When I sat down to write this dive into Toledo’s roster, it had been my intention to provide brief context and analysis for each player who could feasibly play for Detroit this season. Little did I realize that description encompasses almost the entire roster. Unlike in recent years, the Tigers are using the Triple-A roster to stockpile replacements at virtually every position in case of injury or poor performance on the MLB roster.
The roster churn is a major element of how winning teams without a big payroll operate. Scott Harris made it his first order of business as the the new sheriff in town to create a situation where roster churn is possible. Rather than burning Triple-A roster spots on career minor league journeyman and non-prospects, Harris cleaned house and built a roster full of usable tools and post-prospects in their mid-to-late 20’s.
There’s a smattering of recognizable prospects from recent Tigers’ draft classes here, but the less notable names are primarily former prospects from other teams who never really panned out. Reinforcements are also expected from Double-A Erie midseason in the form of Wilmer Flores, Colt Keith, Ty Madden, Adam Wolf, Dillon Dingler, and others.
The result is a wrecking ball, a force to be reckoned with in the International League. They’ll be led by Anthony Iapoce, who spent last season as the minor league hitting coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Iapoce has a long track record as a coach, including some overlapping time with Harris with the Cubs. And while we don’t know how much of a hand he had in working with players individually in Boston, it reflects well that the formerly light-hitting Ceddanne Rafaela blossomed into one of Boston’s best prospects while crushing High- and Double-A pitching under his tutelage.
For those who follow minor league baseball, this is arguably the most exciting team in the Tigers’ pipeline. For those who only care about the big league roster, it’s still worth familiarizing yourself with these players. Beyond the Tigers’ top prospects, there are plenty of players here who can end up contributing at the major league level. Let’s take a look at the most notable players who will take the field for the Mud Hens to begin the year, as well as some others who will be stalwarts of the team and potential break glass replacements in the bigs.
OF Parker Meadows
One of the biggest breakout hitters of the Tigers’ 2022 minor league season was Parker Meadows. It was starting to feel like time was running out for he 2018 second-round draftee after several frustrating seasons. Things finally clicked for him as he leapt up to Double-A after an excellent start in West Michigan. During his first trip to the high minors, he put up a convincing .275/.354/.466 line, adding 15 home runs and the highest walk rate of his career for good measure.
We’ve always known that the younger Meadows has the physicality and defensive grace to make himself a big leaguer of he could just get things together at the plate. He did just that without the assistance of a bloated batting average on balls in play — the .309 BABIP behind his performance last season is slightly above average, but in line with his athleticism.
In other words, we think his offensive growth is here to stay.
With a monster spring training under his belt as he heads into the season at Triple-A, it seems reasonable to believe that he’s on track for a midseason debut in Detroit. There’s going to be all kinds of schmaltzy stories written about the Meadows brothers patrolling the same outfield, but don’t trivialize the impact Parker Meadows could bring to this lineup in the near future. He may have an ongoing battle contact issues, but his power, speed, and outfield defense are valuable assets.
RHP Reese Olson
Pulling Olson as the return for Daniel Norris, who was pretty much cooked by the point, may well end up being the best trade Al Avila ever pulled off. Olson has some similarities to a souped up version of Joey Wentz. Depending on the day, he has as many as three good offspeed pitches, the best of which is a big ol’ changeup that he throws with convincing action, and he can reach back for velocity up to 97 miles per hour.
With 10 strikeouts tonight, Reese Olson took over the Eastern League lead with 130. pic.twitter.com/6COOgsU5BZ— Detroit Tigers Player Development (@RoadtoDetroit) August 13, 2022
Command is the key thing holding Olson back from making an impact on the big leagues. While his fastball velocity is good, his extension and pretty average movement make the heater play down somewhat, and he can’t make many big mistakes over the heart of the plate without it getting hit hard. So he isn’t going to be a big fastball heavy pitcher in the majors. He’ll need command over three or four offerings in an outing to reach his full potential. Olson made improvements in that department last season, leading to a respectable 4.42 K/BB ratio and 3.31 FIP in Double-A last year. At 23 years old and entering his first tour of the International League, there’s a lot to be excited about for Olson’s future with the organization.
There’s some reliever risk here if he’s not able to locate his full pitch mix at the major league level. As his 33.1 percent strikeout rate with Erie illustrates, he certainly has the potential to be a lethal relief arm, but Detroit would obviously prefer a mid-rotation starter. Either way, it’s a matter of when, not if, he debuts in the Olde English D. His timeline is on track for late this season. If injuries and poor performance take a bite out of the current MLB rotation, there’s enough depth to prevent rushing Olson before he’s ready. He can simmer in Triple-A for as long as it takes.
