We’re a bit partial to FanGraphs around here. There are plenty of good sources for national prospect news, but none go so deep into their methodology as FanGraphs consistently does. So their top 100 prospect list, as well as their individual reports on each team, are a highlight of the preseason. We’ve already seen the work of Prospects Live, Baseball America, McDaniel, Keith Law, and several others. Our own top 30 and reports has been out for a few weeks. Tigers Minor League Report remains an excellent source. There are plenty of options, but we’re always interested in FanGraphs’ rankings and reports.
The new FanGraphs top 100 list does have one particular surprise from the Detroit Tigers system, and the player involved makes for a good example of the kind of debate that leaves different evaluators describing a player similarly, but grading them rather differently. We’ll get to that shortly. Here are the four Tigers’ prospects who made the list. Around three of them, the consensus is really pretty strong.
3B Colt Keith
Colt Keith leads as the Tigers’ top prospect, ranked 76th in the game. The young infielder has had a precocious approach and excellent contact skills from the jump. In 2022 he added a ton of muscle, worked on his batspeed, and showed off a huge uptick in power before his season was cut short with a fluke shoulder injury.
He produced a 150 wRC+ when healthy and was making among the highest rates of hard, airborne contact in the minors when he got hurt. Keith was on the SS/3B line as a high school defender, but his extra heft has pushed him down the defensive spectrum. He is stiff and bulky and not a lock to stay at third for a myriad of reasons.
RHP Wilmer Flores
Right-hander Wilmer Flores was our choice for the Tigers’ top prospect. FanGraphs has him second, at 82nd overall. Everyone is pretty high on his fastball-curve combination. The high-80’s cutter was improved this season, and the Tigers appear to have some plans to tweak it further this spring. If that works out, Flores will get another bump in his overall future value.
We had more concerns about Flores’ long-levered, somewhat high effort delivery going into the 2022 season. Instead, he was smoother and much consistent overall. It’s still a bit of a longer motion and possibly a little trickier to time up than pitchers with a more compact arm path. Still, Flores proved a lot in 2022 by commanding the fastball much more consistently and throwing a ton of strikes, all without hitters being able to do real damage against the heater. He just turned 22 recently and is pretty close to knocking on the door to the major leagues already. Still, they do note some relief risk here as well.
It’s fair to consider there to be subjective and persistent relief risk here related to Flores’ delivery and the length of his arm action. Even if that’s the outcome, he’s probably a good enough reliever that you’d value him close to this range anyway, especially if his peak velocity returns with such a move.
RHP Reese Olson
So here’s the big surprise, as they rank Olson 87th overall. He didn’t really come close to that level on any other lists. We had him 13th overall in the Tigers’ system, though that group from 4-13 in our rankings were all pretty close together. I continue to worry that his fastball gets hits too hard, too often. FanGraphs report is more optimistic on that front.
Where everyone agrees, is that Olson’s slider and changeup are really good. He has an average curveball as well, so this is a deep repertoire of quality pitches. He punched out 33.1 percent of hitters faced at Double-A this season, which is superb, and kept the walks to an average level. The stuff is plenty good.
Olson seemed to lean into pitching backwards more this season. He threw the slider and changeup more often for strikes as his command. And so the fourseamer became more of a chase pitch around the edges, and particularly at the top of the zone. That gave us a glimpse of how this could all come together for him and turn him into a pretty good starting pitcher. As long as he can continue to work hitters over without using the fastball to the degree most starters do? This could all work out very well with just a little better command.
I still think there’s a good amount of relief risk here, but we’ll see how it all plays out. No one thinks the fastball is bad, just average and potentially a lot more exploitable by major league hitters who will be less baffled by Olson’s deep, balanced pitch mix. We should finally see the whole package put to the test after a pretty good full year at Double-A Erie last season. He’ll be at Toledo with Flores this year, and the Tigers will be looking to make a few more tweaks this spring to set him up for his final approach to the majors. He’s a good bet to get his first look this summer.
RHP Jackson Jobe
The Tigers’ 2021 first rounder checks in at 110th on FanGraphs’ list, rounding out their 50 FV tier just ahead of Jack Leiter of the Rangers, and center fielder Robert Hassell III of the Nationals.
Nothing too surprising here. Everyone sees the raw stuff and potential, but Jobe needed a lot of work to start tuning the shapes of his fourseam-slider combo to play off each other more effectively. Personally, I thought things came together more late in the season, and as Jobe was still pretty new to pitching, wasn’t all that concerned considering the myriad adjustments he was making while acclimating to pitching full time in pro ball for the first time.
I’m expecting a pretty big leap in year two. The athleticism and his best stuff are too good to bet against. Still, if 2023 is another season of sluggish development, the risk is going to start headlining over the potential as he moves into the upper minors; a move that should happen in 2024 as long as he’s healthy and making progress. Still, for a 3rd overall pick of a high school pitcher, the following is accurate and not really what you want to hear.
Hitters in general seemed unphased by Jobe’s fastball/breaking ball combo and were comfortable parsing them from one another, even in A-ball. He didn’t throw a ton of strikes and the visual quality of his stuff was closer to average overall than plus or better, which is how it looked in high school. It’s possible some of this is simply the growing pains of a teenage pitcher, and it’s also possible that this is what Jobe’s stuff will be under the stress of a pro season’s worth of innings.
FanGraphs is still working their way through their team lists, so we’ll look for the Tigers’ report in the coming weeks. It’s always a compelling read, as is their top 100 list. So check it out here, and we’ll look forward to chatting with you in the comments about it.
All but Jobe of the Tigers group listed should be seen in Grapefruit League action to one degree or another in March. We should get a little sneak peek from Keith, Flores, and Olson, as well as Parker Meadows, Dillon Dingler, and Justyn-Henry Malloy, among others. Particularly with a few players off at times playing in the World Baseball Classic, there should be some extra playing time for them all in camp.