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The Whitecaps are the gem of the Tigers’ farm system as minor leagues restart

Here’s a look at Tigers minor league storylines and oddities from the start of the 2021 season.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The long and painful wait is finally over; minor league baseball is back, and the commissioner’s office would have you believe it’s better than ever! Shut down for the whole of 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, minor league action reopened for the 2021 season on Tuesday. It was a breath of fresh air for prospect junkies everywhere, including yours truly. While it would be tempting to say that nature is healing, I’m not a scientist, but even I can see that at least the baseball part of nature is healing.

Detroit baseball isn’t much to look at, so the attention of many Tigers fans will justifiably be aimed at the minor leagues. That’s no different behind the curtain here at Bless You Boys – we’re slowly working through the last of our prospect profiles as the season begins, and we’re doing our best to get you in-person coverage of the team’s prospects.

For the time being, let’s take a look at the storylines that should capture interest as the MiLB season kicks off for 2021.

The Whitecaps are loaded

In the reshuffling of the minor leagues that occurred while lower levels of baseball were hibernating, West Michigan became the Tigers’ High-A affiliate. It’s a move that we wrote about at the time as being beneficial for the team, the players, and the fans. So far, the latter part has come true, as your friendly neighborhood ‘Caps are so stacked it’s silly. The team opened their season with recognizable prospects like Dillon Dingler, Daniel Cabrera, Parker Meadows, and even Spencer freaking Torkelson on the team. That’s hardly an all inclusive list, but it’s already more than enough to get any Tigers prospect fan hot under the collar.

With so many fun players on the roster, one who may fall through the cracks in the scope of public attention is Keider Montero. The young pitcher has been an under the radar favorite of a number of Bless You Boys staff for a couple of years, and he’s finally at a high enough level to make waves in the minor leagues. He has a low-90s fastball, but batters have to respect it because his high-spin curve will make them look silly if they stop paying attention. He lost his command in his first start of the year on Opening Day, but that shouldn’t be much of an ongoing concern. Sure, West Michigan is stacked with players who will draw your attention, but don’t forget to do your civic duty and board the Montero bandwagon before he grabs mainstream attention.

Riley Greene is carrying the SeaWolves

The Tiger’s High-A roster is the hub of a lot of excitement for minor league aficionados, but the same can’t be said for the Double-A Erie SeaWolves. Sure, they’re carrying Riley Greene on the team, but the dropoff in talent after him is steep. The Tigers have a roster of veteran minor leaguers around him, and the club’s experience could make them a force in Eastern League play, but they aren’t names to watch for the future. So, unless you’re an Elvin Rodriguez fan—he looked pretty good in his debut—or you’re carrying a torch for Max Green—and let’s be honest, who isn’t?—there’s not a lot to see here until Torkelson, Dingler and the rest crash the party.

It would be a bit unfair to glaze over Greene’s assignment to Double-A in the first place, though. He was the fifth pick in the 2019 draft, a high schooler with unusual polish for his age at the time, and has done nothing but impress since turning pro. The expectation among many was that Detroit would slow-play his development at least at first and start him with West Michigan, but he’s done enough to earn an assignment to Double-A during his age-20 season. That’s a heck of an accomplishment, but experts have compared his pure hitting ability to Torkelson’s and he feels ready for the challenge.

The Triple-A outfield is.... something

When you open up a Toledo Mud Hens roster, prepare to be thoroughly whelmed. There’s a lot of recognizable names in the batch, but nothing to get bent out of shape about. It’s all in the execution, though, and stuff got wacky on opening night. Daz Cameron is starting the season on the injured list and Nomar Mazara is a part-time designated hitter, meaning Toledo is short-staffed in the outfield.

Luckily for the Hens, they have Derek Hill in center field, because their opening night defense saw him flanked on the right with Christin Stewart and on the left by Eric Haase. Nope, your read that right; Toledo played catcher Eric Haase as the starting left fielder on opening night. Everything about that defensive alignment is beautifully sadistic and weird, but it turned out fine from an offensive standpoint. Haase notched a hit and two walks, while Stewart drove in three runs on a pair of hits.

I’m excessively curious as to whether the Tigers plan to keep Haase in the outfield long term in an strange attempt to turn him into left field depth or if it was a fun way to compensate for the lack of bodies available. Haase just doesn’t quite have the skills behind the plate that you’d like to see, and so this may simply be a way to keep his high powered, high whiff bat in the lineup. Either way, it’s delightful and I’m glad it happened.

With Victor Reyes optioned to Toledo, and the presumed return of Cameron, there will eventually be some real decisions to make in the Hens’ outfield. For now, we’re just hoping to see Riley Greene force his way into the group later this season.

MLB: Detroit Tigers-Workouts
Eric Haase, alleged left fielder
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get excited about exit velocity

There’s something unquantifiable about how exciting it is for something in baseball to reach triple digits. 100 wins is a mountaintop. 100 losses incites disgust. Can you remember your reaction when your first saw a pitcher crack 100 miles per hour with his fastball. It’s visceral. It’s animal. It transcends the sport and goes directly into the place where our instincts are housed.

Fine, I’ll stop being pretentious. I just wanted an excuse to get nerdy about some prospects’ hitting in their first few at-bats.

Workman stood out in a Detroit draft class that was one of the best in the league for his sheer value. Projected to be taken as early as the second round, the Tigers grabbed this tooled-up infielder in the fourth. His hit tool is lagging, but he can clearly contribute some juice to the lineup and the Tigers have prioritized him at the shortstop position for the Lakeland Flying Tigers so far.

Ulrich Bojarski clobbered the ball in his first taste of minor league action this year, hitting two singles at 105 and 104 miles per hour respectively. Bojarski isn’t likely to hit, but when he does, they leave the bat in haste. Wenceel Perez also put the hurt on one, hitting a 103 mile per hour dinger. We’ll be looking for outfielder Jose De La Cruz to make his mark in this regard soon as well. Finally, former second round pick, 3B Nick Quintana, whose 2019 post-draft debut was positively brutal to watch at the plate, is off to a much better start in Lakeland with a homer, a double, and just two strikeouts in 20 AB so far.

Avert your eyes from the fact they’re repeating Low-A. This is fun, don’t ruin it.