3B Justyn-Henry Malloy
Justyn-Henry Malloy would have been the breakout prospect of the year in most organizations, but he had the misfortune of making his gains the same year as Spencer Strider and Vaughn Grissom became juggernauts in Atlanta. The Tigers acquired him for reliever Joe Jiménez in the first major deal swung by new boss Scott Harris, and fair or not, it has made him a bit of a statement of intent for the new team leadership.
Malloy hit his way across three levels of the minor leagues in 2022, but his most important performance was a 54-game stretch in double-A where he hit .268/.403/.421. Fueled by a very mature approach at the plate, he picks his pitches well and worked a walk rate just north of 18 percent while learning to play the outfield at the same time.
The Tigers moved him back to the infield dirt and he’s on track to take over for the Tigers at the hot corner sooner rather than later. The Athletic reported that Harris is such a believer in what Malloy has to offer that he had tried to acquire Malloy once before while he was still in a leadership role with the Giants. He doesn’t have the big-time power that many corner infielders thrive on, but his hitting profile is sustainable and the Tigers will be happy just to add a steady hand to the lineup who consistently works counts, gets on base, and projects to hit 20-25 home runs in his prime.
RHP Alex Faedo
Faedo’s journey from ace of the Florida Gators’ College World Series staff to big leaguer has been an odyssey. His developmental track has been a nightmare — he had conditioning problems when he entered the pros that potentially stemmed from a pair of knee surgeries prior to his junior year, and after he got back on track in 2019, his second full season in pro ball, he didn’t pitch again until 2022 thanks to the pandemic and a blown elbow.
He’s an awkward fit with the Tigers at this point. The team’s philosophy has changed drastically since he was drafted and he doesn’t feature many of the attributes that the new leadership and pitching development team value. Faedo’s fastball plays down because of poor extension, and worse yet, his bumpy road to the highest levels of baseball has taken a toll on his fastball velocity and the effectiveness of his slider.
The new development staff under Ryan Garko has also made some serious adjustments to his delivery over the offseason. The Tigers adjusted his posture and arm slot after a home run prone pro debut in 2018, moving him away from his college mechanics. The new staff has actually reversed some of those decisions, and Faedo looks more like his college self now than at any point since 2018. Those are big changes to ingrain, and it may take time. The question is how much time Faedo has left to tinker now that he’s 27 years old.
One interesting tidbit that suggests there may be some gas left in the tank for Faedo’s development? Both his fastball and changeup have 99 percent active spin, resulting in substantially above-average horizontal movement. In other words, while his stuff may have taken a hit, his fastball still has as much wiggle as ever and his changeup could be effective with improved command.
There’s been persistent talk of pushing Faedo to the bullpen in hopes of revitalizing his once-fearsome breaking ball and hiding his non-ideal heater, but so far the Tigers have allowed him to stay in the rotation. He started 12 games for Detroit last season before hip surgery sidelined him and he’s going to be used in Toledo’s rotation. Considering his age, things are going to have to improve rapidly this spring to avoid a move to the bullpen.
INF Andre Lipcius
Lipcius has steadily trekked through the minor leagues providing defensive versatility and intelligent at-bats everywhere he goes. Where Lipcius shone brightest early in his career was the ability to tighten up his approach in two stroke counts. It’s not the flashiest skill in the world, but he is a pesky foul ball hitter who doesn’t give up that third strike easily. He’s been able to maintain that ability and was a .304 hitter in Triple-A last year while drawing a 13% walk rate.
He’s been deployed at second and third base, and added first base to his repertoire this spring. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get playing time at left field as well at some point as the Tigers mold him into a utility man for the near future.
During Spring Training, fans witnessed Lipcius tap into his power to a previously unseen degree. He was a frequent starter during Grapefruit League action, which makes those results a little more believable, and for a brief moment it looked like he had a real chance at the Opening Day roster. Don’t be surprised to see him make a mid-season debut in the Zach McKinstry role.
INF Wenceel Perez
Perez has been in Detroit fans’ common consciousness for a number of years now, but it’s only because he reached Single-A as an 18 year old and then stalled out there for a while. He was notable initially as a slappy type who made lots of contact, had good speed, and could feasibly stay at shortstop. Four years later, those sentiments are now only half true.
Now grown out of his kid body, Perez has matured into more power than evaluators expected early on in his career. Improved physicality has come at the cost of his defensive capabilities. He never had great instincts at shortstop in the first place, and now we believe he profiles best defensively as a second baseman. His likeliest career path probably includes reps at second, third, and short in the big leagues as a utility guy, and perhaps even some work in the outfield barring another offensive leap.
