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Introducing the Bless You Boys 2020 top 30 Tigers prospect rankings

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After intense(ish) debate, our 2020 prospect rankings are here.

St Louis Cardinals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB photos via Getty Images

It’s time to kick off the 2020 season, even if baseball itself doesn’t start for another few months. Last year, we dropped our entire top 30 prospect list on Christmas, and were very happy with the results.

We are a few days late this year, but the plan is otherwise basically the same. The individual profiles for all 30 of the players listed below will come later, along with our usual grab-bag of supplemental content, including a few honorable mentions, some under-the-radar prospects, and a quick update on those putting up big numbers without much recognition from scouts.

As always, our list was a mix of numerical rankings and intense(ish) debate between our staff members — we spent far more time debating the bottom five players on this list than the top 10, naturally. Even the five to 10 prospects we left off this list deserved mention at one point or another, speaking to the improved depth throughout the Tigers’ farm system.

Without further ado, here are our top 30 Tigers prospects for the 2020 season.

1. RHP Casey Mize

Any concerns about Mize’s sluggish finish to the 2018 season were quickly and emphatically erased as the former No. 1 overall pick laid waste to the Florida State League in early 2019. Mize allowed just three runs on 11 hits in six starts, then threw a no-hitter in his first Double-A start for good measure. He ran into a bit of resistance at Erie, but the only thing that truly slowed Mize down last season was his own body. He missed a month of action with shoulder inflammation, then was mysteriously shut down for the year with about two weeks remaining in the regular season. The raw stuff and polish were both evident in most of Mize’s starts, though some were a bit concerned by a lower-than-expected 24.7 percent strikeout rate. A strong start to the 2020 season could set Mize up to make his major league debut in the summer months.

2. RHP Matt Manning

Last year, we said Matt Manning’s 2018 season could not have gone any better. Somehow, he topped it in 2019. The big righthander spent the entire year at Double-A Erie, where he logged 133 23 innings with a 2.56 ERA. Despite his age, he was overpowering, with 148 strikeouts to just 38 walks. He didn’t tire as the year went on either, allowing a 1.82 ERA in his final six starts. The gap between Mize and Manning is narrowing quickly, and another first half like this from the 21-year-old could put him at the top of the Tigers prospect heap.

3. OF Riley Greene

Some people expressed disappointment on draft day that the Tigers landed this young prep outfielder from Florida, but Greene did just about everything he could to silence his doubters straightaway. He dominated the Gulf Coast League, showing maturity beyond his years, and produced a .380 on-base percentage in 24 games at Low-A Connecticut. It wasn’t until he reached the Midwest League — the first Tigers prep draftee to get there in his draft year since 1994 — for him to meet some resistance. Greene’s bat has been as advertised so far, and he has displayed more athleticism and defensive chops than we were led to believe leading up to the 2019 draft.

4. LHP Tarik Skubal

Skubal didn’t even crack our top 30 last year, but quickly established himself as one of the top arms in the system — if not all the minor leagues — with a truly dominant 2019 season. He struck out 97 batters in 80 13 innings at High-A Lakeland, earning a spot in the middle of our midseason top 30 list. He then proceeded to dunk on the Double-A Eastern League for two months, racking up 82 strikeouts in just 42 13 innings. With a fastball that can touch 97 miles per hour from the left side, Skubal has as much potential as any prospect in the Tigers’ system. He probably won’t reach the majors in 2020, but who knows? It wouldn’t be the first time we underestimated the 6’3 lefthander.

5. IF Isaac Paredes

Paredes had a very quiet 2019 season, but don’t mistake that for a step back in performance. He fell slightly off his 2018 pace offensively, but still produced a 133 wRC+ in a full season at Double-A Erie. And while he “only” hit 13 home runs, he also struck out just 11.3 percent of the time — playing against players several years older than him, no less. There are still questions about his glove, but he should hit enough to be a productive player no matter where he lands defensively. It’s up to the Tigers to tap into his raw power (most of it to the pull field) without sacrificing the all-fields approach that has made him successful so far.

6. LHP Joey Wentz

Some fans were a little underwhelmed at the trade deadline return for Shane Greene at first, but Wentz did his best to endear himself to the Tigers faithful with a blistering five-start performance at Double-A Erie to close the season. He fanned 37 batters to just four walks across 25 23 innings, and should make the jump to Triple-A with most of the Tigers’ other top arms this spring. Wentz offers a three-pitch mix, with the breaking ball lagging a bit behind a quality fastball-changeup combination. Like most minor league arms, he could stand to tighten up his secondary offerings, but Tigers fans should take solace in the fact that his fastball velocity was sitting around 93 miles per hour after hovering a tick lower throughout an injury-riddled 2018 season. The big lefty recently turned 22 and may yet have a little more in the tank as he matures.

