whitworth said his changeup is an excellent pitch as well. Smith has a fun story and people will be rooting for him at every turn. In the end, we have to admit that we actually know very little about Smith. If he’s a reliever, people call him a potential closer. If he’s not, you’re looking at a back-end starter at best.
OF Troy Montgomery
Stats: 81 PA, .328/.425/.358, 2 2B, 2 SB for High-A Lakeland; 180 PA, .227/.346/.287, 5 2B, 7 SB for Double-A Erie
Previous rank: 27
When we wrote about Troy Montgomery before the season, we had him pegged as the type of player every system needs. The outfielder shows plus wheels on defense, and is rangy enough to play slightly above-average defense any of the three positions. He draws enough walks to make an otherwise unremarkable batting profile work (sort of). While he’s a boring player, Montgomery was seen as high-floor guy who seems likely to sit on a major league bench one day.
There are also flaws can’t be overlooked. The speed that makes him usable in the field is ineffective on the bases. Montgomery’s contact ability that evaluators have called average-ish since he was drafted has proven to be more “ish” than “average” this year. He still hits for very little power. The numbers at Double-A haven’t been good. If he can put it together, it’s easy to see a fourth outfielder coming out of the whole mess. Unfortunately, that’s looking like a bigger and bigger “if.”