That’s not to understate how utterly dominant Perez was in the minors in 2022. According to wRC+, he was 43 percent better than the average High-A hitter, earning him an obvious midseason promotion. He took to Double-A seamlessly, where he was 43 percent better than the average hitter again! He’s a little banged up and on IL at the moment, but if he hits the ground running in Triple-A once he’s healthy, he’ll be knocking on the door by midseason once again.
RHP Trevor Rosenthal
This is Detroit’s second bite at the apple trying to restore Rosenthal’s once-dominant status. He had a good run as St. Louis’ closer early in his career, but regression hit him like a freight train when he blew out his elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2018. Two more operations — one to correct thoracic outlet syndrome and one to repair a lat injury — have kept him off the big league mound since 2020.
To be honest, it’s doubtful that there’s anything to be had here, even if he’s able to stay healthy in 2023. Rosenthal was still able to dial up high heat after coming back from TJS, but he’s only logged two innings in the past two years prior to this season and it’s unclear whether he still has that much juice. Additionally, he battles a hectic delivery that doesn’t work if his stuff isn’t in tip-top shape.
On that note, the pitch tracking data Statcast returned on his slider when Rosenthal was pitching in 2020 is concerning. The pitch had lost both horizontal and vertical movement since 2017, and correspondingly, he wasn’t able to induce whiffs with it as effectively and batters managed hard contact in 46 percent of batted ball events. He’ll need that secondary offering to offset his lost command and the declining effectiveness of his fastball.
To put it bluntly, he’s a complete project arm nowadays, and if the Tigers get some value out of him that would be a pretty nice feather in their player development cap.
SS Zack Short
There is exactly one thing that Short does at a major league level: draw walks. Throughout his minor league career and even during his mostly awful stretch with the Tigers in 2021, he has consistently made the most of his ability to read the zone. Making pitchers work is a mostly translatable skill that he refined and used to earn prospect status.
Unfortunately, that’s where the praises for him end. He doesn’t stand out for quickness, defensive acumen, contact ability, or thump at the plate. He even hits pop up’s at a bizarrely high rate. His bat works well enough in the high minors that he’ll be a mainstay in the Toledo offense, but his appeal as a prospect is completely gone.
It’s strange, then, that he’s been the immortal 39th man on Detroit’s 40 man roster under both Avila and Harris. It’s possible that is presence is meant to send a message — “If you want to make this team, you have to control the strike zone” — but that would be out of character for the current leadership, who prefers the roster churn. At 28 years old and with nearly half a season’s worth of bad MLB tape, he would almost certainly pass waivers. Ultimately, he’s not going to be around forever, but he may be a break glass option if a rash of injuries hits the Tigers infield.
IF Tyler Nevin
Once upon a time, Nevin was a notable prospect in the Rockies organization. Now a 26-year-old who has had two unremarkable stretches in the big leagues and an offensive profile that doesn’t float his corner infield defense, it’s hard to think of him as a prospect anymore. Nevertheless, the Tigers saw reason to trade for him from the Baltimore Orioles and he survived on the 40-roster when Edwin Uceta, arguably a more intriguing reclamation project, did not.
Officially, Nevin is on a rehab assignment in Toledo for a minor injury he suffered in camp with the team in the Grapefruit League. However, he does have one minor league option remaining on his contract and I’d be stunned if the Tigers didn’t use it once he returns from the injured list. He’s the quintessential Quad-A player; he’s too good to grow with Triple-A playing time, but his core competencies don’t add up to a big leaguer. As a result, there’s not really a necessity for him, or room for him, on the big league roster at the moment.
Nevin is able to put a bit of a charge into an errant fastball and makes consistent contact against slow stuff, but he doesn’t have upper end power to tap into. That limits his upside, but the Tigers don’t need him to be a star. Harris built a hundred contingency plans for Detroit’s big league roster, and one would assume that Nevin is slated as a potential replacement if Spencer Torkelson gets injured or is terrible. In the meantime, he will be a force in the heart of the Toledo lineup.
RHP Brendan White
It was a mild surprise when White was added to the 40 man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft. Converted to relief just a year prior, his stuff popped and he conquered Double-A hitters with a fastball-slider combo that boasts elite spin.
Elite is a word that gets tossed around far too lightly in the prospect community. It’s a fun buzzword and paints a quick and easy mental picture. This guy is really good at something? He’s elite! But when I say he has elite spin in his slider, I mean it. He can sling it at north of 3,000 RPMs, reaching as high as 3,250, according to some reporting done by the Athletic. Had MLB teams realized that at the time of the 2019 MLB draft, White would not have slipped to the 26th round.
White’s fastball isn’t quite as potent, but a low arm slot and pretty good ride help it to play up despite subpar extension. He can run it up to 97 mph, an improvement from his days in the lower minors, and while it’s not the kind of fastball that can dominate on its own, it’s plenty good enough when White is commanding both primary offerings.
