The 2021 minor league season held plenty of surprises, and the Detroit Tigers had their share. Returning to action after the cancellation of minor league ball in 2020, players had been largely out of sight for 18 months, and much changed in the prospect landscape behind the scenes. The Tigers can look no further than their own outfield for one of the more eye-popping examples, as Akil Baddoo, who we cautiously ranked 26th last year, went from a decent prep prospect with little more than a year of pro ball, to UCL replacement surgery and nearly two years away from live action, straight to surprising success as a Rule 5 selection.
Most important for the Tigers’ farm system in 2021, was the fact that outfielder Riley Greene and first baseman Spencer Torkelson mashed their way to Triple-A Toledo in their first full seasons of pro ball and looked every bit the standout prospects we expected. That wasn’t a surprise, but it certainly was fun to watch the 20-year-old Greene match his older teammate as they terrorized minor league pitching together, serving notice to the Tigers’ brass that they’re just about ready for their major league close-ups. If one, or ideally both, put up big-time rookie campaigns, it may be enough to carry the club to their first postseason berth since 2014. More likely, it will take a little longer than that to get them both fully acclimated and dialed in, and they don’t need all that pressure just yet. Still, no club in the game is likely to gain as much talent from their farm this season than the Tigers will on those two names alone.
One of the biggest risers on our list is shortstop Ryan Kreidler, who jumped from an honorable mention all the way to eighth this year. Drafted in 2019 with the Tigers’ fourth round pick out of UCLA, there were big questions about Kreidler’s power potential as he was largely projected to move off shortstop in pro ball. So far he’s held his own defensively, and made adjustments to his swing and approach during the off year that unlocked a 22 home run campaign in 2021 that has him looking likely to play at least a part-time role in the Tigers’ future.
Other big jumps were made by two pitchers who barely registered when they were acquired. Right-hander Beau Brieske was a 27th rounder from a small college back in 2019, while another starter, 20-year-old right-hander Wilmer Flores, was picked up out of Arizona Western College as an undrafted free agent. While they don’t have too much in common on the mound, each made a big impression this season and soared up our rankings. Add to them, reliever Jason Foley, who was also an undrafted free agent, and starter Garrett Hill, a 26th rounder back in 2018 who crept up onto the list this season, and someone in the Tigers’ system is doing a solid job finding quality arms well off the beaten path.
The biggest fall from our list this year is ever-injured right-handed pitcher, Franklin Perez. It was a leap of faith to rank him in our 2021 edition after positive reports from the off year, but after a brief reappearance in spring camp, the prize of the Justin Verlander trade was back on the shelf with a balky shoulder within weeks. Perez has thrown just 27 innings since coming over from Houston as a 19-year-old back in 2017. If there’s any silver lining, it’s that Perez did finally did get a more detailed diagnosis on his shoulder and had surgery after being shutdown. For now, we’ll just set him aside, but if Perez happens to finally get beyond the shoulder problems, he could end up right back near the top of the list this time next year.
Overall, you’ll see quite a few new names in our rankings, while a long list including Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Akil Baddoo, Isaac Paredes, Daz Cameron, Jake Rogers, Alex Lange, and more, either graduated or dropped off entirely. International free agents like Cristian Santana and Roberto Campos made enough noise to earn votes of confidence from our staff, while young international signing Adinso Reyes struggled enough in his Complex League debut that he slipped off the list in favor of others. While the Jackson Jobe over Marcelo Mayer in the 2021 draft controversy will have to play out, the fact remains that the Tigers also added quite a few arms we’re somewhat enamored with this summer, including right-hander Reese Olson, who wasn’t drafted but rather acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for Daniel Norris last July.
The system’s top shelf talent will thin out quickly with Greene and Torkelson’s imminent departure. Beyond them there is a decent set of talented prospects who could develop into more. The Tigers have quite a few interesting pitching prospects remaining, but the quality positional depth is pretty shallow. Compared to a lot of teams, the 40 to 45 future value range just isn’t that well stocked and our list contains a lot of relative longshots in the latter half. The lack of international free agents breaking out, despite substantial investment in that area over the last four seasons has to give one pause as well. Hopefully the new development staff can produce more positive surprises in 2022.
As always, we’d note in closing that while we follow the Tigers system closely, reading everything available, watching a ton of minor league games, and debating the relative merits of various prospects year round, we don’t have pro scouting experience to bring to the table. Our list is compiled from our own reports and impressions from covering and debating the Tigers’ farm system each season, combined with publicly available data and attention to industry leading perspectives on players and systems. We would strongly encourage everyone to give some patronage to top scouting sites like FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, Prospects Live, and Baseball America. Add them to your feeds, pick one and subscribe, and your understanding of the game will be greatly enhanced.
Without further ado, here is our top 30 ranking and breakdown of the Tigers prospects. We’ll have individual reports to follow over the next two months. There will also be a few pieces on players that just missed the list. As always, rankings are for fun, but the tiers of players is more important. For example, you could rearrange the list from 25 down well into the 30’s, and there wouldn’t be a whole lot to argue about.
