With the Super Bowl now behind us, and pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in just a few days, the 2021 baseball season is ready to get underway. To kick off our preseason coverage of your Detroit Tigers, it is time for the annual ritual, as we present our ranking of the Tigers top 30 prospects.
This year’s edition was certainly made trickier than normal as so many of the club’s prospects saw no game action in 2020. There were hints from the alternate site training camp in Toledo back in August and September, as well as from the development camp in Lakeland in October. Overall, most were hidden from view over the past year, and that makes it particularly difficult to rank players. A year is a huge amount of time in a young player’s development.
Our methodology — such as it is — didn’t change much. Five staff members who follow the farm system closely each produced their own top 30 list, and we assigned point values to each position to reach our consensus list. In a nod to the fact that we didn’t get to see many of them play much over the past year, a sixth list, our 2020 preseason rankings, was used to break any ties.
As it happens, there weren’t any ties to break. The top five prospects were ordered differently on various individual staff rankings, but the same five players constituted the top five on each of our lists. Likewise, we each ranked Isaac Paredes sixth, and new catching prospect Dillon Dingler in the seventh spot. As usual, the real debates came in ordering the middle of the list, and who we fit into the final few spots. Overall, the system is extremely strong at the top, a bit thin in high quality depth, and well stocked with interesting long shots.
Scouting reports for each player will begin rolling out next week with more detailed explanations. We will write about top international prospects like Roberto Campos and recently signed Christian Santana elsewhere, but opted to leave players that haven’t played rookie ball yet off the list for now. We’ll also cover some of the players who just missed our list, as the club does actually have a good crop of lottery tickets accumulated who we didn’t hear much from in 2020.
In the meantime, let the debates begin anew, and please be nice to each other. There are bound to be some real surprises this season.
1. IF Spencer Torkelson
The first overall pick in the 2020 amateur draft comfortably seized the top spot in his debut in our rankings. The erstwhile first baseman is getting schooled and promoted by the Tigers as a third baseman — yes, we’re skeptical too — but wherever he ends up, the bat is undeniable. Torkelson is about as good a bet to do damage at the plate as you’ll find in a prospect, and has the discipline and bat control to maximize his bone-crushing power. His ultimate value will depend on which position he ends up playing, but few in the baseball world doubt that the Arizona State alum will be an offensive force when he arrives in Detroit.
2. RHP Casey Mize
The other first overall pick acquired by the Tigers over the past few seasons, Mize slips one spot this year after a rocky major league debut in 2020. Obviously, the key concern with any pitching prospect is health. Beyond those typical concerns we remain confident that Mize will bounce back from his first taste of major league hitters, make some adjustments, and ultimately showcase the brand of stuff and advanced command we saw through much of his full season minor league debut in 2019. Mize is a student of the game and likes to tinker with his stuff. He and new pitching coach Chris Fetter should gel over those shared strengths, and we’re looking forward to seeing what adjustments Mize makes as he prepares for what should be a healthy — if limited by the lack of innings progression last year — slate of major league starts in 2021.
3. OF Riley Greene
Greene is the only player other than Torkelson to claim the top spot on any of our staff’s individual rankings. While he was sidelined in 2020 without a minor league schedule, glimpses of him in the major league camps were very impressive. He was the star of the show last February and March before COVID-19 shut down Grapefruit League action. Reports are that he has continued to add muscle while working hard to maintain his speed. He’s a very advanced hitter with plus raw power and a solid toolkit in terms of speed and defense that may ultimately make him the Tigers’ best position player in a year or two. We remain skeptical that his future lies in center field, but the club got a good one with the sixth selection in the 2019 draft, and we are eager to see where he’s at after a season largely spent out of the spotlight.
4. RHP Matt Manning
The big right-hander out of Sacramento, Calif. was a bit of a risky selection when the Tigers took him with the eighth overall pick back in 2016. Manning had only been pitching for a couple of years at that point and was a fairly raw arm talent coming out of high school. The Tigers bet on his athleticism as a two-sport star and that wager looks to be close to paying off handsomely. Seeing him smoothly pumping 99 mile-per-hour fastballs last spring was a sign that he has developed into the well-built, power-pitching specimen the Tigers hoped for. Now, with some adjustments to his mechanics and what Manning recently described as a new curveball with more sweeping break, he’s poised to refine those secondary offerings a little further and make his major league debut in 2021. The upside here remains enormous.
