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Tigers Den Roundtable: Which Tigers prospect is off to the best start in 2019?

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The Bless You Boys staff discusses which prospects have gotten off to hot starts this season.

Alex Faedo prospect pitcher
Alex Faedo’s strong start has been a nice surprise this season.
Adam Dubbin / Bless You Boys

The Detroit Tigers have been surprisingly plucky this year, fighting to just one game under .500 after over a month of action. They currently sit in third place in the AL Central, and are just two games out of the American League’s second Wild Card spot. While that does not seem likely to continue — their run differential suggests they should be 13-20 at this point — we will keep a close eye on how the big league club fares as the summer progresses.

But we are also keeping a close watch on the Tigers’ minor league system. Detroit’s prospects have generally gotten off to great starts this year, with only a few exceptions (most of them injuries). From top prospect Casey Mize down to more unheralded names like Nick Ames, there are a number of players in Detroit’s system who have drawn our attention after about a month of minor league action.

This week’s question: Which Tigers prospect has caught your eye so far this season?

Ashley: Casey Mize is the obvious answer, but the one who has surprised me somewhat was Alex Faedo. I was really ready to write him off as being a TINSTAAPP-type mistake [Ed.: “There is no such thing as a pitching prospect”] made by the Tigers, but this season he has turned thing around. I don’t think he will be a number one or two starter by any means (I don’t even know if he will be a starter period) but where last season I wasn’t even sure he would ever get to the majors, this year I think he might actually have that potential, which is exciting.

Zane: I’m extremely pleased with Jake Rogers to date. The man who supposedly can’t hit well enough to be a top catching prospect currently sports a 179 wRC+ and a 17.5 percent walk rate at Double-A Erie. He is hitting .274/.413/.548 and has five home runs in 20 games. He is playing so well that Erie manager Chris Cron is slotting him in as a DH on his days off from catching. Oh, and there’s the fact that Rogers threw out 57 of the first 100 men to run on him at the Double-A level. He is beginning to look more and more like a prized catching prospect plucked from the Astros’ bountiful farm system. That said, Rogers’ BABIP is still hovering at .375, so I’m not ready to call him “ready” with the hit tool.

Kenon: I’m going to have to go with Willi Castro, who is quietly having a really good season with the bat. The one knock on Castro has always been his walk rate. He has the free-swinging Dawel Lugo/Ronny Rodriguez profile that many thought would limit his upside. But so far this season, he has drawn 13 walks in 119 plate appearances (11 percent!), translating to a .402 on-base percentage. Castro just turned 22, and I do believe it’s only a matter of time before some of his raw power — especially from the right side of the plate — starts turning into real game power. This improved approach has me thinking maybe he really will be ready to play shortstop in Detroit every day in 2020.

Patrick: Is this a trick question? Casey Mize was forecast to be the best prospect that the Tigers have drafted in more than a decade, and the early signs are he is just that and more. He blazed through High-A Lakeland and is toying with Double-A hitters on his rapid ascent to the major leagues. He has allowed just one run, nine hits, two walks, and struck out 36 batters in 40 innings. There are already calls for his promotion to Detroit. The only question is how long the Tigers can keep him down in the minor leagues.

Ashley: You’re a trick question.

Brandon: Daaannnnggg!

Adam: I’m going with my fellow University of Florida alumnus, Alex Faedo. After practically being given up on after a rough first professional season in 2018 and sitting out the rest of 2017 after being drafted, it’s starting to look like Faedo is rounding into shape — literally. He has made some adjustments to his delivery that, while still has some issues, looks much better than last year. Plus, his conditioning appears to be addressed and in the time I spent watching him on the backfields of spring training I got a good vibe from him. That tandem no-hitter and subsequent Pitcher of the Week award for the Double-A Eastern League really ties his performance together nicely.

Brandon: I’d like to see a little more of Faedo before I totally jump on board, but I do like the adjustments he seems to be working on. However, Faedo already had my eye, so I will go with Tarik Skubal. We liked the little bit we saw last year after he was drafted, but he has come out and been very impressive. The fastball has good sink and run from a high three-quarters slot, and his breaking ball already flashes plus. He will be one of the best under-the-radar prospects to track this year, and I hope to see him in Erie before too long, where we can get a better sense of how his stuff will play against a better class of hitters. Taking a bit of a risk on a post-Tommy John guy may really pay off here, as even a quality lefty reliever would be a steal at his draft slot.

Patrick: The Erie rotation has not allowed an earned run in 44 innings.

Rob, breaking the fourth wall: As you can see, we write these a few days early.

Peter: Derek Hill. He had tumbled all the way down the prospect pile, but has elevated himself back into relevance. His hot start is unsustainable due to a heap of crazy peripheral stats, so he has likely hit his peak for the year. As long as his numbers doesn’t fall off a cliff the rest of the season — and he can table his injury concerns — he could ascend to prominence again in the minors and even find himself in a Detroit uniform soon.

Jay: My answer was Greg Soto but I forgot to write it up and I’m currently road tripping.

Jay, later: Oh. He actually has not been all that great. Okay, carry on.

Rob: He was also suspended and hasn’t pitched much

Jay: Yes but for some reason i thought he had SSS’d himself into a decent stat line.

Kenon: Soto has been very good, Jay, much better than expected.

Baseball Reference: Soto has a 3.12 ERA and 17 strikeouts to six walks in 17 13 innings this season.

Rob: I’m going to put on my Kenon hat for a moment and shout out Brady Policelli. He hasn’t quite found a defensive home yet, but plays everywhere and has hit the cover off the ball at High-A Lakeland to boot. Through 28 games, Policelli is batting .324/.367/.595 with five home runs and 16 extra-base hits. The five homers have nearly matched his 2018 total (7), and Lakeland is even more pitcher-friendly than the Midwest League. Policelli, 23, is a bit old for his level, but it’s hard to ignore a .961 OPS (184 wRC+) over a month into the season. If he even turns into a utility type — one that can also catch? That’s huge value from a 13th round pick.

Your turn: Which prospect(s) has caught your eye this year?