As we add individual reports, they’ll be linked to each players’ name below.
The new top 30 prospects
Age: 21 Bats/Throws: L/L Height/Weight: 6’ 3”/200 lbs.
Outfielder Riley Greene is our choice for the top player in the farm system. While Greene and Spencer Torkelson draw equivalent grades from most publications and had similar success at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels this year, we have to give the nod to Greene for a dominant campaign despite his youth and relative inexperience, as well as the more well-rounded skillset.
As a 20-year-old, in his first full year of pro ball, Greene was one of the top hitters in the Double-A Eastern League, launching 16 home runs in 84 games. He carried that performance to the Triple-A level, posting a 153 wRC+ with eight home runs in 40 games with the Toledo Mud Hens. Greene made a ton of hard contact all season long, was a tough out even behind in counts, and drew plenty of walks. It’s a plus hit, plus power combination that should keep him a dangerous fixture in the Tigers’ lineup for many years to come.
Greene played some right field this year, but also worked quite a bit as a solid center field despite somewhat below average speed, showing the ability to get good jumps and run accurate routes to the ball. That’s not enough to thrive in Comerica Park’s vast lawns, however. With an average throwing arm, left field might be Greene’s best fit long-term, but we won’t be surprised to see the Tigers move him around somewhat early in his career. Overall, the pace of his development and his youth suggests further improvement won’t be long in coming. It may take him some time to reach his peak as a major league hitter, but he’s just about ready for the test. The path is wide open for Greene to make his debut early in 2022.
Age: 22 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’1”/220 lbs.
After a surprisingly rough start to his pro career last spring, the 2020 first overall pick rapidly proved as good as advertised this season. The Arizona State product rampaged through three levels of the farm system, crushing a total of 30 homers in 121 games, with excellent strikeout-to-walk numbers. His progress was rapid enough that by the time he reached Triple-A Toledo, the Tigers were prepping his final approach to the majors by playing him exclusively at first base.
Torkelson has an educated eye at the plate and his sharp, balanced stroke packs double-plus power to all fields. Early in the year, he seemed rather tentative and was showing minor league pitchers too much respect. He loosened up and settled into his groove in May, however, and quickly had pitchers nibbling around the edges and scared to throw anything on the inner half. In August and September, he was working on driving pitches on the outer half to right field, and spent the last few weeks of the season pelting the right field wall with line drives while back-spinning hard fly balls over it like a pocket Miguel Cabrera. Torkelson may not hit for average the way Greene is likely to, but he’s going to do major damage and rack up tons of walks.
At first base, Torkelson still could use some work, but should be an acceptable first baseman. The experiment at third base didn’t go particularly well and we don’t expect to see him at the hot corner going forward. There won’t be any added defensive value from him at first base, which is largely why we give Greene the number one spot, but none of that is unexpected. Torkelson is on course to be a spectacular force in the Detroit Tigers lineup very soon. The ZIPS projection system already predicts a 3-4 WAR season depending on how quickly the Tigers promote him to the majors. It’s going to be tough to keep him off the Opening Day roster.
Age: 23 Bat/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’3”/210 lbs.
The Tigers’ second round selection in the 2020 draft, Dingler converted to catcher in college and shows the athleticism of a player who also handled center field part-time for Ohio State. His defensive abilities behind the dish are rapidly improving with a plus arm and excellent pop times to back up the quiet hands of an above-average receiver. There is plenty to refine here, but Dingler is ahead of the curve and should continue to rapidly develop into a very good catcher.
Dingler torched the A-ball levels this spring, but really hit a wall offensively after his promotion to Double-A Erie. Strikeouts and plenty of weak contact in the air followed, and then a fractured finger set him back for most of August — right as we looked for him to settle in for the second half of the season. Expect plenty of swing and miss, and there’s a chance the hit tool holds him back from a future starting role, but with his power and defensive ability included, we’ll bet he can make some modest swing changes and maintain a viable offensive profile as a future starting catcher with average pop.
Age: 18 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’2”/180 lbs.
As the Tigers’ first round selection, third overall, in the 2021 draft, the choice of Jackson Jobe was somewhat controversial as prep shortstops Marcelo Mayer and Jordan Lawler were available. However, as appealing as the prep shortstops were, none of that should discourage anyone from being excited about the 19-year-old right-handers’ potential.
Jobe wasn’t a notable pitching prospect until his velocity spiked in his junior year, reaching the mid-90’s that summer. At that point, he became a full-time pitcher and so the Tigers are getting a lot of arm talent here without much wear and tear. Jobe already has a powerful fastball with some projection remaining. He gets more tailing action than ride, but has a fairly flat plane to the top of the zone and should be able to miss his share of bats with a little tuning. The real selling point is an already fierce, high-spin breaking ball, while his overall athleticism projects well for both durability, command, and improvement to his changeup.