5. LHP Tarik Skubal
This hard-throwing southpaw is Tigers general manager Al Avila’s greatest find to date. A ninth round selection back in 2018, Skubal had Tommy John surgery and missed all of his 2017 season. He also played for a small up-and-coming school in Seattle University, and a solid return from surgery in 2018 went a little under the radar. Entering the draft, he was viewed as a future power lefty who would likely find his way to a major league bullpen, and there are still a contingent of prospect watchers who think he might be best used in that capacity. The Tigers are unlikely to agree any time soon. Skubal proved the quality of his fastball in 2020 under adverse conditions, and has built himself into great physical condition over the past two seasons. There’s quite a bit of athleticism and work ethic there, and we like his chances of developing his secondaries and command a little further and taking it to the next level in 2021.
6. IF Isaac Paredes
This was a consensus ranking among the whole staff. Since coming to the Tigers in the 2017 deal that also netted Jeimer Candelario, Paredes has been a good bet to hit at the major league level. Just 19 at the time of the trade, he will turn just 22 years old this month and has already made his MLB debut. A precocious hitter at every level, Paredes doesn’t provide much value defensively or on the basepaths, so he will have to put a few more balls in the seats than we have seen thus far, or become a real OBP machine. COVID restrictions didn’t give him much time to prepare, and he hadn’t played above Double-A yet when he made his major league debut, so we’re not taking much from his first glimpse at major league pitching. He has the skills to slug his way into the lineup even if his ultimate defensive home is unclear.
7. C Dillon Dingler
The Tigers 2020 draft was pretty popular. With the first overall pick and a comp pick after the second round, the onus was on the front office to maximize all six picks in the abbreviated version of the draft, and their work was generally well received. Dingler was generally pegged to go late in the first round or first comp round, so when he fell to the Tigers at No. 38 overall, they happily called his name. Only recently converted to catching full-time, the former Buckeye is a toolsy, athletic catcher whose skills have progressed rapidly. With some feel to hit and the chance for further power potential, there is a nice floor of skills with the upside of a long-term franchise catcher in play.
8. LHP Joey Wentz
This one was made a bit treacherous by the fact that Wentz underwent Tommy John surgery last March and won’t be back on the mound until at least mid-summer. However, the last time we saw him he had come over from the Atlanta system in return for Shane Greene and just shoved in five starts for the Erie SeaWolves. The big lefthander was originally drafted in the first comp round back in 2016, and while he was never flashy, he increasingly looked like a pretty good starting pitching prospect here. If things go well, he should be able to get his feet wet late in the season and hopefully resume his path to the majors in 2022.
9. OF Daz Cameron
Over the past two seasons since coming over from Houston in the Justin Verlander deal, Cameron has remained tantalizingly close to developing into a pretty good outfielder. He’s a smart player who does a lot of things well and packs surprising punch despite his rangy frame. Unfortunately, it just hasn’t come together for him at the plate. Cameron had a rough 2020, going from a serious case of COVID-19 and pneumonia right into camp, and ultimately a brief major league debut. We’re not taking much from any of that, but if he is ever going to trim the strikeouts and start making consistent hard contact, it needs to happen in 2021.
10. RHP Franklin Pérez
We elected to leave the big righthander off the top 30 list for 2020 simply because he had barely pitched since coming over from the Houston Astros. He managed just 27 total innings combined in 2018 and 2019 due to ongoing shoulder problems. Still, whenever he does make a brief appearance, his potential to become good mid-rotation starter looks intact. At this point, the Tigers would be happy if he could provide some value in relief. His arm health this year was never an issue, but, of course, that’s mainly because it wasn’t tested. We’ve reinstalled him in our top 30, and we will see how he holds up in 2021.
