The offseason is drawing to a close, and the Bless You Boys staff have knocked off the ice and are throwing it into Spring mode. That means our prospect content rollout is a full go, and I get to write my favorite article of prospect season, examining the guys who didn’t crack our top 30 prospects list.
There are a number of reasons a player may have been held out from the top group of prospects. Commonly, some combination of age, poor performance, limited pathway to the majors, low potential value, injury can play a part, and you’ll find a sprinkling of all of them in this batch. That’s not to say that these players won’t find themselves on the big league team or a future prospects list. They’re just not there right now.
Of course, there are a whole bevy of names who we included here, and there will be a similar article soon about the international prospects who have yet to come stateside. Feel free to mention anyone else who we may have missed, we’ll be around in the comments to discuss.
RHRP Jason Foley
It feels like Foley has been around forever, which is certainly not an unearned sentiment. Signed as a free agent in 2016, Foley was a fun prospect with some helium after dominating the lower minors with triple digit heat early in his pro career, but he hit some serious speed bumps in recent seasons. He underwent Tommy John surgery, missing the entire 2018 season, and wasn’t included at the 2020 alternate training site. In the intervening time, he was able to put up a decent year at Lakeland, with a 3.89 ERA and 3.74 FIP, striking out nearly a batter per inning.
“What was most important to me was just keeping the mental side of things in check,” said Foley about his successes post-TJS. “Trying to keep the ball down was pretty big, too. Like I said, getting ahead and staying ahead, for me, especially being a bullpen guy.”
If we’re being honest, this will be the final season Foley appears on our list. He’s nearly aged out of prospect status. If he does well, there’s a good chance he’ll be pushed to majors. If he flounders, it would be tough to cling to his high velocity and interesting splitter/slider combo as a reason to keep the faith. If he can tune the splitter up and find a little more command of the fastball in 2021, he’ll move quickly.
UTIL Zack Short
When Tigers fans found out that Nick Castellanos would be traded to the Cubs, Short’s name was one that many on Twitter floated as a possible part of the return. That never came to fruition, instead picking up a pair of pitchers for Castellanos, but the team got a second bite at the apple and snagged him as the return for Cameron Maybin in 2020. He’s not especially impressive, but he gets the most out of his talent and is a respectable return for half a season of a fourth outfielder.
Put frankly, the reason he missed our list is because of his age. He’s nearing 26 years old and hasn’t demonstrated any reason to believe there’s more in the tank as his bat hasn’t held up that well in the upper minors. Short is who he is, which is fine enough, but we opted for the higher potential of others in the organization. In all likelihood, he’ll find some major league playing time in 2021 – he’s already on the Tigers’ 40 man roster. His ideal role is as a 26th man who can act as the caulk to fill in anywhere on the infield when the Tigers’ lineup is stretched too thin.
OF Derek Hill
If it feels like Foley has been around forever, then Hill is a veritable antique. The Tigers first round pick back in 2014 out of high school, the defensive standout finally made his debut in the major leagues last season, hitting .091/.167/.091 in 12 plate appearances over 15 games, backfilling the roster after Maybin was dealt at the deadline. As little as 2020 mattered for players who got reps all season, it means even less for someone who played only a fraction, so I’m not about to excoriate him for that slashline. However, he looked exactly how we thought he would.
At this point, what can be said about Hill that hasn’t already been written? He’s speedy on the bases, talented in the field, and has one heck of a motor, but no matter what he does, he’ll always be battling against his limp offensive output. He may make a place for himself on the team in a Jarrod Dyson role, but that’s not much to write home about.
RHP Carlos Guzman
Guzman was the darling of prospect Twitter after a strong short season A-ball debut in 2018. Unfortunately, the converted infielder he suffered an elbow injury of undisclosed nature that ended his 2019 campaign prematurely. He was unable to play in a competitive setting for the whole of 2020, so it’s really very unclear what he’ll look like in the spring when he finally takes the mound again. In Bless You Boys’ two in-person looks, his well regarded changeup was nowhere to be seen and he looked more like an interesting relief project than a future starter.
His fastball has fun, riding life and it was his most promising pitch in both appearances we were able to see. One AL scout joked that it was a relief to finally watch someone pitch with a little zip behind his heater. The range of outcomes here is chasmatic—which, upon examination, isn’t a word, but I’ve used it for far too long to give up the ghost now—and it’s easy to dream on the potential of a young guy who is so new to pitching and has obvious feel for the sport. If he comes back from the injury looking good, he may find a spot in the midseason list.
RHP Wilkel Hernandez
Hernandez was a company favorite to break out last season, and even though he lost the year of competitive play, ears were perking up at reports he was popping 97 mph in the instructional league. Of course, he immediately suffered a complete UCL tear and required reconstruction surgery, meaning he’s going to miss all of 2021 as well. While most guys come back as good as new, two straight years out of action is terrible news for a guy who was a project to begin with.
If Hernandez is going to make it with the Tigers, he’ll need to take advantage of the rehab process to gain strength and come back throwing just as hard. It’s hard to assess what other work needs to be done, as we don’t know what progress he may have made behind closed doors, but when we last saw him live his breaking ball was somewhat loopy and he struggled to keep it down. That may also be an area for growth to watch for in 2022.
Of course, you can find our full list of top prospects here. Feel free to check it out and let us know in the comments whether we should have included one (or more!) of these players in the final cut.