He should be a good test for the Tigers’ restructured player development system over the next few years, as his pitch mix will need a little tuning to put the whole package together. Still, a path exists for a speedy rise to blue-chip pitching prospect status here with a solid floor for a prep pitcher already present. We’re already looking at a plus fastball, double-plus slider, and above average changeup with advanced control for his age. As long as there are no major injuries and Jobe’s body holds up to his first pro test, there’s a high likelihood you’ll see him ranked among the top 30 prospects in the game by season’s end.
Obviously, high school pitchers are a particularly risky set of players to spend top draft picks on. Many peak early or simply injury themselves trying to build up to a major league workload. The last time the Tigers tried this, they selected Matt Manning with the eighth overall pick back in 2016. So far, that’s worked out reasonably well, so we’ll just have to hope they got in right with Jackson Jobe too. In both cases, the Tigers bet on high end athleticism, but Jobe is far more refined already than Manning was in 2016. The talent is certainly there to develop into a frontline starter. If he comes out strong and puts together a strong debut season, his stock will be popping.
Age: 21 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’3”/200 lbs.
Ty Madden was a surprise for the Detroit Tigers in the 2021 draft. Projected by leading publications to be selected by the middle of the first round, a late-season swoon and concerns about his durability saw the Texas Longhorns star drop to the Tigers in the first competitive balance round at the 32nd overall pick. We didn’t get to see him post-draft, as the organization brought their collection of freshly drafted pitchers to Lakeland, but didn’t pitch them in games. Instead, they did evaluations and instructional camp work. As a result, we’re particularly keen to get our eyes on them this spring.
The six-foot, three-inch, 215-pound right-hander has a lot to offer but comes with a few specific caveats as well. Typically using a riding fourseamer, Madden was topping out at 98 mph this spring but faded later in his junior season. Inconsistent velocity, with some accompanying shoulder trouble that saw him miss time back in 2019, continues to plague him and is the key reason he fell to the Tigers.
Madden backs the heater with a plus slider between 86-88 mph and it’s comfortably his best pitch. He shows some feel for adding and subtracting a little horizontal break and understands how to use it off the fastball. He also packs a solid curveball that remains a little more of a work in progress. The changeup has nice depth and fade, benefitting from Madden’s quick arm and some deception from his arm slot. It has potential and was reportedly a big point of emphasis for Madden over the past year. The key for Madden is health and durability, but to reach his ceiling as a quality mid-rotation starter, the changeup will need to be a weapon for him.
Overall, the range of outcomes here feels particularly wide. Madden could pan out into a nice starting pitcher if all goes well, but there are enough red flags to take a wait-and-see approach. If he can put the health concerns behind him, he should move quickly this season.
Age: 22 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’1”/160 lbs.
The Tigers acquired the 22-year-old Olson from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Daniel Norris at July’s trade deadline. They appear to have done quite well in the deal. Olson has a pretty nasty mix of pitches, but his ability to command them well enough to start is still in serious question.
The Brewers drafted Olson back in 2018 as a rare prep pitcher who signs as a 13th round pick. He was a little on the small side for a starter at a slender 6-foot-1-inch, and featured a compact, upright delivery with short-arm action and a stilted lower half. As he’s gotten stronger things have smoothed out a little, but it’s still a fairly high effort motion. There is some explosiveness in that move to the plate that gives his fastball some edge, but the effort and imbalance leaves questions about his command developing much further.
Olson sat around 94 mph this season with his fourseamer, topping out at 97, which was notably better than his velo in 2019. He shows both a plus slider with a lot of depth and a potential plus changeup as well. He can also spin a solid curveball in as a change of pace. When Olson is spotting his three primary pitches he suddenly looks like a potential frontline starter, but the inconsistency is liable to remain a problem. Still, if things come together for him in 2022 he could move quickly. If not, there are enough weapons already present to make him a valuable reliever in the near future instead.
Age: 18 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’0”/165 lbs.
The $2.95 million bonus the Tigers paid the 17-year-old infielder in June was the largest price they’ve paid yet for an international free agent. Santana’s compact stroke, advanced contact ability, and developing all-fields power makes for an intriguing package of skills. Rather than just a slugger, the right-handed hitter appears to have a decent shot at being a good all-arounder with at least average power.
Santana is unlikely to handle the shortstop position long-term, and is bound for third or second base in time. He has the skills to be a solid defender at either, but speed isn’t his game, and the bat is the whole selling point. Beyond the positive early consensus from limited reports, we’ll have to wait to really get a read on him, but his Complex League debut this year will be a point of emphasis for prospect hounds. For now, his ranking here is entirely a function of industry reports on him.
Age: 24 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’2”/195 lbs.
No one made a bigger move in the Tigers’ system than the recently turned 24-year-old Kreidler this season. The year out of sight for many players created some real surprises for prospect watchers, and arguably none were bigger for the Tigers than this UCLA product. Drafted in the fourth round in 2019, the six-foot, four-inch shortstop was widely regarded as a solid contact hitter with fringy defensive ability at the position. A lack of power, combined with skepticism about his future at the shortstop position, kept interest in him pretty modest.