11. C Jake Rogers
We’re rolling with Rogers one more time despite fears that the Tigers themselves are losing the faith here. After a very rough 35 game debut in late 2019, during which he struck out nearly 40 percent of the time, Rogers didn’t even get a look in 2020 despite meager competition. He has had a track record of struggling at each new level and ultimately figuring it out, but the last step is the biggest. Over the past year, the Tigers and independent hitting instructor Doug Latta have coordinated on Rogers’ mechanics and approach. We’ve yet to see if the work has paid any dividends, but Rogers should get the opportunity to make his case this season. If he can trim the strikeouts and find the barrel a little more, he may yet lock down a long term gig on the basis of his catching alone.
12. OF Daniel Cabrera
Cabrera was widely projected to go late in the first round or near the top of the second round in the 2020 draft. Many would have been content to land him with the 38th overall pick, which ultimately became Dillon Dingler. So it was a bit of a coup to land the LSU product in the Comp B round with the 62nd overall pick. Cabrera doesn’t really have a standout tool, but is a solid all-around corner outfielder who performed well against top college pitching. He features a gritty approach and enough feel to hit to reach the majors in some capacity. The upside here isn’t terribly exciting, as a swing geared for line drives will need to max out its modest power potential for him to become an above average regular. Much more likely is a major league future in a platoon or fourth outfielder role.
13. OF Parker Meadows
One player we were really looking forward to seeing in 2020 was this super toolsy outfield prospect. The Tigers selected him out of high school with their second round pick in 2018, and Meadows quickly established that his speed and power potential were as good as advertised. The ceiling here is pretty high, and Meadows has enough tools to provide some major league value even if the bat doesn’t come as far as we hope. Unfortunately, he struggled at the plate in his 2019 full season debut and was overmatched at times by Class-A level pitching. Meadows’ six-foot, five-inch frame has filled out with quality muscle, and the Tigers have worked on cleaning up his swing, but the variance is pretty high right now. His size and speed will buy him plenty of time but there needs to be real progress in 2021.
14. RHP Alex Faedo
The club’s first round selection back in 2017, the former Florida Gator has spun his wheels somewhat in pro ball, and unfortunately his 2020 ended with Tommy John surgery in December. Faedo continues to show a good slider and advanced strike throwing, but his fastball has been homer prone and his changeup is still a laggard as a third pitch. He took some lumps in his first foray at the Double-A level in 2018, but revamped his mechanics and came back with a livelier fastball in 2019. The hope now is that his recovery goes well and he can get himself into peak shape by the time he returns in 2022. Nowadays he looks more like a relief prospect, but if he can find another gear as he re-conditions his arm, a future as a back-end starter is still potentially in the cards.
15. IF Colt Keith
You don’t often land a pretty good prep prospect in the fifth round, so we were pleased to see the Tigers put together enough bonus pool money to sign him in the 2020 draft. Keith has a strong enough throwing arm to draw notice as a pitching prospect as well, but the Tigers like the bat and will presumably keep him on the left side of the infield in A-ball this season. Already a good athlete, Keith is still raw as a hitter but shows good power potential. The variance of potential outcomes is pretty high, but we’ll bet on the projection and development time ahead of him.
16. IF Gage Workman
Workman is another interesting project who was a bit young as a junior in the 2020 draft. He was only 20 years of age when the Tigers picked him in the fourth round. A good third baseman who could handle shortstop in a pinch, Workman’s 6’4 frame packs plenty of power potential. The hit tool is still a question mark here and his production for Arizona State was muted during the abbreviated season. Still, he has decent feel to hit already, and if he can develop enough at the plate to take advantage of his power potential, the Tigers could have an everyday third baseman here. Most likely, he’s held back by his bat and tops out as a good defensive backup infielder with some power.
17. OF Jose de la Cruz
We’ve been waiting on some of the Tigers top international signings over the past few signing periods, and right now this 19-year-old slugger is tops on our radar. He made waves in Dominican Summer League action in 2019, crunching 11 home runs in just 56 games while posting some impressive exit velocity data off the barrel. A born right fielder, de la Cruz has a plus throwing arm, but his speed is average at best and may tick down as he adds muscle. The swing and approach are still raw, as evidenced by a near 30 percent strikeout rate, but he’s very young and there is quite a bit to work with here. With patience, the Tigers might be well rewarded here in the end.