7. OF Daz Cameron

Cameron had one of the more disappointing seasons among Tigers prospects last year, but there were still positives to take away from his 2019 campaign. He walked nearly 12 percent of the time at Triple-A, and produced a solid .163 ISO with 41 extra-base hits in 120 games. He also continued to show off his above-average speed, swiping 17 bases. Unfortunately, those walks also came with a lot of strikeouts, and it takes a lot of patience and power to overcome a .214 batting average. Cameron was quite young for the level, though, at just 22 years old, and could easily jump back into our top five if he gets off to a hot start in 2020.

8. C Jake Rogers

Rogers’ first cup of coffee in the major leagues left a bitter taste in the mouth of Tigers fans everywhere, but his work in the minors that led to his call-up was impressive. He hit .250/.361/.484 in 303 plate appearances across two levels before he was brought up to Detroit, and showed plenty of pop at both Double- and Triple-A. Rogers will certainly need to cut down on the strikeouts at the major league level, as well as tighten up his defense; the nine passed balls he allowed in 34 games with the Tigers was uncharacteristic of his otherwise excellent glove work. Like most catchers, Rogers may take a bit more time to develop than others, but we still have high hopes for the 24-year-old.

9. RHP Alex Faedo

I don’t know if any Tigers prospect rebounded better than Alex Faedo did in 2019. The one-time Florida Gator lowered his Double-A ERA by over a full run, and struck out 134 hitters in 115 13 innings for the SeaWolves. He tightened up his command, nearly halved his home run rate, and put many of the concerns we had about him entering last season to rest. His fastball velocity returned after a dip in 2018, topping out in the mid-90s once again as Faedo made some adjustments to streamline his delivery. He still likely needs to develop a consistent third pitch to stick in the rotation, but his raw stuff is good enough to shift to the bullpen if needed.

10. SS Willi Castro

Castro was another Tigers prospect who failed to impress during his first cup of coffee in the major leagues, but an otherwise spectacular 2019 season left fans with high expectations for the one-time Cleveland Indians prospect. Castro hit .301/.366/.467 with 28 doubles and 11 home runs in his first season at Triple-A, and was on everyone’s “Call him up already!” radar by mid-summer. His defense seemed to need work, however — he committed 22 errors in 111 games with the Mud Hens — though scouts believe he has the skills to stick at shortstop long-term. He will need to clean up all aspects of his game to be successful at the major league level, but could be a solid everyday contributor when all is said and done.

11. OF Parker Meadows

Meadows’ raw numbers weren’t anything to write home about in 2019, but he still managed to keep his head above water as a teenager in the Midwest League, posting passable walk and strikeout rates in 126 games played. He still has yet to tap into the raw power in his lengthy 6’5 frame, but getting a full season under his belt was victory enough for the 2018 second round pick. Baseball America considers Meadows the best athlete in the Tigers’ system, and projects that he could eventually hit for plus power in games. He’ll remain a focal point for the Tigers revamped player development staff in 2020.

12. RHP Beau Burrows

Burrows has consistently fallen down this list over the past few years, but it wasn’t until last year that his personal stock took a real hit. The 22-year-old spent most of 2019 at Triple-A, where the juiced baseball... didn’t help. Neither did a pair of injuries that limited him to 74 13 total innings. His walk rate also trended in the wrong direction for the second year in a row, climbing to 11 percent across three minor league levels. He still projects as the back-end starter or bullpen arm many foresaw when he was drafted back in 2015, and should make his MLB debut in 2020 if he stays healthy.

13. IF Wenceel Perez

One could basically copy and paste Meadows’ evaluation down here, save for the size and raw power. Perez stands a sturdy 5’11, and won’t be hitting 30 home runs in a season at any point, but he is athletic and displays plus bat speed from both sides of the plate. He toned down the hyper-aggressive approach he showed in 2018, and walked a respectable 8.7 percent of the time, but struggled to hit for average and power at Low-A West Michigan — though against much older competition. He has plus speed, as his 21 stolen bases attest, but needs to improve his instincts on the basepaths.

14. RHP Kyle Funkhouser

Odds are Funkhouser will not be on this list come July. Either he will stay healthy, earn a promotion to the major leagues, and graduate from prospect eligibility, or he will slog through yet another injury-riddled season and fall off the radar entirely. He will be 26 come Opening Day, and is one prospect many would like to see shift to the bullpen — both to keep him healthy, as well as let his raw stuff play up. His fastball can top 95 miles per hour, and may even add a tick if he avoids further injury. Also, a shift to the ‘pen would allow him to focus on developing his slider, the most polished of his secondary offerings at the moment.

