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Introducing our 2023 Detroit Tigers top 30 prospect list

With spring training within sight, it’s time to take stock of the Tigers’ farm system.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

So far this offseason, the farm system bequeathed to new President of Baseball Operations, Scott Harris has been pretty widely maligned. There are plenty of good reasons for that, but there is also some commentary that probably has more to do with the prior regime’s reputation in terms of scouting and player development as with the actual talent on hand. The system isn’t good but it isn’t a disaster either.

Still, we’re not here to compare all 30 farm systems, and so we’ll leave the farm system ranking to others. I think things could turn around pretty quickly, but the Tigers are undeniably in the bottom third of teams at the moment. As we roll out our new top 30 prospect list for the Tigers, let’s discuss the state of the farm and its trajectory, as well as some of our thinking on these rankings. Our scouting reports will follow in a separate, extremely long piece that you can read at your leisure.

Obviously, the Detroit Tigers have spent the last five seasons in teardown mode, only beginning to make a real effort to put a winning team on the field again last season. Considering that fact, the host of top picks they’ve had, and trades they’ve made, it’s fair to say that the system is not at all what it should be. The Tigers lack a blue-chipper or two who would be roughly ranked in the top 25 or so leaguewide, and that’s basically the whole of the argument from those very low on the system. In my eyes, they do have at least three top 100 prospects, but decidedly toward the bottom of the list. That lack of real “can’t miss” types is the biggest thing holding the system at the bottom of the rankings.

Of course, we’ve seen five “can’t miss” types come and go thought the system in recent years, and the spectre of their lack of success in the major leagues hangs over impressions of the current system. If Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning were all healthy frontline starters as hoped, and Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson’s debuts had gone significantly better, there would be less fretting over the current farm system. In the light of sub-par development for those five players, it’s also harder for fans to believe there’s much talent of note left behind.

However, a lot of things have changed within the Tigers’ organization. Starting with the hiring of Kenny Graham to take over as player development director after the 2019 season, the Tigers have gone on to completely overhaul their player development system. The former “big five” prospects never really got to take advantage, but Al Avila finally made a big change late in the 2021 season when he replaced VP of Player Development Dave Littlefield with Ryan Garko.

That kicked off a litany of changes as the Tigers finally and rapidly moved to do what we’ve been begging them to do since Avila took over from Dave Dombrowski; hire scouting and development talent from more successful organizations. Garko has assembled a lot of diverse coaching talent from Driveline Baseball, top development organizations like the Dodgers, and highly regarded college coaches like new assistant pitching coach, Gordon Lund and hitting coach, Michael Brdar.

Most of the old breed have now been gone for over a year, and with brand new leadership in the scouting department as well, there’s a good chance that the talent acquisition portion of roster building not only improves, but works more in concert with player development to target players they already know how to polish. As Garko himself was involved with the hiring process for Harris, and has been retained with a vote of confidence, there appears to be much more alignment and coordination among the organization’s major decision makers.

You’re not going to get ahead just by catching up, but changes were pretty substantial in Avila’s final year as his lieutenants and manager seized a greater role. That is only accelerating under the new leadership in the front office. More than any draft pick, improving their scouting and player development is the crucial task to turn the Tigers into a winning organization, and we can hope that the new group will be more successful.

Some early signs of success can be found in the fact that hitters like Colt Keith, Parker Meadows, and Wenceel Perez all broke out with big seasons in 2022. While Keith’s less unexpected, but Meadows and Perez had stagnated for years, making no significant adjustments until the new development group came online and pushed them in specific ways. This is the most promising sign, as developing hitters has been the damning weakness of the whole organization for a long, long time.

More evidence is found in the much more direct and specific directives from Garko and his staff overall. After watching the previous group talk in generalities, the Tigers new development team is finally pursuing aggressive remedies for obvious player issues, rather than waiting to see if they figure it out just by playing the games. They’re identifying specific issues and being direct with players about tangible adjustments to improve, and the results should be better for it.

