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Mailbag: Is ‘tanking’ in the Tigers’ best interest?

The Tigers are quickly rising up 2019 draft boards, but is that good?

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers are doing it again. One year after making up several games in the standings to finish with baseball’s worst record, the Tigers are dropping like a rock again. They are just 7-18 in the month of August so far, and recently went 1-5 against the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals.

Even in the last week, the Tigers have inched three games closer to the Royals at the bottom of the AL Central standings. They are currently tied with the White Sox, with a 53-80 record. If the season ended today, the Tigers would get the No. 5 overall pick in next year’s draft. While the Royals and Baltimore Orioles are runaway finishers for the top two selections, Detroit could easily finish as high as third in the reverse standings.

Is that in their best interest, though? At this point, probably. There’s little to play for down the stretch, other than general bragging rights over division rivals. Most of the team’s top prospects will stay in the minors for the rest of the season, and the big club’s September call-ups are not likely to be as exciting as we hope.

In the long term, though? That’s a different story.

Nothing about the 2018 season, save for maybe Franklin Perez’s injury issues, has been a “bump in the road” for the rebuild. The major league club played entertaining ball for a little while, then sold off the couple spare parts they had left for more prospects at the trade deadline. We were very pleased with the return for Leonys Martinwho is feeling better, by the way — and it’s hard to be upset with the return for Mike Fiers. Most of the team’s prospects have performed well, too. Matt Manning is already up to Double-A, and fringe top-100 players like Daz Cameron and Isaac Paredes also took big steps forward this year.

As for the draft? I wouldn’t get too worked up about it. We’ll follow the Tigers’ place in the 2019 MLB draft pecking order closely over the final month of the year, but there isn’t a significant difference between consecutive picks once you get past No. 1 overall. Detroit is currently one of four teams within two games of each other, and will likely finish in the 3-6 range. They hold a tiebreaker over all other teams thanks to their 2017 record, meaning they would receive the higher pick if they finished with the same win-loss record as another club.

It’s obviously not ideal for one of your top prospects to miss a full season of action, but teams deal with this phenomenon all the time. Pitchers are especially injury prone, and many prospects will undergo Tommy John surgery at some point in their careers. Perez’s injuries are of a different nature, of course, but he (hopefully) won’t have to miss any time in 2019 while rebuilding arm strength. That he’s already pitching at Double-A is a bonus of sorts, but I think his overall talent will be the reason he can overcome a missed year, not his current placement in the minor league system.

If there is cause for concern here, it is because of Perez’s injuries. Lat and shoulder injuries can be trouble for pitchers for obvious reasons, and we hope that this isn’t something he will deal with in future seasons. He only totaled 153 innings in 2016 and 2017 while playing in the Houston Astros system, but was also a teenager at the time — the Astros could have just been limiting the innings put on his young arm.

I actually pulled this one out of the depth of our mailbag, and while the question itself is a bit outdated — Dombrowski’s Red Sox are on a 110-win pace, he’s the winner here — it’s interesting to look at how both franchises have changed over the past three years. The Sox, while very good right now, don’t have much of a farm system anymore. Dombrowski hasn’t pulled off any thievery on the trade market in Boston yet, but it’s still early. They have a young, talented core, and plenty of resources to keep that group together for years to come. Add in a strong history of drafting and development from their farm system, and it’s hard not to like where Boston is right now, organizational rankings be damned.

Avila, on the other hand, has taken heat both here and elsewhere for his seeming lack of progress so far. The Tigers’ farm system has improved considerably under his watch, but fans are impatient that he has not cultivated a top-three system just yet. Other clubs have improved their farms faster over the same time period, making some antsy about Avila’s capabilities at the top of the organization.

While I still have my doubts about the organization’s overall philosophies — their commitment to analytics and modern baseball, in short — I like where they are headed. The Tigers might not have much top-end prospect talent right now, but they already have one of the deeper farm systems in baseball. Avila and Co. have acquired a number of interesting under-the-radar prospects, and have explored different pipelines (Australia, in particular) in search of more young talent. They still need to work out exactly how to develop that young talent, but “Phase 1” of the rebuild is off to a nice start.

Here’s another old question, but it might actually be more relevant this year. The Tigers won’t be getting the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft, but will almost certainly pick in the top 10, and might sneak into the top five if they keep up this “not scoring runs” thing (they are currently positioned at No. 5 overall).

It’s super early, of course, but our own Jay Markle has already identified several players that could be in the mix when the Tigers are on the clock on Draft Day 2019. Here are a couple of personal favorites:

SS Bobby Witt Jr., Colleyville HS (Texas) - The prep shortstop has been gaining momentum as the top player in 2019’s class. He’s a hyper-athletic specimen who has the potential to be a premium hitter and stick at shortstop. “Witt plays the game like he constantly has something to prove,” writes Prep Baseball report, “and appears to be constantly challenging himself to get even better.” With a gorgeous swing and plenty of electronic ink to his name, Witt finds himself in a similar situation to Brice Turang at this time last year. Unless he underperforms like Turang did, Witt will be off the board before the Tigers are on the clock.

Witt could be in the mix at No. 1 overall next year, so it might be a surprise for him to even fall a few spots to where the Tigers will be selecting.

3B Rece Hinds, IMG Academy (Fla.) - Power, power, power is the name of Hinds’ game. He’s your prototypical third baseman, with a lot of thump in his bat and a cannon for an arm. According to 2080 Baseball, he can throw at 98 mph across the diamond and has exit velocities that reach triple digits. Hinds is fun to watch play, and while he needs refinement in the field, he’s not a likely DH. There’s still room for him to fill out and add more strength, which could add to his already prodigious pop. His impact bat would fill a definite need in the Tigers’ system, albeit one at a position of burgeoning depth.

Thanks for making my job easy, Jay.

What will the outfield look like one year from today? -Jake

This is going to be a fairly boring answer. Nicholas Castellanos will still be around as the team’s right fielder, and Christin Stewart will probably be platooning between left field and the designated hitter spot. JaCoby Jones will be the primary center fielder, with one of Victor Reyes or Jake Robson filling in there or in left field at times. Mikie Mahtook will still probably be around as well, and Daz Cameron will be playing in Toledo while the fanbase screams into the void about calling him up to the majors. Derek Hill will also still be in the minor leagues.