Rosters for the Arizona Fall League have been announced and the Detroit Tigers are sending eight players. They will play for the Salt River Rafters, a team they share with the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Cardinals, and Blue Jays.
The eight Tigers players heading to the esteemed fall league are Dillon Dingler, Colt Keith, Gage Workman, Parker Meadows, Jack Anderson, Andrew Magno, Tyler Mattison, and Joey Wentz along with Sean McFarland on the coaching side. Detroit will send four pitchers and four hitters, including five of their top 30 prospects per MLB Pipeline.
Teams will send top prospects, prospects they feel are ready to make a jump, and prospects who missed time and could use more game reps. The coaching and competition in the AFL are some of the best that players can get in terms of development. The Tigers are sending prospects that check all of those boxes.
Last year there were two Tigers prospects who stood out in the AFL just before making a big jump in their career. One was Wilmer Flores, who has made a massive leap up prospect boards. Depending on the website he’s a top-100 prospect or close to it. The other was Garrett Hill who has helped at the major league level this year.
So let’s take a closer look at the hitting prospects chosen to participate this year.
One of the big in-season risers last year whose stock has taken a bit of a hit thanks to a slow adjustment to Double-A dating back to the end of the 2021 season. He’s been at the level all year while hitting .238 with 14 home runs and a 106 wRC+. He did have just over 200 plate appearances last year in Double-A, and since then he has shown lots of improvements in his peripheral numbers — specifically a bump in walk rate from 4.3 to 10 percent between seasons. That comes with a slightly higher strikeout rate, but he is clearly more comfortable against the arms at this level.
Because of that Dingler checks two of the boxes from before. While he is a top prospect, he also needs to make a jump next year if he wants to keep that status. He’s one of the most athletic backstops in the minors, but the Tigers will want his bat to take another step forward if they will feel comfortable with him as the catcher of the future.
There’s one more asterisk to consider when it comes to evaluating Dingler, though. He’s still a fairly new catcher. At Ohio State, he split time behind the plate and in center field. The defense has already taken a big step forward this year. He’s receiving the ball much better than he was a year ago. His arm plays behind the plate, too.
In the AFL it will be good for Dingler to get some extra instruction defensively, however, the focus will likely be on his bat. It should be seen as a vote of confidence in the upside of Dingler that the Tigers chose to send him to the AFL.
To be as direct as humanly possible, Colt Keith is the best prospect the Tigers are sending to the AFL. He’s arguably the best prospect Detroit has in general. He took a massive step forward this year, slashing .301/.354/.544 with nine home runs through 48 games before succumbing to a shoulder injury that held him out the rest of the season.
Keith’s addition to the AFL means he’s healthy, or at least will be by the time things start up. That’s good news. It’s also good that he will be able to catch up on the reps he missed because of the injury. This is two-fold in terms of developmental purposes. The first part is that it will put Keith back on track, but also getting the extra coaching will be huge for a former two-way prep player getting to his ceiling of an everyday player.
This is the first player who I’d classify specifically as someone who needs the AFL to help him reach another level. He was once a top-30 prospect, but that’s faded. Workman has been at shortstop and there’s a discussion to be had between scouts and evaluators on if he will stick there. Where he lands defensively could potentially play a big factor in what his future looks like. My personal opinion is that he moves back to third base where he is an excellent defender.
Even so, defense isn’t the issue. The biggest area needed improvement is his bat. He’s posted an 86 wRC+ in Double-A this year while hitting .227 with 14 homers, 30 steals, and an astronomical 40.2 percent strikeout rate. The former ASU infielder hasn’t hit up to par since he was too advanced for competition in Single-A.
Despite that, he’s still continued to move up levels because the Tigers believe in him. There’s reason to see the upside in the bat despite his struggles at the plate. That is likely the same reason why he’s been selected for the AFL. If one of the instructors can help him make more contact then Workman might just shoot back up the rankings.
The feel-good story of the Tigers farm system will keep going and it’s just wonderful to see. Quite frankly there were not many evaluators who hadn’t written Meadows off as a Tigers prospect. This year was a sink-or-swim promotion to Double-A since Meadows has to be added to the 40-man this offseason or else he would be Rule 5 eligible. He swam like an Olympian, hitting .280 with 16 homers and 17 steals to this point in the season. This is the first time since 2018 posting a wRC+ over 100.
It’s because of this amazing season that Meadows has regained his top prospect status within the organization once again. The biggest improvement he’s shown is in his ability to make contact. His quality of contact is better, but also his strikeout percentage has dipped below 20 percent.
Of all the players the Tigers are sending to the AFL, this is my favorite decision. Quite simply after several years of struggles, it’s good that Meadows can keep this momentum from this season going for as long as possible. The biggest fear with him is that he’ll come back next season and not be able to continue the improvements he’s made.