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.
11. Kyle Funkhouser
Stats: 89.0 IP, 3.74 ERA, 89 SO, 39 BB for Double-A Erie
Previous rank: 9
Funkhouser’s numbers aren’t quite as shiny this season as they were last year in the lower minors, but that was to be expected. He was a first round talent the Tigers nabbed in the fourth round due to injury concerns. While those worries were somewhat validated by Funkhouser’s elbow injury that ended his 2017 season, the Tigers were also being cautious with a player that had little to learn at those levels. He still sports a firm fastball that touches the mid-90s, along with a developing slider that could be a true out pitch at the major league level. The command could use some refining as well — if you’re wondering why he’s lower than Beau Burrows, this is why — but it hasn’t been a complete hindrance so far, a la Gregory Soto. If Funkhouser continues to polish his rough edges, he could be in line for major league duty as early as next summer.
12. Derek Hill
Stats: 233 PA, .214/.279/.276, 3 HR, 18 SB at High-A Lakeland
Previous rank: 10
Some might scoff at keeping Hill this high in our rankings, but the skills that made him a first round pick in 2014 haven’t eroded in the slightest. He’s still a double-plus runner that plays elite level defense in center field. His glove was close to major league ready on draft day, and is probably at that point after three-plus years of professional instruction, injury-riddled as they were.
The problem — still — is the bat. Hill hasn’t progressed much at the plate since coming into the system, and we’re over 1,300 plate appearances into his professional career. Injuries have limited him to just 315 games over roughly four full seasons of action, but the promise of a contact hitter with decent on-base skills and gap power might be starting to fade. Hill, 22, still has time to turn things around, but he will be Rule 5 eligible this winter for the first time. His speed and defense offer a low threshold that his bat needs to meet — which is why he’s still No. 12 on our list — but he’s still not very close to that bar at the moment.
13. Mike Gerber
Stats: 234 PA, .217/.270/.419, 10 2B, 10 HR for Triple-A Toledo
Previous rank: 11
This was supposed to be The Year for Gerber. He was coming off a strong season at Double-A Erie, and there were going to be opportunities for him to earn playing time at the major league level. He even made his big league debut, albeit in a pinch-running role. Unfortunately, he has struggled with a shoulder injury for the past couple months, and hasn’t quite adjusted to Triple-A pitching. It’s probably not worth worrying too much about Gerber’s stat line given then shoulder injury, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio isn’t the best. He still offers a high floor as a probable fourth outfielder who could be a decent platoon bat in the right situation, though, and the power is nice. He can even fill in as a center fielder if needed, though he will need to make enough contact to ward off speedier options (read: Jake Robson) in the future.
14. Sam McMillan
Stats: 77 PA, .172/.312/.234, 2 2B, 4 SB for short-season Connecticut
Previous rank: 14
McMillan might be the biggest mystery in the Tigers farm system. The team cleared out plenty of slot money to sign him to a contract last summer after drafting him in the fifth round, but we have precious little game action (and video footage) with which to judge his talents. He is a well-rounded player who has the potential to be a positive on both sides of the ball, but high school backstops are notoriously difficult to develop. That has shown up so far in McMillan’s 2018 numbers, which aren’t great. He is drawing plenty of walks at the plate, but also striking out at a high rate and hitting for little power. He hit well in the Gulf Coast League last year, though, and is still only 19 years old. Be patient here, he’s a long way off.
15. Kody Clemens
Stats: 248 AB, .351/.444/.726, 15 2B, 24 HR for Texas
Previous rank: N/A
Experts believe Clemens was a bit of a reach for the Tigers in the third round of this year’s draft, but his numbers suggest otherwise. He absolutely torched Big 12 pitching this year, and his 24 home runs are an impressive total for a college game that has gotten much more pitcher-friendly in recent years. He might not offer quite as much home run pop in the pro ranks, but he has a well-rounded profile that gives him a chance to stick at second base. As an advanced college hitter, he should fly through the lower minors, but could hit some resistance at Double-A unless he shortens up his swing a bit.