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Pitching prospects took center stage as minor league play opened for the year

Scores, news, and notes, from around the Detroit Tigers’ farm system during opening week.

Much has changed since we brought you the last Tigers Prospect Daily report. The Tigers have three new Vice-Presidents. The organization wide overhaul of the player development personnel that began with the hiring of new Director of Player Development, Kenny Graham as well as the hire of Dr. Georgia Giblin to develop a performance science department, back in 2019 really kicked into high gear late last summer. New Vice-President of Player Development Ryan Garko, and whole team of new coaches, are a bold new direction for the organization. We’re very excited to see if they can coax more progress out of the Tigers’ young players this season.

We’ve already seen some swing adjustments made, and velocity gains for top pitching prospects like Joey Wentz and Beau Brieske. Are these things related? Idk, probably. There is at least some newfound confidence that the player development department will have a positive impact on the farm system.

This will also be an interesting year because the Tigers have some talented young hitters stockpiled in A-ball. Names like Cristian Santana, Roberto Campos, Jose de la Cruz, Izaac Pacheco, and Manuel Sequera aren’t of the household variety yet, but they’ll get there if they can show progress this season. With Spencer Torkelson, and soon Riley Greene, graduating, the farm system is not well regarded. They may be a little underrated however.

Finally, the Tigers held back most of the pitchers they drafted in 2021. We still haven’t seen Jackson Jobe, who the Tigers are putting through their extended spring training program to keep his innings in check in his first season out of high school. However, Ty Madden, Dylan Smith, Brent Hurter, and Ty Mattison all made their pro debuts this week. Getting eyes on them in pro ball should be a key feature of early season prospect coverage on the Tigers.

Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens

The Toledo Mud Hens got off to a good start with a 5-0 Opening Day win over the Rochester Red Wings—the Washington Nationals affiliate—back on Tuesday. Unfortunately the series went sideways, and after four straight losses they only managed to salvage a second win in the six-game set on Sunday courtesy of a walkoff shot from first baseman Josh Lester.

On the plus side, Michael Pineda tossed three scoreless innings in his season debut, after a late start to his season waiting on a new work visa. Starters Chase Anderson and Logan Shore were blown up in their first starts of the season, but most importantly, the Tigers pitching prospect closest to the majors looked excellent.

Joey Wentz was showing off 96-97 mph heat in spring camp, several miles per hour harder than he’s ever thrown in his pro career. It carried over in his first short start of the year, as he pumped 94-95 pretty consistently and hit 96-97 repeatedly as well. After averaging 92-93 mph most of his career, the big 6-foot-4 lefty looks to have made conditioning gains as he begins his second season since Tommy John surgery. If he can sustain this power surge, his somewhat modest repertoire of secondary pitches may be better as a result, particularly his changeup. He was already a good bet to make his debut this season. If he can get on a roll the Tigers will have him on speed dial.

On the other hand, while Beau Brieske also maintained some of the higher velo we saw in camp, he grooved some bad pitches and paid for them. Brieske had several brisk, overpowering innings, but when he made mistakes the Red Wings hit him hard, launching a pair of home runs in a five run attack. This was a pretty aggressive promotion for him after a breakout 2021 campaign that saw him make just eight starts after reaching the Double-A level in August and September. Clearly the Tigers are impressed, and have to be very pleased with his development. He’ll join Wentz as possible early call-ups if they get out to good starts with the Mud Hens.

Here’s a good look at Brieske’s start.

At the plate, top shortstop prospect Ryan Kreidler, who is playing a good deal of third base so far, is out to a good start. In 27 plate appearances in the series, Kreidler homered twice—in consecutive at-bats on Wednesday night—and doubled twice, punching out seven times to two walks. With Isaac Paredes gone, Kreidler is the undoubted the leading call-up prospect for any of the infield positions.

Kody Clemens also got out to a decent start, showing some power, but also getting rung up 10 times already. That was the general trend in the first week of play throughout the Tigers’ organization.

The other point of note, was Willi Castro getting some reps in center field. We love that. Castro has the speed and arm to be a really good outfielder, and the infield wasn’t working out for him. Worst case, he learns to handle himself all over the field to become a good utility option but doesn’t hit enough to make it work. Best case, he missed his calling and turns out to be a good outfielder.

Here’s some of the highlights from our buddies at Tigers Minor League Report.

Finally, we’d like to extend our congratulations to Mud Hens voice, Jim Weber, who called his 6000th consecutive Mud Hens’ game on Sunday. He called his first game for the Hens on April 12, 1975. That’s a heck of a run.

Double-A Erie SeaWolves

The SeaWolves got out to a pretty nice start, taking two of three from the Akron RubberDucks at home to begin the year. They’ll head to Somerset for six against the Patriots starting Tuesday night.

You’ll be able to find longer form highlights from Tigers Minor League Report by subscribing to their YouTube channel, and we advise doing so. For example, see Reese Olson’s start for the SeaWolves on Opening Day. Olson has really good stuff but can struggle to put it all together. Based on his first outing, his changeup looks like a real weapon now, and he retains a pair of good breaking balls and a solid heater. Came to Detroit from Milwaukee in the Daniel Norris deal last summer and looking like a steal. He may be best optimized in a relief role ultimately, but he could be a good one. Olson had it going on Opening Day in a short, four-inning start, punching out seven and allowing one walk and one hit in four innings of work.

The SeaWolves won the opener 2-0 despite facing a tough starter in Logan Allen, who punched out nine SeaWolves of his own in 4 13 innings for the Cleveland affiliate. Dane Myers solo shot was the difference in that one.