18. IF/OF Bryant Packard
Mr. Packard has become a bit of an underdog favorite for a lot of Tigers prospect watchers. Defensively, he is limited by his lack of speed and arm strength and probably fits best at first base with left field as a backup plan. Players with that profile have to mash, and Packard may be able to make that work. We only got a short look at Packard after he was selected in the fifth round back in 2019, and like most of the Tigers’ prospects, he has been largely out of sight over the past year. Packard has some command of the strike zone, but was still vulnerable to better stuff at the Class-A level. He has a narrow path to the majors in that his contact ability has to improve substantially to get him there, but we will be interested to see him tackle the Double-A level in 2021.
19. IF Adinso Reyes
The next of the Tigers’ recent international signings, Reyes was inked alongside de la Cruz in 2018, receiving a bonus of $1.45 million. At the time, that was the second biggest bonus the club had allotted to an international free agent (de la Cruz’s $1.8 million was the largest). The two represented a change toward the front office taking bigger swings in that market, and Reyes has impressed enough to make the club happy with that investment so far. He has already filled out with solid muscle, and while he may not have de la Cruz’s raw power, Reyes has better feel to hit and a swing better suited for consistent contact. He won’t offer much in the way of defensive value at third base, but the bat will bear watching over the next few seasons.
20. 2B Kody Clemens
Like Packard, Clemens is another all-bat college player with a narrow but plausible path to the show. He is limited to the right side of the infield or possibly left field because of mediocre range and arm strength, but could hit his way to the majors anyway. Despite his modest defensive abilities, Clemens, like Daz Cameron, shows the polish of a lifetime spent around the highest levels of the game. He looks like he belongs, but it can mask the fact that he’s still a long shot to become an everyday player for the Tigers. If he can adapt to life in the upper minors, a scenario where he develops into a Tommy La Stella-type pest against right-handed pitching seems like the ceiling.
21. SS Wenceel Perez
Perez had a little buzz around him when he arrived in West Michigan in 2019, but overall his full season debut went rather poorly, knocking him down several spots in this year’s top 30. When last we saw him, Perez showed the tools to be a quality defensive shortstop, but needs to tighten his game there to maintain a legitimate path to major league playing time. He makes a lot of contact, but his slight frame produces little power, and that is going to have to change for him to become a name to watch closely. We wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a part-time role for the Tigers down the road, but things will have to take a leap to hope for more. Once again, though, at last we saw him regularly he was 19 going on 20. A lot can change in a year at that age, and so there will be plenty of interesting storylines to follow when the 2021 minor league season gets underway.
22. IF Nick Quintana
The Tigers spent a valuable second round pick on the former Arizona Wildcats third baseman in 2019, and then watched him flail at the plate for two months. It’s reasonable not to make much of that, as his track record says his brutal 41-game debut for the West Michigan Whitecaps was an anomaly. Quintana is a solid third baseman with good power to the pull field, but he struck out 31 percent of the time in his stops in rookie ball and Class-A. We expect him to show a much better side of himself at the plate in 2021, but if he struggles again in the lower levels, it will become difficult to keep the faith.
23. IF Trei Cruz
The Tigers’ third round pick in 2020, Cruz is another of their prospects with a strong major league bloodline. He matriculated from Rice University, where he was a standout shortstop. He also made a big impression in the Cape Cod League back in 2019, cashing in despite the short college season last year. Overall, his defensive game is solid and the Tigers are inclined to keep him at the shortstop position despite fringy arm strength for the position. Cruz has a fairly advanced approach, sprays line drives around the field, and shows enough raw power and feel for contact to keep things interesting. He will be a key name to watch for this summer.
24. RHP Alex Lange
The 25-year-old Lange was a 2017 first round pick by the Chicago Cubs who came to Detroit in the Nicholas Castellanos deal. Now a reliever, Lange saw his fastball velocity rebound after it dipped in pro ball in a starting role. Back to topping out at 95 mph with his four-seamer, Lange has a quality changeup in the making to go with a slider and curveball that still blend together somewhat. He was throwing well in the camps last season, and for a while looked to have a shot at his major league debut. If his command is good this spring he has a shot to make the bullpen out of camp. One way or another, his deep repertoire will earn him a look at the majors this season, while his ability to go multiple innings may keep him there as the club looks to keep a tight rein on innings for their starters.