Instead, Kreidler, like Jake Rogers and Derek Hill before him, turned to private hitting instructor Doug Latta to help him remake his offensive game during the minor league shutdown. He narrowed his stance and transitioned to more of an upright posture that allowed him to leverage more of his latent power. He also adjusted his approach from that conservative, contact-oriented approach he had in college, looking to drive the ball more effectively to all fields.
The results were good as Kreidler mashed 22 home runs combined at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, despite minimal pro experience. Even more impressively he finished strong for the Toledo Mud Hens, walking more and still hitting for power over the final 41 games of the season. If he can find the sweet spot between his newfound power stroke and his previous more contact-oriented approach, Kreidler is going to be the next man up in the Tigers infield this year, and he may prove unwilling to go back down.
His defensive game may be a bit below average as a shortstop, but he held his own with no issues this season and really just lacks a little quickness. If Kreidler is able to take the next step with the bat, he won’t have much trouble fitting into the Tigers’ infield somewhere, even if Javier Báez has the shortstop position on lock. Al Avila has also mentioned some trade interest from other teams. If Kreidler gets off to a good start this season, the Tigers will likely take the first opportunity to call him up for a look.
Age: 24 Bats/Throws: L/L Height/Weight: 6’5”/209 lbs.
Wentz’s return to full strength after 2020 Tommy John surgery took some time to unfold, as you’d expect. The 6-foot-5-inch lefty logged 72 innings this season and looked as strong as ever on the mound. However, his game is based on feel, deception, and command, and as a result, it took time to round into form with some shaky outings along the way.
By season’s end, Wentz was back sitting around 92 mph, with the characteristic deception and shifty, cutterish action on his four-seamer intact. He’s able to get in on the hands of right-handers and pitches aggressively to the top of the zone. When he’s hitting his spots and mixing in his good changeup, he keeps hitters off balance and serving up a lot of routine fly balls and pop-ups in the process.
Feel for his plus changeup returned as the season progressed, allowing him to continue to punch out right-handed hitters consistently, but the slider never quite rounded into consistent form. It will be very interesting to see how the revamped Tigers’ player development system works with him to tune his stuff for final approach to the major leagues next year.
The Tigers were careful, starting Wentz on extra rest, and he responded well, closing out the season with good work in July, and marked improvement in August and September. His innings progression probably won’t allow him to go much beyond 130 innings next season, but the strong finish to his season suggests that all is well with his arm. 2022 is a big year for him and he should be on the shortlist for a call-up when the Tigers need some pitching help this season. If he can recapture his 2019 precision, he should be ready to backup the major league rotation.
Age: 18 Bats/Throws: L/R Height/Weight: 6’4”/200 lbs.
The Tigers landed a pretty interesting prep infielder with their second-round pick this summer. The 19-year-old out of Friendswood, Texas is a bit of a specimen already, and could potentially grow into double-plus power as he fills out his six-foot-four inch frame a little further. As that occurs, a move to third base from shortstop is probably indicated. He’s already a big-bodied young player and doesn’t run well, but his hands and arm should keep him at least serviceable at the hot corner.
A 30-game look in the Complex League after he was drafted showcased enough of an eye to draw plenty of walks and swing at good pitches to hit. However, he also didn’t show particularly good contact ability. As a result, he whiffed quite a bit, and didn’t make much hard contact. Still, 2022 will be his first sustained exposure to pro ball, and while the Tigers will presumably start him in Low-A Lakeland, patience is advised before we really get an idea how the bat is going to develop. The power potential here is pretty impressive.
Age: 20 Bats/Throws: L/R Height/Weight: 6’3”/195 lbs.
The Tigers scooped up this prep prospect from Mississippi in the fifth and final round of the 2020 draft. Keith packs an arm good enough to have drawn consideration as a two-way prospect, with advanced plate discipline and solid power potential as his key selling points at the plate. The Tigers have shown no sign of working him as a pitcher, and so the natural fit here is at third base, where Keith should eventually approach average defense despite the potential for him to lose range as he fills out. His hands and athleticism aren’t all that impressive at this point, but he does have a cannon.
Keith did a nice job with the Lakeland Flying Tigers most of the 2021 season, getting on base and drawing walks, though he didn’t show much power at all. Keith himself has discussed focusing on trying to stay short to the ball and hitting line drives back up the middle this season, acknowledging that he was still getting his bearings against better pitching. He’ll need to grow beyond that in 2022 by starting to drive the ball and doing more damage, but it was still just his first exposure to pro ball. Now 20 years old, if Keith can advance to the Double-A level and show a little more pop, his stock will rise substantially. His plate discipline and physical projection gives us some confidence that he will.
Age: 22 Bats/Throws: S/R Height/Weight: 6’4”/200 lbs.
Workman, the Tigers’ fourth round pick in the 2020 draft, had a solid pro debut in 2021. He got off to a good start at Low-A Lakeland, struggled a bit after his promotion to West Michigan in July, and then finished very strong. In the process he impressed with both his defense on the left side of infield and his raw power. However, the same questions about his hit tool exist that were front and center on draft day.
