After the last 365 days, it feels like time just expands or contracts based on just how miserable the news is on a given day. But one way or another, baseball is thankfully going to return to our lives quite soon. We’re now just a month from pitchers and catchers reporting to Lakeland, and so we have reached the season of prospect lists.
First up this year among the major prospect sites is the venerable Baseball America, who dropped their new top 100 list today. As you’d expect with a system that has been pumped by a succession of high picks in the draft, the Detroit Tigers are quite well represented. Despite their debuts, neither Casey Mize nor Tarik Skubal lost their prospect status, and so this year is probably the high water mark for the Tigers farm system. On the other hand, beyond their top five, the falloff is fairly steep.
As it happens, no other team has five prospects in Baseball America’s top 40 prospects right now. In fact, no other team has more than three. It should be interesting to see how their overall ranking of the farm systems plays out as a result, but as always, take these things with a grain of salt. Without much 2020 action, this is all just a pale substitute until we actually get a full, or near full, minor league season of development to see changes made over the past year play out on the field.
For the time being, take a look at Baseball America’s top 100 list and reports, dream of sunny days and green grass, and as always, please consider a subscription to their site to support the consistently high quality reporting and analysis they produce.
Spencer Torkelson is now the Tigers highest ranked prospect, checking in as the fifth ranked prospect in baseball. Post-draft, Baseball America had him ranked eighth overall, but as others graduated from the list, and reports from various team training sites disseminated out to the prospecting community in the fall, they’ve made some adjustments. BA compares the Tigers top prospect to athletic first baseman like Paul Konerko and Paul Goldschmidt in terms of potential future impact.
Torkelson’s hit tool draws a 60 grade here, while his power gets the maximum on the scale, an 80 grade. Their report highlights expectations for an aggressive path through the minor leagues.
Torkelson has plus bat speed and manages the strike zone with ease. His advanced barrel control and hand-eye coordination are complemented by exceptional timing. He hits all types of pitches, draws walks and makes balls disappear with his 80-grade power. In short, he projects to be an offensive force in the middle of a lineup.
Next up is a bit of a surprise as hard-throwing left-hander Tarik Skubal jumps ten spots to check in as the 20th best prospect in baseball, and the Tigers second ranked prospect overall. Baseball America doesn’t do present and future grades, so this is all future projection. They give his fastball and slider both 60 grades, while the curveball checks in as a 55 and the changeup at 50.
We could quibble a bit with those as his changeup actually developed into a weapon for him in 2020, while the breaking balls, particularly the curveball, remain inconsistent. Still, the changeup’s effectiveness is more of a function of how it plays off his heavy fastball usage. Meanwhile, that fastball regularly appears a 70 grade offering, outshining his other weapons to such a degree that a fallback plan as a late innings reliever continues to draw mention. That isn’t going to happen, of course, unless durability presents a problem.
Casey Mize sees his stock drop somewhat after a rocky debut in 2020. The Tigers former number one prospect checks in third here, and just 28th overall on Baseball America’s list. His pitch grades remain consistent, with the fastball and slider grading as 60’s, while the splitter gets a double-plus grade and the curveball draws an average mark of 50.
The two things that plagued Mize in 2020 were an inconsistent arm slot and corresponding mediocre command. As advanced command was his calling card as the first overall pick in 2018, that’s a bit frustrating, but the stuff remains excellent. As long as he stays healthy, look for better consistency and results in 2021.
Hints of a harder cutter were observed back in spring training, but were absent in major league action, while the lagging grades on the curveball may look out of date if Mize can continue dialing in the frisbee slider style break he was getting on the pitch in September. Don’t sweat the drop in the rankings much. As long as his shoulder is healthy, Mize is an excellent bet to rebound under more normal conditions in 2021.
Matt Manning is probably the toughest case, as we simply didn’t see much of him in 2020 despite his proximity to the major leagues. Add to that a forearm injury that led to an early shutdown and 2020, as it was for most prospects, became a bit of a lost season of potential development for the hard-throwing right-hander. Baseball America now has him as the 30th best prospect in the game, down 15 spots from his final ranking in 2020, and as the fourth best prospect in the Tigers system.
As a result of the limited action, Manning’s tool grades remain unchanged. Most expect his natural athleticism and feel for pitching to ultimately produce above average command despite his huge frame. He still packs a power fastball with enormous extension that we saw touch triple digits last spring. The curveball continues to draw plus grades, while his developing changeup draws a 55 grade from Baseball America. We still maintain that a harder breaking ball that pairs more naturally with his shifty power fastball is the key to putting the whole repertoire together.
Manning turns 23 in late January, and the 2021 season will tell us a lot after a year in which he was largely out of sight. If he can put the forearm issue behind him, Manning has a path to his major league debut this season. It should be very interesting to see what the new development team and major league coaching staff have planned for him this season.
Having already seen Greene hold his own in game situations last spring against major league caliber pitchers, it’s easy to feel like he’s a bit low here. He hit some impressive home runs and put together strong at-bats last spring before he’d even played a season in the minor leagues. However, the situation is similar to Manning’s; we just didn’t get to see enough of the now 20-year-old outfielder to have opinions altered.
Greene consistent draws plus grades for his hit tool, and Baseball America agrees, putting a 60 on him there. A 55 power grade feels a bit light after seeing some of the tape measure shots he hit in Lakeland and knowing that reports consistently praise the physical work he put in during quarantine to add quality muscle. Greene probably doesn’t have the speed to play center field in Comerica Park for the long haul, but he’s a good defender with the arm to handle right field. He should be a staple there for the Tigers for years to come. Considering the lack of work for him thus far, it will be interesting to see how aggressive his assignment is in 2021. A start at Double-A Erie seems fairly likely, but we’ll know more during spring camp.
The Tigers top ten list rounds out with Isaac Paredes, new catching prospect Dillon Dingler, outfielders Daz Cameron and Daniel Cabrera, and starting pitcher Alex Faedo, who will miss the 2021 campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the fall.