When the 2019 Detroit Tigers broke camp, everyone knew it was liable to be another painful year at the bottom of the league. The reward, one hoped, was the promise of seeing a few of Tigers top prospects making their major league debut late in the season. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone quite according to plan.
The Tigers announced a batch of September callups on Monday that largely consisted of familiar faces. Not a single player added is featured in the top 20 of MLB Pipeline’s ranking of Tigers’ prospects. Of course, catcher Jake Rogers and shortstop Willi Castro have already debuted with the Tigers in the season’s second half and both are ranked in the top 11 prospects in the system. Reliever Bryan Garcia, ranked 21st and the Tigers most advanced pure relief prospect, debuted on Monday in style.
Jeimer Candelario and Christin Stewart are the two biggest names on the list, but both saw plenty of action in Detroit this season. Candelario has been unable to find traction in the major leagues across parts of three seasons now. Meanwhile, Stewart’s rookie campaign has been a rocky one, illustrating his weakness as a bat only prospect who really needs to show serious power in the major leagues to earn his keep. Both hitters mashed with authority in International League play and clearly have nothing more to prove at that level.
The other call ups include backup catcher Grayson Greiner, who has put a mid-season back injury behind him and seen his bat perk up a bit in recent weeks. Assuming good health, one would expect him to take the bulk of starts from backup John Hicks down the stretch.
Relievers Zac Reininger and Daniel Stumpf, along with left-handed starter Tyler Alexander, round out the final group of additions to the Tigers’ September roster. The two relievers should be on their last legs with the organization, as both hold 40 man roster spots they’ve done nothing to secure heading into the offseason. Alexander, on the other hand, has been low key impressive, and will presumably be a big part of manager Ron Gardenhire’s plans to limit innings for young starters like Daniel Norris and Spencer Turnbull.
Overall, it’s a bit of a disappointing group based on pre-season expectations. Workload limitations had always made it unlikely that top prospect Casey Mize would get his first crack at the majors this season. However, his mid-season injury raised the possibility again as the time on the injured list ensured that he’d finish well behind young starters like Matt Manning and Alex Faedo in terms of innings workload. The Tigers decision to shut Mize down was sensible, but while his work during the first half was thrilling, it has to be said that Mize’s first full season ended on a minor down note.
Other notables who seemed likely to crack the September roster when the season began included starting pitchers Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser, as well as center fielder Daz Cameron. The former two dealt with shoulder issues throughout the season, while Cameron went through some rough stretches in this, his first full season at the Triple-A level. For Burrows and Cameron, their relative youth for the level of play they’ve reached makes it easier to shrug off a mediocre season. On the other hand, Funkhouser will head into the 2020 season as a 26-year-old pitcher who needs to produce a season of consistent performance and good health or find himself converted finally to the relief role long projected for him.
The real question remaining, is how Gardenhire and his staff will allocate playing time over the final month of the season. One would think that Stewart and Candelario, having more offensive potential than a host of guys the Tigers have been playing in their stead, will be in the lineup most days. One would really have to question the Tigers player development plans should either be forced to cede serious time to anyone else.
As for the pitchers, Garcia will likely get a look at a setup role should he produce a couple of quality innings in a row. Reininger and Stumpf desperately need to give the Tigers a reason to bring them back in 2020. Alexander will presumably be pitching every fifth day in the Tigers’ rotation, or as a piggyback starter for the likes of Daniel Norris or Spencer Turnbull as the organization looks to keep their workload modest down the stretch.