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5 bold predictions for the Tigers’ farm system in 2020

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A look into the future, or something roughly adjacent to it.

MiLB: JUN 24 Gulf Coast League - Blue Jays at Tigers West Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the lull of winter between the first flurry of signings and the shining hope of spring training is where prospect season resides, and it’s taken full effect among Detroit Tigers fans. With the major league roster fairly set, all attention has turned to prospect rankings. MLB Pipeline was glowing with praises for the top arms in the Tigers system and Baseball America recently did their first full mock draft, projecting Austin Martin as Detroit’s selection.

Let’s have some real fun, though. Prospect writing is all about predicting the future, and as you would imagine, it’s not uncommon to be dead wrong in the process. So why not make push the envelope little more? Here are five irresponsible bold predictions about the Tigers farm system in 2020.

Casey Mize is the Tigers’ No. 3 prospect at midseason

There’s a lot of anticipation surrounding the likelihood that Casey Mize makes his major league debut in 2020, and for good reason. He is an outstanding prospect with an incredible amount of polish and a wipeout splitter. MLB Pipeline recently ranked Mize as the top right-handed pitcher in the minor leagues, and won a plurality vote for the best off-speed pitch in the minors. His command of his whole arsenal puts the package over the top. But despite being the obvious top choice in his draft class and reigning as the top Tigers prospect since the day he inked a contract, there’s a chance he gets pushed down the podium.

True, scouts don’t question that Mize is a genuinely elite prospect because of his freakishly high floor. There are lingering questions, though, about how his fastball may impact his long-term upside, as well as his ability to stay healthy. Those questions don’t hover around fellow top prospect Matt Manning, who has a workhorse frame and a comfortably plus fastball. Manning eviscerated Double-A hitting, and if he carries his momentum into 2020, he’s a strong challenger to Mize’s position.

Add in the fact that the Tigers have the first selection in the draft this summer, and it’s easy to envision Mize’s ranking dropping a bit if he doesn’t come out of the gate at 100 percent.

Sam McMillan becomes a top 25 Tigers prospect

Looking over a list of names from the Tigers’ 2017 draft class will likely leave the reader feeling pretty dismal about the state of Detroit’s rebuild, but fifth rounder Sam McMillan has a chance to make his mark in 2020. Using their savings on second rounder Rey Rivera, the Tigers were able to pay McMillan a significantly over-slot signing bonus. He has impressed with high walk rates so far, but hasn’t done quite enough to get more attention. A few adjustments are all that is needed to radically change that narrative.

In a system that is a little dry for exciting offensive prospects, McMillan has the tools he needs to stand out. Patience at the plate is a troublingly rare skill among Detroit’s minor league talent, and his is based on genuine knowledge of the strike zone rather than merely waiting out pitchers with poor command. He has average raw power or a tick above, and has so far been held back by his poor feel for the barrel. He projects to be an average catcher and should stay there long-term. If he can start squaring balls up more frequently, he’ll stake out a more secure spot among the best of the Tigers’ farmhands.

Zack Hess makes his MLB debut

Pegged as a quick mover if transitioned into the bullpen as a pro, Hess is a power reliever with an outstanding pedigree. He was a well-known prospect in high school and had a chance to turn pro in both 2016 and 2018, but fell to late rounds both times due to concerns about signability and a violent delivery. Now that he’s in the Detroit organization, though, he should be on the fast track to the major leagues, possibly even to reach the highest level during the upcoming season. Things would have to break right for Hess at every step along the way for this prediction to come true, but it’s not completely out of the question.

The Tigers are likely to overlook his somewhat pedestrian numbers with the Whitecaps and give him him an assignment to the High-A with the Flying Tigers. Should he perform well in the role he’s given, promotions to Double- and Triple-A will be shortly in line. The Tigers have already stated outright that they’re looking to “build up” the roster and are keeping an open mind regarding their top group of pitchers. That may extend to Hess when rosters expand or when the team begins to trim the fat on the fringes of the roster.

Riley Greene is a top 10 prospect in all of baseball by 2021

Perhaps the boldest prediction on this list is this one. Although Greene is absolutely one of the Tigers’ premier minor leaguers, he hasn’t sniffed consideration for inclusion in the top 10 on any reputable list. That’s a club reserved for the likes of Rays wunderkind Wander Franco or tooled-up catcher Adley Rutschman. A strong performance in 2020 could send the 19-year-old Greene rocketing up various lists, though, and force a conversation on whether he should be near the very top.

Greene has youth on his side, and he will be a teenager for the entirety of the upcoming season. That makes him young for the Midwest league, where he’s expected to open the season. If he cleans up there, a promotion to Lakeland could be in order, where he’d face a real challenge. Though this is an unlikely situation, it’s not out of reach. Greene was the best pure hitter among high schoolers in his draft class and he offers above-average raw power. Add in the fact that the Tigers are trying him in center field, and it’s not impossible to imagine a future where evaluators are much more excited about the young outfielder.

The Tigers’ first draft pick isn’t on the radar yet

The MLB draft is a notoriously tricky animal to predict, from the first pick all the way down to the last. That doesn’t stop the industry from trying, though, and three candidates for the first overall selection this June have already emerged — Austin Martin, Emerson Hancock, and Spencer Torkelson. However, the final bold prediction on our list is that the Tigers won’t pick any of them.

The draft isn’t for another six months, and there’s a whole season of college and prep baseball that is yet to be played. True, if the draft were held in January, the aforementioned group would be the prohibitive favorites when the Tigers came on the clock for the first selection. Think back to the winter of 2017, though, when Baseball America gave eventual 18th overall pick Brady Singer that exact label — the “prohibitive favorite” for the top spot. A lot can change in six months, and by draft day, Casey Mize was the obvious choice.

There are a few players positioned to make a leap to the conversation for the first overall pick. Garrett Mitchell, a center fielder from UCLA, has a plus hit tool, is a double-plus runner, and provides solid power. Tennessee lefty Garrett Crochet has excellent spin rates, can sit in the mid-to-high-90s, will show a plus changeup, and challenges hitters with strikes. Baseball America describes prep outfielder Austin Hendrick as not only being the best pure hitter among this year’s high schoolers, but also having “elite bat speed” and “jaw-dropping raw power.” Someone else could step up in a big way as well.

In short, there’s plenty of time for things to change. The race to the top will be an interesting one to follow as June draws closer.