A switch-hitter, Workman looks potentially capable of getting to enough power to allow his bat to play as a left-handed hitter, but struggled markedly the other way around. He lacks the hands to hit for high average, so making enough hard contact to let his power play remains the crucial issue for him. In his favor is a solid idea of the strike zone and the fact that he was young for his class, not even turning 22 years old until October of this year. Workman’s hit tool would have to show substantial advancement for him to project as a future everyday infielder, but his power and defense give him plenty of paths toward bench role at least. If it all comes together, the Tigers could have a really good player here.
Age: 21 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’2”/180 lbs.
This lanky right-hander had an excellent junior season at Alabama in 2021, rising rapidly up many draft boards. While he was occasionally hit hard, Smith racked up 113 strikeouts to just 20 walks in 98 1⁄3 innings of work for the Crimson Tide. The Tigers popped him with their third round selection, continuing to pile up pitching depth.
While typically sitting around 93 mph, Smith can already run his tailing fastball up to 95-96 mph and should have more physical projection left on his six-foot, two-inch frame than is typical for a college starter. Smith already repeats his balanced delivery well and has a good understanding of how to set up hitters. He packs a solid high-80’s slider that could be a plus pitch for him with a little more refinement and a curveball that is more of a show-me pitch. The changeup has decent fade and depth, and there’s enough feel in his game to expect it to improve. Advanced command is his calling card, while the stuff remains fairly average overall by pro standards.
If the Tigers can help him build a little velocity and tune the movement on his fastball, Smith should move quickly through the system. Like the other Tigers pitchers drafted in 2021, he worked in instructional camp rather than seeing game action, but should start in High-A next season and will likely work his way to Erie in short order.
Age: 18 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’3”/200 lbs.
The raw talents of the Tigers’ prized international free agent signing from 2019 were on display from the start of this season. Campos went deep to left field in his first at-bat stateside with a swing that, unlike most Complex League action, was caught on video. The 18-year-old outfielder would homer seven more times in his 39-game stint out of Lakeland. Of course, the raw power was never really in question, while the hit tool’s development, as is typical, remains the key to the whole equation. It was just a brief look, and Campos is just getting started, but there is plenty to like already.
Campos is a bit of a specimen already, listed at six feet, three inches tall, and 200 pounds. The huge power potential here is obvious, but we’re betting on a lot of development to his hit tool in the years ahead. With a very aggressive approach and a tendency to fly open with his front side, he’s got some issues to work on. He should play roughly average corner outfield in time, but won’t be contributing many stolen bases.
There is pressure on the Tigers to finally produce some high-end prospect talent out of international market, and Campos was hailed as the jewel of their recent top signings when the club announced his signing. Further expectations are in order next season, but we’ll be much more interested in how Campos ends his 2022 season than how he begins it. Patience is recommended.
Age: 23 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’3”/200 lbs.
This 23-year-old right-hander out of Arizona, picked up as an afterthought in the 27th round back in 2019, was one of the best stories of the year in the Tigers’ system. Brieske barely dabbled as a pitcher before filling out and finding some velocity in junior college, at which point he converted to pitching full-time. His debut after the 2019 draft went decently well, but Brieske took advantage of the year off in 2020 by transforming his body and his delivery. It showed, as he moved pretty briskly from High-A West Michigan to Double-A Erie this season and was successful at both stops.
Brieske showcased above average command and good pitchability this season. His fastball is still a little fringy at 93-94 mph with average movement, but he can touch 96-97 occasionally and his angle plays at the top of the zone. He showcases a solid slider as his main breaking ball while his changeup has become his best weapon with excellent velocity separation, and perhaps some added depth and deception from Brieske’s arm slot.
Brieske works the edges of the zone well and shows a thoughtful approach to setting up hitters. If the stuff could take another little leap, the Tigers could have a good starter prospect here, but even as is, Brieske’s ability to locate quality strikes with a solid three pitch mix might have him ready to provide depth for the rotation this summer.
Age: 20 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’4”/225 lbs.
Starting pitcher Wilmer Flores, brother of the infielder Wilmer Flores, burst on the scene in his age-20 season with a nasty display of stuff over 11 starts with the Lakeland Flying Tigers. The big, rangy right-hander features a sharp curveball that drew a ton of whiffs against Florida State League hitters in 2021. He backs it with a power fastball and cutter combination that feature high spin rates on both pitches. With a little tuning and improved control, Flores will move quickly in 2022.
His fourseam fastball sits a lively 93-94 mph but reached as high as 98 mph this year with good extension. The cutter averages 88-89 mph, while the power curve sits around 80 mph. It’s a nice blend of high spin, power stuff, and while he doesn’t have much of an offspeed pitch yet, he may not need it if the command of his three primary offerings develops. He throws a solid ratio of strikes already, but his stiff legged motion and mediocre athleticism don’t exactly project for starter-level command. If he can refine his delivery into a more repeatable motion and improve his command, Flores could emerge as a really good starting pitching prospect. More likely is modest improvement and a potential future as a late innings reliever.
