Projecting minor league assignments is a particularly challenging task. It’s not always easy to know who the organization is ready to challenge or promote, and contrarily, who they consider to be “organizational fodder,” or someone whose role is to fill holes up and down the system. We also don’t know who might be coming off an injury and needs time in extended spring training. It’s a fun exercise nonetheless, so let’s see how accurately we can predict.
Note: Those assigned to West Michigan will be hitting the road for Grand Rapids on March 30, so we should expect the roster to be publicized on Friday, March 29 at the latest. There are 27 names listed here. Midwest League affiliates can have 25 active players, with up to 35 under team control.
This is an intriguing list of names, starting with the 6’10 Smith, who is rumored to have triple-digit fastball potential. Guzman is a rising star, perhaps this year’s Wenceel Perez, quickly climbing up prospect lists. Still just 20 years old on Opening Day, Guzman has reportedly been sitting mid-90s this spring with his fastball. He also complements it with a nasty changeup. Add in 2018 fifth round pick Adam Wolf and another rising star, Wilkel Hernandez, and this could be a ferocious rotation. Gio Arriera, a former fourth round pick, rounds out the staff. He has been lackluster in his first two pro seasons, but is still just 20 years old.
The left-handed Skubal is the most exciting name on this list (and no, we’re not just saying that because he was on our podcast). It’s possible the Tigers could stretch him out in a starting role, but for now we’ll slot him in as a reliever. Rodriguez pitched a whole season in West Michigan last year, and was a bit of a workhorse. The rotation in Lakeland is packed, however, and he is young enough at 21 where he can stay down in the Midwest League and maybe improve upon his low strikeout rate from a year ago. Chentouf is an undersized reliever at just 5’9 and 170 pounds, but he dominated in short-season Connecticut last year.
Neither Morgan’s bat nor his defense showed that he is ready for advancement last season. He was once considered a moderate batter with solid defense that should float the profile after an excellent college career. Neither his arm strength nor his accuracy ever showed up last season, and his receiving was boxy and awkward. Moreover, he was overwhelmed at the plate by mid-90s fastballs and overmatched by even basic sequencing. With just a .613 OPS and 13 errors last year, he’s in need of a major rebound.
Proctor is a solid defender and ideal backup, but his skills in the box are limited. He may be able to steal playing time from Morgan if he doesn’t progress, but the Tigers will probably give deference to the higher draft pick.
With the exception of Burks, every player on this list saw time in West Michigan a year ago. Bortles can handle third base, but needs to cut down on the 27 percent strikeout rate. Pearce and Rivera have similar profiles: a lot of walks, a lot of strikeouts, and some occasional extra-base power. Valente raked across three levels after being drafted in the 21st round out of St. John’s. He can play anywhere in the infield but may slot in as the regular second baseman. Burks is a longshot to make the big leagues, but as an eighth round college draftee, the Tigers may want to challenge him with a full-season assignment. All eyes will be on 19-year old Wenceel Perez, whom many believe is the shortstop of the future in Detroit.
Eric De La Rosa
It’s possible the Tigers hold Dylan Rosa down to start off the season, or even get hyper-aggressive with someone like Isrrael De La Cruz. I don’t believe they will hold back 2018 second round pick Parker Meadows, though. All reports out of Lakeland indicate that Meadows is mature beyond his years, both personally and from a baseball sense. He is ready for full-season ball and we will probably get a chance to see him right out of the gate in April.
De La Rosa is an exciting athlete with a lot of hit tool development ahead of him. Reyes bashed seven homers in 47 Gulf Coast League games and continued to rake in a short stint with Connecticut. Hampton is a speedy outfielder who gets on base and plays excellent defense. Vinny Esposito, a 23-year-old out of Cal St.-Sacramento, is another potential candidate to play a corner outfield position.
Manager Lance Parrish, along with hitting coach John Vander Wal and pitching coach Willie Blair, will lead the Whitecaps in 2019. The season opener is Thursday, April 4, on the road against the South Bend Cubs. The home opener is Saturday, April 6, also against South Bend.