MiLB: JUL 01 Columbus Clippers at Toledo Mud Hens Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

15. IF Nick Quintana

Quintana had a rough start to his pro career, one that can be difficult to overlook when projecting him going forward. He struck out in 31.5 percent of the time, hit just two home runs in 260 plate appearances, and made a whopping 18 errors in 64 games — a surprising number for anyone, let alone a player who projects as a plus defender at third base. We’re talking about less than a half-season’s worth of games, though, and at the end of a long college season. Quintana could quickly erase these concerns with a bounce-back year in 2020.

16. 2B Kody Clemens

Clemens got off to a slow start in 2019, but his overall numbers were not as bad as some thought. From May 1 onward, he hit .254/.330/.439 with 10 home runs in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, earning a late-season call-up to Double-A. The 23-year-old projects as a fringe-average defender at second because of limited range, but plays with great instincts and a fire for the game reminiscent of another great Tigers second baseman. His offensive profile is more power-over-hit at this point, but he controls the strike zone well. Expect him to spend all of 2020 at Double-A Erie, with a potential 2021 major league debut on the horizon.

17. IF Andre Lipcius

Lipcius spent time at three different infield positions in his post-draft stint with the Whitecaps last summer, but scouts believe he will eventually be limited to either corner because of his size and lack of quickness. The Tennessee product hit .273 with a solid .344 on-base percentage in 283 plate appearances, and projects to hit for more power has he progresses through the pro ranks. He will need to tap into that, though, as his glove projects as just average at best. Lipcius presents as a mature hitter at the plate and controls the strike zone well, but he’ll need some tweaks to his swing to maximize his potential.

18. OF Bryant Packard

Packard is another below-average runner and defender, but will ideally hit enough for those deficiencies to not matter. He had one of the more impressive debuts of the 2019 draft class, producing an .898 OPS in 23 games at Single-A West Michigan. The 22-year-old is a disciplined hitter, one that should hit for both average and power. His path to the majors would be clearer if pro conditioning helps make a corner outfield role a possibility. As a pure first baseman he’ll have to max out his offensive potential. If all goes well, we could see him at multiple levels again this year.

19. RHP Elvin Rodriguez

Rodriguez had another solid year in 2019, limiting opponents to a 3.77 ERA in 113 23 innings as a 21-year-old pitcher in the High-A Florida State League. He did little to truly up his prospect stock, though; his strikeout and walk rates dropped off, and he failed to add some of the velocity that many have hoped could develop from his wiry 6’3 frame — though his fastball still sits at a passable 91-93 miles per hour in most starts. Rodriguez projects as a back-end starter with a solid three-pitch mix, but no signature offering.

20. OF Derek Hill

Hill finally stayed healthy for a full season in 2019, and, not surprisingly, had his best year in the pros to date. The 23-year-old roared out to a strong start at Double-A Erie, with 10 extra-base hits in 20 April games, but fell off a bit after that before a summer surge. This landed him a spot on the 40-man roster, bringing him closer than ever to his long-awaited MLB debut. The Tigers’ 2014 first rounder still projects as a double-plus runner and defender with a bat that will struggle to stay afloat in the majors. His uptick in power was nice to see — he more than doubled his career total with 14 home runs last year — and will be a welcome addition to his game if it sticks around at Triple-A.

21. RHP Paul Richan

Which pitcher has the best command in the Tigers’ system? It’s not Casey Mize, according to Baseball America, but rather righthander Paul Richan, one of the players the Tigers acquired in return for Nicholas Castellanos last summer. Richan had a rough debut with High-A Lakeland, but settled down to strike out 29 hitters while walking just two in 30 23 innings with the Flying Tigers. He mixes his pitches well and can throw his off-speed pitches for strikes, but doesn’t light up the radar gun (he sits 91-92 mph with the fastball) and may struggle to miss barrels at the highest levels.

22. IF Adinso Reyes

Reyes was one of two big-bonus signings the Tigers made in the 2018-19 international period, and their investment looks good early on. He made quick work of the Dominican Summer League in 2019, hitting .331/.379/.508 with seven home runs in 62 games. While he may eventually need to move from shortstop to third because of his solid 6’1, 195-pound frame, he should develop the raw and in-game power necessary to hold his own at the hot corner. He will likely make his stateside debut in 2020.