Age: 26 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’5”/230 lbs.
For Alex Faedo, the Tigers first round selection back in the 2017 amateur draft, it’s been a while since he was part of the Tigers’ “big four” alongside Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal. After barely getting to throw in 2020, Faedo blew out his elbow at the alternate site camp, underwent UCL reconstruction, and missed all of 2021. When he returns to action this spring he’ll be nearly 18 months removed from surgery and two-and-a-half years removed from his last regular season action in 2019.
When last we saw him, the six-foot, five-inch right-hander had gotten leaner, revamped his delivery, and showed better velocity in spring camp back in 2020 prior to the shutdown. It was a promising start after an improved second season as a pro in 2019. That year, entirely at Double-A Erie, saw Faedo’s plus slider carry him to a 28.3 percent strikeout rate, with a minuscule walk rate to boot. He’d improved his command and was keeping his tailing fastball in the park more effectively while still throwing plenty of quality strikes. However, with a fringy heater generally sitting in the low 90s, he remained a little too vulnerable to the long ball.
The Tigers will give Faedo time to work his way back as a starter this season, but long-term he feels more like a relief prospect right now. Whichever role he ends up in, the ability to keep hitters off balance and not jumping the heater is going to be the key for him. Faedo had two knee surgeries prior to his junior year in college, and now is returning from UCL reconstruction all in a span of a few years. So this season is really just about health. If he can get beyond all the injury trouble and come out stronger, things will get interesting. Now 26 years old, Faedo deserves time to get up to speed, but he also has something to prove in 2022 in order to hold a 40-man roster spot at year’s end.
18. IF Kody Clemens
Age: 25 Bats/Throws: L/R Height/Weight: 6’1”/170 lbs.
Now 25 years old, the second baseman needed to come through with a solid return to action in 2021. The results weren’t hugely convincing even viewed as a future bench player, but certainly enough to keep him in the mix next year. Clemens still has a very limited path to substantial major league playing time, but with the scarcity of interesting left-handed hitters in the upper minors, he’s likely to get a look in 2022 and could secure a part-time role with the Tigers if he can do some damage against right-handed pitching at the major league level.
Clemens lacks speed and and his positional limitations make it a tight fit for him to earn much playing time at the major league level. He’ll have to squeeze everything possible out of his bat to get there, but he did show real progress in his plate discipline this season while lifting 18 homers in 413 plate appearances. He puts a lot of balls in the air but doesn’t make enough hard contact to cash in as many as he needs to, instead, routinely flying out quite often. Still, the Tigers protected him from the Rule 5 draft for a reason and appear to have every intention of giving him a look this year.
19. OF Daniel Cabrera
Age: 23 Bats/Throws: L/L Height/Weight: 6’1”/195 lbs.
Cabrera’s tagline when he was drafted was of the jack-of-all-tools variety. A solid and mature college hitter, he was pegged for roughly average tools across the board. He gave a pretty modest accounting of the whole package in 2021, and never got on a roll. Still, he does a lot of things reasonably well, and he’s left-handed. If the hit tool comes together he’s got a fairly obvious path to a major league role.
Prospect sites routinely gave Cabrera future 50 grades as a hitter on draft day, with average power marks to match. Cabrera did mash 13 home runs in 116 games which was basically par for expectations. However, he struggled more than expected with pitch recognition and failed to drive the ball effectively for much of the season, racking up routine grounders and fly balls. His numbers cratered in July but rebounded in August before a short look with Erie in September. It wasn’t a very inspiring pro debut, so he’ll need to turn things around in 2022.
20. RHP Tanner Kohlhepp
Age: 22 Bats/Throws: L/R Height/Weight: 6’4”/210 lbs.
Like Dylan Smith, this Notre Dame product boosted his draft stock significantly this spring with a strong junior year. As part of their pitcher heavy draft in 2021, the Tigers’ picked up Kohlhepp in the fifth round. The 22-year-old right-hander features nasty stuff and a snappy release from a low three-quarters arm slot. He can run his fastball into the high 90s with good sink and run, sitting around 94 mph as a starter. He also features a pretty nasty high spin slider in the mid-80s with a lot of horizontal break and good depth. He’ll occasionally mix in a harder version that moves more like a cutter. The changeup has pretty good depth and tailing action, and Kohlhepp showed improving command of all three weapons as the year progressed.
The Tigers seem set to try him as a starting pitcher when he finally gets on a mound in games next spring. If his command continues to progress that could work out, particularly if the changeup takes another step. However his delivery will need improvement to make that happen. Kohlhepp still makes for a good relief prospect and has enough to succeed in that role as a fallback plan.
21. IF Trei Cruz
Age: 23 Bats/Throws: S/R Height/Weight: 6’2”/200 lbs.
Cruz, the son of former big leaguer Jose Cruz Jr., had a fairly uninspiring debut season in 2021. Selected as a shortstop out of Rice in the third round of the 2020 draft, the 23-year-old infielder showed excellent plate discipline in 2021, but not much else. The switch-hitter walked a lot at both the Low-A and High-A levels, and smacked line drives to all fields with a compact stroke, but rarely drove the ball with any authority.
