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.
1. RHP Casey Mize
Stats: 114.2 IP, 3.30 ERA, 156 SO, 16 BB for Auburn
Previous rank: N/A
Despite not having thrown a professional pitch yet, Casey Mize is already the most polished pitching prospect in the system. He displayed that advanced profile all season long for Auburn, where he put together a preposterous 9.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 114 2⁄3 innings in the SEC, the best conference in college baseball. Mize struggled a bit down the stretch, but his full body of work was absolutely worth the No. 1 overall selection in this year’s MLB draft. He should breeze through the lower minors, and could probably thrive at Double-A Erie right now if given the opportunity. The Tigers will limit his innings this summer and keep him in the minors for all of 2019, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the mix for an MLB rotation spot at some point in 2020.
2. Franklin Perez
Stats: 5.0 IP, 1.80 ERA, 4 SO, 0 BB for GCL East
Previous rank: 1
Like Mize, Perez became the Tigers’ top prospect as soon as he entered the system last summer. The 20-year-old righthander hasn’t appeared at Double-A Erie yet this season thanks to a lat strain, but he has made a couple of healthy appearances in the Gulf Coast League over the past couple weeks. He too is a pitcher polished beyond his years, with an advanced four-pitch mix that should keep him in an MLB rotation for years to come. We’re still not sure on how lofty his ceiling is, but he’s a 20-year-old with a mid-90s fastball and a plus changeup. There’s a lot to like here, so long as he finishes the year without any more injuries.
t-3. Alex Faedo
Stats: 61.0 IP, 3.10 ERA, 51 SO, 13 BB for High-A Lakeland; 11.0 IP, 1.64 ERA, 11 SO, 4 BB for Double-A Erie
Previous rank: 2
Our staff were divided on where to rank Faedo and Matt Manning, so we split the difference and had them share the No. 3 spot. Faedo entered the season with rumors about his conditioning (or lack thereof), but we haven’t heard anything concrete about that as the season has gone on. His fastball velocity has been a bit lower than expected, but he limited walks and held opponents in check for the most part at High-A Lakeland. His first couple outings at Double-A Erie have been more of the same. While the low-ish strikeout rate isn’t ideal, we saw Beau Burrows pull a similar trick in his first full season of pro ball. We’ll know a lot more about Faedo’s future in a year when he starts to face more advanced hitters.
t-3. Matt Manning
Stats: 55.2 IP, 3.40 ERA, 76 SO, 28 BB for Low-A West Michigan; 5.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 9 SO, 2 BB for High-A Lakeland
Previous rank: 3
The three above pitchers have much higher floors than the 20-year-old Manning, but nobody in the entire farm system has a higher ceiling. Manning is still quite raw, but after an up-and-down debut season in 2017, he is starting to put the pieces together. He dominated the Midwest League, striking out 76 batters in just 55 2⁄3 innings. The mid-90s fastball and big 12-6 curveball were just too much for hitters at that level to handle. If his first start at High-A Lakeland is any indication, he might breeze through that level too. Manning still struggles with his mechanics at time, though, and will benefit from further reps in the lower minors before he eventually advances to Double-A. The risk is still there, but this season has been about as encouraging as one could hope for from a project like this.
5. Beau Burrows
Stats: 84.2 IP, 3.83 ERA, 72 SO, 34 BB for Double-A Erie
Previous rank: 4
Some fans were down on Burrows after a lackluster 2016 season in which he struck out just 67 batters in 97 innings, but last season silenced a lot of the haters. Burrows fanned 137 batters in 135 frames, and bullied his way up to Double-A as a 20 year old. His strikeout rate has fallen off somewhat since last year, but he has looked dominant at times against competition that is still much older than him. We haven’t heard much about the development of his raw stuff, but Burrows was close to a finished product stuff-wise even on draft day. He already hits the mid-90s, with a couple of okay secondary pitches that will limit his overall ceiling. He’ll be Rule 5 eligible soon, so don’t be surprised if we see him in Detroit at some point next year.