23. RHP Rony Garcia

The Tigers’ newest prospect is a bit of a mystery, but an intriguing one at that. Garcia struggled to keep runs off the board at times after getting promoted to Double-A Trenton last year, but also struck out a healthy number of hitters while maintaining a passable walk rate. He finished the 2019 season strong, with a 3.73 ERA in August, and there are reports that his fastball — which previously sat from 91 to 93 miles per hour — was clocked as high as 97 mph in 2019. His former pitching coach also praised Garcia’s new cutter, which could give him a nice two-pitch mix to stick in relief. We don’t know whether the Tigers plan to stick him in the bullpen or try him out in the rotation, but him having a chance to start bumped him ahead of the next two names on our list.

24. RHP Anthony Castro

With so many starting pitchers now in their pipeline, it seems that the Tigers want to move Anthony Castro into a relief role. It’s something many have expected for a few years now,especially after he lost more than a year of development following Tommy John surgery. Castro’s stuff will certainly play in that role, and now that he is on the 40-man roster, he could see big league action as early as Opening Day. The only problem? Castro was awful as a reliever in Double-A last year, producing a 10.26 ERA with as many walks as strikeouts. He was dominant at times as a starter, however, showing that there is still plenty of raw talent here. Wherever he ends up, consistency in said role may be the best thing for Castro in 2020.

MiLB: APR 08 Florida State League - Flying Tigers at Tarpons Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

25. RHP Bryan Garcia

Garcia was high on our list after blitzing his way through the minor league ranks in 2017. With gaudy ERAs and strikeout rates at most levels, all he had left to do was conquer Triple-A and reach the majors. Unfortunately, Tommy John surgery derailed his quick ascent, knocking him out for all of 2018. Thankfully, Garcia came back strong last season, producing a solid 2.97 ERA in 33 13 innings at Triple-A Toledo. He made his MLB debut in September, and struck out seven hitters in 6 23 innings amid a few rough outings. He will almost surely graduate off this list by year’s end.

26. C Cooper Johnson

Every scouting report you read about Johnson (including ours) will gush about his excellent defense behind the plate. He has a cannon for an arm, and has been widely praised for his ability to shut down an opponent’s running game. “Even if he hits .210 he still might be a future big leaguer” was the back-of-the-box quote from Baseball America, highlighting just how good Johnson’s glove is. He also brings some solid raw power to the table, but his ceiling will be determined by how often he can make solid contact and get on base.

27. RHP Alex Lange

While Lange spent his entire two-plus years in the Chicago Cubs system as a starter, he was immediately shuttled to the bullpen when the Tigers acquired him last July. The 24-year-old has an inconsistent delivery that led to spotty command, as well as an iffy fastball that hasn’t touched the mid-90s band it used to hover in during his prime at LSU. His curveball is his best offering, and it will be easier for him to throw a boatload of those at hitters in short spurts, mixing in the fastball whenever necessary. He was only mildly impressive in a handful of outings at Erie after the trade, but put in a strong showing at the Arizona Fall League.

28. RHP Wilkel Hernandez

It speaks to the newfound depth in the Tigers’ farm system that a player like Hernandez is now all the way down here in our rankings. The 20-year-old enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular first full season at Single-A West Michigan, limiting opponents to a 3.73 ERA in 101 13 innings. He produced solid strikeout and walk rates as well, and projects as the back-end starter or possible reliever seen plenty often elsewhere throughout this list. He still has some physical projection left, which could add a bit of velocity to his low-90s fastball. That should not change his outlook significantly, however.

29. RHP Hugh Smith

We finally got to see this 2018 draftee in action last year, and Smith’s results were about what one would expect from a young, 6’10 hurler. He struck out a healthy number of Midwest League hitters (45 in 44 23 innings) but also struggled to keep the walks in check at times. This isn’t a surprise; Smith has grown nearly a foot in the past five years, and it takes a lot to repeat a pitching delivery at that size. He has the raw stuff — his fastball has been clocked as high as 96 miles per hour — and that steep downward plane could make life even more difficult for hitters as long as Smith tightens up his command.

30. OF Jose de la Cruz

Cruz was the other “bonus baby” from the Tigers’ 2018-19 international haul, and he too enjoyed a solid pro debut last year. He batted .307/.375/.556 with 11 home runs in 56 games in the Dominican Summer League, and that is with some wondering if he was battling some sort of nagging injury throughout the season (he DH’d 36 times, a high number for a player who spent his other 20 games in center field). Cruz will likely move to a corner in the future, but has more than enough raw power for his bat to pick up the slack.