Cruz had some shoulder trouble along the way, and that may have impacted his ability to drive the baseball. We can hope that was the issue, but the Tigers’ development staff is going to have to find a way to unlock a lot more hard contact. Currently, the lack of power and speed, coupled with fringy defensive ability at the shortstop position don’t suggest a clear path to a future utility role. Considering he may not have been 100 percent, we’ll hold off on any firm judgments about his future until we see more in 2022.
22. IF Wenceel Perez
Age: 22 Bats/Throws: S/R Height/Weight: 5’11”/195 lbs.
In his age 21 season, Wenceel Perez rather spun his wheels in 2021. Already a player who relied on his speed and defense to counterbalance a slash and dash hitting profile, Perez didn’t see much time at the shortstop position in 2021. Instead, he bounced around the infield, moving into the utility role that was always his likely future. The question remaining is whether he can produce enough value with the bat and with his feet to find his way to a major league roster at some point.
Perez continues to make a lot of contact and carried that to High-A West Michigan where he only struck out 17.3 percent of the time. There are just no signs that the switch-hitting infielder is ever going to hit for even a modicum of power. He sprays line drives and ground balls around the diamond and relies on his wheels for the most part. Perez isn’t a burner, but he does have above-average speed and solid defensive abilities. The ceiling here looks pretty limited at this point, but Perez has youth and enough skills to make a solid bench option on his side.
23. OF Parker Meadows
Age: 22 Bats/Throws: L/R Height/Weight: 6’5”/205 lbs.
In his age 21 season, his second full year since being picked at the top of the second round in 2018, Meadows really needed to show improvement at the plate coming back from the off-year in 2020. Unfortunately, any progress remained incremental. The six-foot, five-inch outfielder remains a physical specimen with plus speed and raw power, but the hit tool is not coming along well.
Meadows makes enough contact to potentially figure things out, but just does not drive the ball with any regularity, as routine grounders and soft flyballs and pop-ups makeup far too high a percentage of balls in play. It’s still tough to envision Meadows spraying hard line drives and fly balls around the park, and despite some work on his swing, he looked much as he did in his pro debut back in 2019.
No doubt working on his swing mechanics and approach will be a priority for the new development regime, as another year of modest progress could be the end of hopes for a future starting outfielder here. A very tall, long-limbed player, Meadows still has room on his frame to add muscle, and those long levers may just take more time than usual to get things in sync. The big secondary tools continue to loom as amplifiers if he can finally make some progress with the bat, but it’s not looking good at all at this point.
24. RHP Jason Foley
Age: 26 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’4”/215 lbs.
The Tigers got a look at this hard-throwing right-handed reliever in 2021, though the results were spotty. Foley was pulled from a small college, Sacred Heart, as an unsigned free agent following the 2016 amateur draft. He was touching triple digits at the time and simply went overlooked, but since draft day, it’s been a wild and woolly path toward the major leagues.
Foley missed all the 2018 season for UCL reconstruction, and since his return, the splitter that his best secondary out of college has fallen off, replaced by a serviceable slider that could use more consistency. He can still run his sinker up to 99 mph with plenty of depth and his strike throwing improved enough to get a look this year, but he’ll have to spot it a lot more effectively to stick at the major league level. Without a plus breaking ball or offspeed pitch, the ceiling is limited, but if Foley can take another little step with his fastball command he should be able to provide some depth to the Tigers bullpen.
25. OF Jose de La Cruz
Age: 20 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’1”/205 lbs.
Much like Adinso Reyes, this 19-year-old outfielder struggled in his stateside debut. Pegged by sites like FanGraphs to eventually approach an average hit tool, De la Cruz’s status is buoyed by advanced raw power for his age, and an excellent throwing arm that makes him an intriguing possibility in right field. Still, he was overwhelmed at the plate in his first taste of A-ball, striking out nearly 50 percent of the time in 39 games with the Lakeland Flying Tigers.
The tools remain somewhat tantalizing and it’s not unusual even under normal circumstances for a teenaged international free agent to struggle when exposed to college pitchers. Considering the lost development time in 2020, we’ll hang in there another year with him. However, his tight, grooved stroke will continue to give us pause until there are some mechanical improvements. De La Cruz remains a name to watch, and his first full season in A-ball next year should give us a better sense of his potential to improve.
26. IF Manuel Sequera
Age: 19 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’1”/170 lbs.
This now 19-year-old infielder out of Venezuela showed pretty impressive pop during his stateside debut in the Complex League. He cracked 11 home runs in 46 games this season. Sequera has a strong build, and the power appears legit, but he lacks the athleticism to do much else well. A limited defender who probably fits best on the right side of the infield, he’s going to have to hit, and hit a lot, to reach the major leagues, but he’s just getting started, and we’ll be interested to see if he can make some adjustments to his swing and approach to get the strikeouts under control. It’s a pretty limited profile, but if he can tap into enough of the raw power he’s got a shot to make an impact eventually.
