Final roster battles are taking shape for the Detroit Tigers as the spring training calendar reaches the home stretch with the regular season looming just two weeks away. Many of those battles involve the club’s prospects, each fighting to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.
For his part, manager A.J. Hinch seems to be running a very competitive camp where performance is going to determine the roster he takes north to Detroit. We know that contract status and other factors will play a role in their decision making, but it certainly looks like there are numerous prospects with a chance to earn a job. The rest will have plenty of opportunities to contribute as the season progresses.
So, over the final few weeks, we’re going to tackle a few of our usual preseason questions via roundtable format. And today we’ll begin with a fun one. The fact that there are numerous plausible answers is a good feeling and speaks to the young talent on the cusp of the major leagues.
This week’s question: Who is your choice for 2021 Tigers Rookie of the Year?
Patrick O’Kennedy: I’ll go with Tarik Skubal. He seems to be pitching better than Casey Mize or Matt Manning thus far, and that could lead to him either making the opening day roster or getting called up sooner. There’s no telling which of these prospects will wind up having the best career, or even the best season, but Skubal is on the most promising trajectory through 2020 and thus far in spring training, 2021. He came from down the pack, rather than starting at the top of the list after being drafted, and he moved up the charts quickly.
I also expect good things from Isaac Paredes, but that could be down the road a few months. We should see a good number of rookie prospects this season, including some who made their debuts last year. History tells us that most will struggle, even the future stars, and some will never gain traction in the major leagues. The exception is a player who comes up and hits the ground running, exploding onto the scene.
Brady McAtamney: Akil Baddoo would be the trendy answer right now, but I think I’m going to go with Isaac Paredes. He definitely looked rough at times last year, but I think with a full spring training and a bit of time in Triple-A, he can come up in late May/early June and look much more comfortable — especially since he’s got MLB experience under his belt now.
Tarik Skubal is a good answer too. Honestly, he could end up being our best pitcher this season.
Jay Markle: Just for the sake of being different, I will somewhat aspirationally predict the Jake Rogers will be the Tigers rookie of the year. Obviously, he has not been good in camp, but the Tigers depth at catcher gets pretty anemic after Wilson Ramos.
Rogers skills behind the plate and power at the plate are undoubtedly major league skills and he has a track record of improving drastically in his second stint at any level. Any of the major pitchers is an easy answer, but pitching at the major league level is a huge learning curve. Instead of gambling on Skubal’s new changeup or Mize’s efforts to improve his fastball, I’ll stick to the guy who only needs to put up an 85 wRC+ to get the starting job. Don’t be fooled by last year’s performance, he got a decent shot at clearly being the best catcher in the whole dang organization by June.
Zane Harding: I have to go with Tarik Skubal. After the rough introduction for both him and Casey Mize, Skubal has started to show signs of “figuring things out” first. Skubal struck out 20 across his final three starts last year (14.2 IP), and now he’s adding a splitter into a mix that is already working. My second choice would go to Casey Mize, but the difference between the two as of now is two-fold. Skubal is going to win a spot in the rotation; I can’t see Mize doing the same just yet. Similarly, Skubal can command his fastball; Mize’s fastball has not. A lot can change over a year, but Skubal enters the season as the guy who has impressed me the most.
Adam Dubbin: I’m going with Matt Manning. I’m taking Manning because I’m a huge fan of his and also to mix things up a little here — after all, how can we name the other two members of the triumvirate and not him? While the Tigers seemingly have had the shortest leash with him, I still think he has the highest ceiling. Plus, the slight modifications to his delivery as well as the development of a second breaking pitch could unlock a lot of potential that has been held back thus far. He clearly has a steeper slope to climb than Mize and Skubal this year, since he hasn’t tasted MLB coffee yet, but he’s a guy who could emerge as a tugboat in the rotation, especially if Fulmer, Boyd, et al struggle or get injured. He’s a darkhorse candidate for sure, but don’t count Matt Manning out.
Rob Rogacki: I’ll take Casey Mize. He hasn’t had the greatest spring so far, but he’s still probably the most MLB-ready of our pitching prospects, and has some MLB experience under his belt already. It’s not fair to constantly compare him to Justin Verlander, but Verlander struggled quite a bit in a pair of starts in 2005 before taking off in 2006. Mize also struck out nearly a batter per inning last year. If he can settle down a bit and locate the fastball, he will be fine.
Ashley MacLennan: Tarik Skubal because of all the hyped pitching prospects he has absolutely looked the most like he has future potential. I still think Mize will figure it out, but I’m just not sure he’s going to be the second coming of JV. Hopefully, some work with a good pitching coach will get both of them on track for a good season. Can I jump ahead a year and pick Riley Greene?
Brandon Day: Really it’s just nice to have a bunch of good, plausible answers to this question. Any of the big three pitchers could easily get the nod. Paredes, Baddoo, Daz Cameron, Jake Rogers...even a reliever like Alex Lange could turn out to be most valuable in his role.
For me though, I’m going with Tarik Skubal. I still think he’s flying under the radar in terms of national coverage. If he tunes his slider up a little more hitters are going to be in serious trouble. This side of Jacob deGrom, there’s no starter in the game with a better fastball. The pitch was an absolutely incredible weapon all the way through the upper minors, and Skubal’s partial season work in 2020 made it pretty clear that the heater will remain a force at the major league level.
Early returns on Skubal’s new splitter are also pretty positive, and despite a somewhat elaborate delivery, his athleticism argues that his command will keep improving. Casey Mize will ultimately get beyond his early struggles, but it will probably take him longer as he learns to use a more complicated repertoire requiring good command of 4-5 pitches. A huge fastball is a great equalizer and simplifies the path to major league success for Skubal. I expect him to start in the rotation and be the Tigers most valuable pitcher this season. We’ll just have to see how they manage his workload.
Who is your pick as 2021 Tigers Rookie of the Year?
This poll is closed
Other (feel free to elaborate on your longshots in the comments)