So, the farm is lacking at the top, and falls off too quickly beyond the mid-teens. It will take time for Scott Harris, new VP of Scouting Rob Metzler, and new scouting director Mark Connor to make their impact. Still, a wave of interesting teenage infielders, and the fact that the Tigers did well in the augural MLB draft lottery, landing the third overall pick and three picks in the top 46 total selections this summer, gives us hope that the pipeline will improve quickly under the new leadership.

The Tigers top 30

  1. RHP Wilmer Flores
  2. 3B Colt Keith
  3. RHP Jackson Jobe
  4. 2B Cristian Santana
  5. SS Peyton Graham
  6. OF Parker Meadows
  7. 2B Jace Jung
  8. 3B/OF Justyn-Henry Malloy
  9. LHP Joey Wentz
  10. 3B Izaac Pacheco
  11. RHP Ty Madden
  12. 2B Wenceel Perez
  13. RHP Reese Olson
  14. C Dillon Dingler
  15. OF Roberto Campos
  16. INF Ryan Kreidler
  17. C Josh Crouch
  18. RHP Dylan Smith
  19. LHP Brant Hurter
  20. RHP Keider Montero
  21. SS Javier Osorio
  22. INF Andre Lipcius
  23. RHP Troy Melton
  24. 2B/SS Reylin Perez
  25. INF Abel Bastidas
  26. RHP Mason Englert
  27. INF Luke Gold
  28. INF Manuel Sequera
  29. RHP Brendan White
  30. RHP Elvis Alvarado

Final thoughts

We’ll have short reports for all 30 prospects on the list in a separate piece as we did last year. I think you could take your pick of the top three and re-arrange them to your liking. All have a solid floor as major league regulars, with significant upside that could carry any of them toward the top of your favorite national top 100 list this season. Santana we just haven’t seen quite enough of as he was 18 last season and playing for the Low-A Lakeland Flying Tigers.

From there, Peyton Graham and Parker Meadows are probably the two big initial surprises for some, but their likely defensive value helps solidify their floors, despite significant risk that neither will quite get to their power enough to play everyday. The upside with both players is high and we’ll bet on them reaching it over safer hit tools in the hands of Jace Jung and Justyn-Henry Malloy, both of whom are decidedly bat first players. Still, they’re all on the same tier in our eyes. Izaac Pacheco got a lot of discussion and his tremendous power potential could make this look like a pretty conservative ranking in short order.

That’s a solid good group of secondary prospects in our eyes. Yes, top organizations might go 12-15 deep with similarly talented players to our 4-10, but odds are good the Tigers will get one or two solid players there, and potentially a really good one if the new development group really is a significant upgrade. That’s very much par for the course in prospect development.

Other than the lack of a Riley Greene or Tarik Skubal at the top of the list, the real weakness lies beyond Dylan Smith at 18th. Most of the players beyond that point either don’t have upside of a full-time major league regular, or in the case of Javier Osorio, Reylin Perez, Abel Bastidas, or Manuel Sequera, are just still very young and raw, and haven’t reached High-A yet. The Tigers have signed some high priced infielders on international signing day the past few years, and if there’s hope of a big breakout, that’s a decent group to choose from. Ideally there would be a deep group of more experienced prospects with solid chances to be regular contributors in that bottom tier. Instead we’ll have to see which of the kids step up in 2023.

Is this the worst farm system in baseball? Probably not. Still, however you slice it they’re certainly near the bottom of the league at the moment. Yet at the same time, after graduating five top 20 prospects over the past few years, there is still a pretty good core of talent on hand. Perhaps I’m scarred from covering the Tigers for too long, but I’ve seen far, far, far worse. They have a somewhat underrated group, and if the development staff really is significantly upgraded, things could turn around in a hurry. A good draft this summer and another trade or two would have Scott Harris and the Tigers in a much better position at the end of the year.