On Saturday, the SeaWolves again outlasted a really tough starter in Daniel Espino. Yep, there’s more good pitching on the way for the Guardians. The right-hander gave up two homers but punched out nine SeaWolves in four innings. Kerry Carpenter got him for a solo shot in the third, before shortstop prospect Gage Workman (#12 BYB) got to him in the fourth as well for his first home run of the season. Workman’s assignment to Double-A seemed a bit aggressive considering the swing-and-miss in his game last year in A-ball. Nothing wrong with that, as it says the Tigers have confidence in him, but it’s reasonable to expect some struggles before it gets better. Got all of this one though, and against one of the better pitching prospects in the game.

Overall, the SeaWolves struck out 18 times on Saturday, and won anyway. Garrett Hill, another interesting depth starter or relief possibility, who just missed our top 30 list, one-hit the RubberDucks and struck out six in four innings of work.

The RubberDucks took the final game of the three-game set on Sunday 4-2. Austin Bergner had a shaky first start of the year, but did get some help from top catching prospect, Dillon Dingler (#3 BYB).

High-A West Michigan Whitecaps

The Whitecaps took on everyone’s favorite rival, the Great Lakes Loons, this weekend, and won two of three in Midland. They also showcased some of the organization’s top young pitching talent.

Carlos Guzman is an interesting arm to watch out for this season. He was getting on the radar in 2018-2019, but dealt with arm trouble at times, returning with a solid 2021 campaign for the Lakeland Flying Tigers. The converted third baseman is only approaching his 24th birthday and has the stuff to succeed if he can stay healthy and develop. Here he was on Friday showing off his firm riding heater and quality curveball as he struck out eight, allowing just a solo home run in four innings of work. Relief prospect Gabriel Sequeira came through with a pair of scoreless frames to earn the save.

Outfield prospect Parker Meadows struck out three times, but also lifted a solo shot in the ninth inning of this one. Austin Murr (#27 BYB) walked twice and doubled to pace the eight-hit, eight-walk attack, while Wenceel Perez and shortstop prospect Trei Cruz (#21 BYB) each doubled in the winning effort as well.

The Loons came back to win 5-4 on Saturday, but Dylan Smith (#13 BYB) looked pretty good in his first pro start. The Tigers third rounder in 2021, out of Alabama, showed decent command and good life on the fastball and slider. He was in the low 90’s for the most part, but looks projectible. If he can build velo and hone that changeup, the stuff will be plenty and he’s got a loose arm and the athleticism to put it all together. We liked the pick.

Colt Keith (#11 BYB) doubled and tripled to open his sophomore campaign with a flurry, while Austin Murr racked up three more hits and a walk in the losing effort. Murr continues to look like a really interesting hitting prospect if he can make some adjustments to start hitting the ball in the air more. He has good discipline and decent hands, but as a bona fide first baseman/left field type, he’ll need to convert the raw power in the air to become a factor. Shortstop Trei Cruz (#21 BYB) and catcher Mike Rothenberg also doubled in this one.

Finally, the Whitecaps tore the cover off the ball on Sunday to take the series, backing their 2021 Comp A round selection, right-hander Ty Madden (#5 BYB), in his pro debut. Madden punched out six, allowing just a solo shot and a walk in four innings of work. He touched 99 mph, which...yeah that’ll work, Ty.

Catcher Eliezer Alfonso and Parker Meadows each homered in the 14-4 paddling of the Loons. Colt Keith doubled and nearly hit a grand slam. And Austin Murr had another two hits in this one.

The Whitecaps now take on their other favorite rival, welcoming in the Lansing Lugnuts for six at LMCU Park starting Tuesday night.

Low-A Lakeland Flying Tigers

The Tigers Low-A affiliate also started at home, but lost two of three to the Tampa Tarpons to open the season. Some of the Tigers young position prospects got off to a good start, while rehab work from Wily Peralta and Alex Faedo were the notable pitching appearances.

Brant Hurter, a 6-foot-6 lefty with a pretty nasty, sweeping slider drafted in the seventh round of the 2021 draft, looked pretty good in his debut on Fridab. Hurter allowed a solo shot, but struck out five with no walks in four innings of work. However the Tarpons beat up on the bullpen, taking the contest 9-6.

Third baseman Chris Meyers hit a solo shot, while outfielder Roberto Campos (#14 BYB) tacked on two hits in this one. Cristian Santana (#7 BYB) played second base and had a single and a walk, while Manuel Sequera (#26 BYB) started at shortstop and doubled in the contest. Izaac Pacheco (#10 BYB) walked and struck out twice each.

The Flying Tigers bounced back on Saturday with a 5-1 victory. Wily Peralta made a rehab start, his last before heading to Triple-A and then, presumably, right into the Tigers bullpen. Peralta struck out a pair, allowing just a single. Alex Faedo (#17 BYB) made his first regular season appearance since 2019, allowing a single and striking out two in three innings of work. Hard-throwing relief prospect Ty Mattison walked and struck out three apiece, living up to his reputation. He allowed a solo shot that accounted for the Tarpons only run.

Meanwhile, the offense had a good day. Santana had two hits, while Pacheco and Campos each doubled. Outfielder Jose de la Cruz had a big game, knocking in three in a two-hit game that including a solo shot and a stolen base.

The Tarpons took the series with a 9-5 victory on Sunday. Wilkel Hernandez returned to action after missing 2021 for elbow surgery, and struck out five in 2 23 innings of work, allowing an unearned run. Pacheco had another two-hit game, while Santana paced the offense out of the leadoff spot with a two-hit game, including a double.

The Flying Tigers will now head to LECOM Park in Bradenton to battle the Marauders starting on Tuesday night.