25. RHP Keider Montero
Montero signed with the Tigers out of Venezuela back in 2016 and popped onto the radar with a strong short season debut back in 2019. At 6’1, Montero doesn’t have the prototypical build for a durable hard-throwing starter, but his athleticism on the mound may carry him anyway, as his powerful lower half gets him down the mound with good extension for his size. He sits in the low 90s currently, but has topped out at 96 miles per hour, throws plenty of strikes, and features a high-spin breaking ball that still requires refinement. Just 20 years old, he has time for everything to come together, but may ultimately be a quality two-pitch reliever when all is said and done. He will tackle the Single-A levels this year and should move quickly if he has continued to develop over the past year.
26. OF Akil Baddoo
The former Minnesota Twins prospect was claimed by the Tigers in the Rule 5 draft back in December. With plus speed and good power, Baddoo is an interesting young outfielder who is still just 22 years old. He also has been out of action since blowing out his UCL back in 2019. His speed and power combination in a left-handed outfielder is intriguing, and he has performed well in A-ball, but he had contact issues that make a leap to the majors this year seem quite ill-advised. The Tigers stashed Victor Reyes throughout the 2018 season, but that isn’t likely to be feasible this year. If they like what they see from Baddoo this spring, hopefully they can work out a deal with the Twins for his full rights and keep him on a more reasonable development curve.
27. IF Andre Lipcius
The Tigers’ 3rd rounder in 2019, Lipcius has a solid all-around skill set that could make him a major leaguer even if his hit tool never reaches its full potential. Lipcius has the arm and the glove to play anywhere in the infield, but his limited range makes a future as a shortstop unlikely. His swing is geared to make plenty of contact, but more suited to spraying line drives and ground balls than hitting for power. Everything would have to come together perfectly for Lipcius to make it as an everyday second or third baseman, but the floor to his projections is high enough that an eventual part-time role is a reasonable bet.
28. RHP Zack Hess
A starter in college for LSU, the Tigers plucked Hess in the seventh round of the 2019 draft on the basis of his power fastball-slider combination and converted him to relief immediately, as he showed little sign of affinity for a changeup. The 6’6 righthander can dial the heat up into the high 90s, and has good riding life on the fastball. The slider was still inconsistent when last we saw him, but the potential for a plus pitch is present there as well. Hess was overpowering in his first exposure to pro ball but still struggled to master his long limbs and locate consistently. If his command has improved over the past year and a half he should move quickly into the upper levels in 2021 with a shot at his major league debut.
29. RHP Beau Burrows
Staff sentiment is pretty low on Beau Burrows right now. In fact, his place on the list was the lone executive decision, [ed.: I fought to keep him off the list too] as most of the staff have lost the faith here. The 2015 first rounder got off to a promising start in his career in pro ball, but has stagnated the past few seasons. Without gains in his fastball or changeup in recent years, he’s struggled somewhat in the upper minors. In 2019, things came to a head and a litany of shoulder and arm issues limited him to a shaky 65 innings of work. The Tigers may move him back to a starting role in 2021, but really his best hope appears to be in the bullpen. Based on his metrics in 2020, Burrows has the stuff to handle major league hitters, but entering his sixth full season of pro ball, and holding a 40 man roster spot, he really needs to turn things around this year.
30. IF Alvaro Gonzalez
Gonzalez is another of the Tigers big ticket international free agent signings in recent years. The club inked him for a million dollars back in 2017 as a switch-hitting contact hitter with the skills and athleticism to stick at the shortstop position as his body fills out. He came stateside in 2019 and showed off advanced discipline, bat speed, and contact ability, though there are still scant signs of power coming through in games as of yet. Now 20, he has the hands, arm, and range to develop into a good shortstop. There’s a lot of polish required, but he’s added some muscle and has the bat speed to hit for enough power to stick. If it starts to show up in games this season he could see his stock blow up like Wall Street Bets got involved.