27. OF Austin Murr
Age: 22 Bats/Throws: L/L Height/Weight: 6’2”/218 lbs.
The Tigers fifth-round pick was comfortably the most seasoned hitter they drafted in 2021. Murr showed an educated eye at the plate and enough signs of power potential to earn a spot on our list this year. Murr isn’t going to provide much defensive value and was generally in left field this season. What he does offer are patient at-bats and a lot of solid contact. It only took 13 games at Low-A for the Tigers to advance him to West Michigan for the remainder of the season.
Murr’s approach and swing emphasizes contact rather than power. He has a good eye for the strike zone with solid pitch recognition. The problem is emphasized by the fact that Murr hit the ball on the ground 60 percent of the time this season. He seems like an interesting project for the new development staff. If they can make some adjustments to allow him to drive the ball in the air more, Austin Murr could surprise us. For now he takes over from Bryant Packard for now as the advanced college hitter with a limited profile who will need to hit for substantially more power to reach the major leagues in any capacity.
28. IF Andre Lipcius
Age: 23 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’1”/190 lbs.
The Tigers third-rounder in the 2019 amateur draft, Lipcius returned to the West Michigan Whitecaps, now at the High-A level in 2021, and quickly graduated to Double-A Erie. Playing a mix of third base and second base, he continues to look like a solid defender at both positions, giving him a path to the majors as a utilityman. He also continues to show good hands and a quality good at the plate. The only thing still lacking is the amount of hard contact.
He did hit 12 home runs this year, but beyond the homers, he remains content to put together tough ABs and spray the ball around without really driving enough to do damage. The Tigers would really like to see him drive up the gaps, though with below-average speed, even that can only improve his offensive profile so much. Still, Lipcius has a good idea of the strike zone, solid contact ability, and decent pitch recognition. Combine that with solid defense at third or second base and he has a decent shot to work out in a utility role for the Tigers in the not too distant future. His first few months at Erie were a bit of a struggle, but he did finish strong over the final weeks of the season.
29. RHP Garrett Hill
Age: 25 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’0”/185 lbs.
Like Brieske, Hill is another late round starter selected by the Tigers who started to come into his own this season. He was drafted in the 26th round back in 2018 out of San Diego State. Also like Brieske, he relies on command and a decent set of secondary pitches rather than a high octane fastball. Still, even his low 90s tailing fastball was rarely barrelled up in 2021 and seemed to have more to it than meets the eye. The problem is that Hill still has just only gotten a brief look at the Double-A level, is nearly 26 years old at this writing, and the Tigers didn’t bother to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this winter.
The somewhat undersized right-hander, standing six feet tall, has a very simple, sound delivery. He occasionally got out of rhythm in 2021, but in most starts he ripped off long stretches of good fastball command and worked hitters over to all four quadrants of the strike zone. His split change has great velocity separation from the fastball in the low 80s and he got tons of whiffs with it, punching out over 30 percent of the hitters he faced last season. His slider is still below average, though as the year went on he was throwing a harder, tighter version of the pitch that could give him a third modest weapon. His curveball is more of a mid-70s show-me pitch at this point.
At his best Hill looks like a backend starter prospect with good command of a solid mix of pitches. At other times, he lacked the precision to get by with his fringy arsenal, though with the Tigers slow playing him in A-ball he was still effective. Physically he’s got to carry his best stuff deep into games more consistently to overcome concerns about being a little underpowered. We’re cautiously optimistic about Hill working out as some kind of depth piece. If he can build on his late-season success at Erie this spring he could become an option for the Tigers in a limited role, but his command will have to be at its best to succeed.
30. OF Eric De La Rosa
Age: 24 Bats/Throws: R/R Height/Weight: 6’3/186 lbs.
One of the biggest surprises of the 2021 season was the emergence of Eric De La Rosa, who came out of the COVID-cancelled season a brand new player. His performance warranted a visit to the video room last summer. He spent most of his season with West Michigan where he hit nearly .300 and earned a promotion to Double-A Erie for his last 90 AB of the year. He also earned placement in the Arizona Fall League. What keeps him out of the top 30 is that he doesn’t show signs of hitting for much power. His offensive output is dependent on his ability to hit and his double plus speed. For context, when he hit .293 in West Michigan, he was dependent on a .433 BABIP to do so. That is a very difficult trend to continue, especially as the pitching only gets better.
His speed and defense is his biggest asset right now. While his contact numbers were decent, there is a hole in his swing mechanics where he does what’s known as ‘striding down’, which essentially means he crouches during the load process and changes his eyeline. He’ll remain susceptible to pitches up in the zone as a result. Still, De La Rosa plays to his game really well. He focuses his bat path to hit line drives and groundballs and lets his speed do the rest. It was a nice statement season in 2021, but he’ll need to continue to grow, and do so quickly, to move up the list and establish himself in the upper minors as a potential future fourth outfielder. He’ll get that chance likely starting in Erie in the upcoming season.