Here’s Brendan White’s full inning of work from this afternoon. pic.twitter.com/DT8Ru9DZsp— Chris Brown (@ChrisBrown0914) March 11, 2023
Despite the league’s current obsession with spin, RPMs don’t automatically equal MLB outs. White had a matched set of sub-3.00 ERA and FIP in Erie, but that doesn’t mean he’ll make the leap. He still has to earn his spot in the bigs, but with a 40 man roster spot already in hand, White will be given leverage situations in Toledo to prove himself. It would be no surprise to see him called up at any point after the All Star break.
C Donny Sands
Detroit brought in a boatload of catchers during the offseason, but Sands was the only one who really felt like a Jake Rogers insurance policy. Instead, Rogers balled out all spring and Sands will start the year at Triple-A. As a 27 year old, this will be his third season with significant time spent at the highest level of the minors. He’s hit well there in the past, and there’s every reason to believe he will be Toledo’s primacy catcher as long as he continues to do so.
The biggest thing working in Sands’ favor is his above average raw power. Catchers are being expected to carry a heavier offensive load as the years creep on. In broad strokes, a catcher who can turn over the lineup with a hard hit ball every now and again and won’t kill your pitcher on defense seems like a passable bench option. That’s exactly the role Sands is trying to fill.
While Sands will never be a slappy hitter who makes tons of contact, he took a step forward in his ability to talk walks and control the zone. (Are you sensing a pattern?) He was likely targeted in the return for Gregory Soto for that very reason. If Rogers struggles as the season progresses, Sands is going to look awfully nice as a philosophical fit for the Tigers’ lineup and can realistically provide replacement level work behind the plate.
OF Akil Baddoo
Every Tigers fan knows Baddoo’s story as an unlikely first-year contributor whose speed, patience and power injected energy into an unexpectedly fun 2021 campaign for Detroit baseball. Following that raucous rookie season, it would have seemed unlikely for him to open the 2023 season in the minors, but that’s what’ll happen after a brutal sophomore slump and a losing camp battle for the final outfield spot on the roster. Life comes at you fast, huh?
Quality of contact against fastballs is a major differences between good Baddoo and, uh, bad Baddoo. In 2021, he made hard contact against 46.3 percent of all fastballs. That figure dropped to 36.6 percent last season. That steep decline is especially visible against four-seamers — his hard-hit rate on those pitches fell off by 14.3 percent.
One possible explanation for his loss of dynamism is an oblique injury suffered last May. The oblique is crucial to core strength and it can be a tricky recovery to monitor and control. He also had trouble with his swing, adding and then abandoning a leg kick and working past some rigidity that had crept back into his approach. Ultimately, he proved to be better than the Triple-A pitchers he faced last year but is stuck in limbo at the moment. Austin Meadows absence has already opened up a spot for Baddoo and that playing should do a lot to clarify matters this season.
RHP Rony Garcia
The Tigers took a gamble on Garcia as the first pick in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, and he entered the big leagues meekly. As a 22 year old who hadn’t reached Triple-A, he leaned too heavily on an ineffective fastball and was punished accordingly. His sophomore season was largely spent on the injured list. That meant our first real look at what he has to offer came last season. He put in a 51-inning performance as a swingman, splitting time between cleanup duties and spot starts.
The results were mixed, as they often are with fringy relief arms. Let’s start with the good — it seems that the Tigers have helped Garcia develop his curveball into a real weapon. Despite having less horizontal and less vertical break than the league average, Garcia was able to fool hitters with his bender, inducing whiffs on 36.5 percent of his 280 curveballs thrown. Additionally, he’s added a sinker that plays well with the shape of his four-seam fastball.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t add up to much when he’s serving up fastballs down the pipe for hitters to tee off on, which they did with alarming frequency in 2022. Statcast’s batted ball event tracking system puts Garcia firmly at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to limiting good contact. He was among the very worst in hard hit percentage, barrel percentage, and average exit velocity against. Now 25 years old, Garcia needs to tighten up his command and stop missing inside the zone if he wants to be part of the Tigers’ bullpen going forward.
RHP Kervin Castro is a reliever with a riding fastball and sneaky curve that puts him on the major league bubble. He was excellent for Scott Harris’ Giants in 2021, but he hasn’t been able to re-capture his command after an injury plagued 2022 campaign. You can read our full profile of him here.
LHP Miguel Del Pozo can’t seem to hang on in the majors, but he will be a mainstay in leverage situations for the Hens,
RHP Zach Logue has spent two seasons in Triple-A with wildly varying results, but he has pitched in ten MLB starts there’s reason to believe he could be an innings eater for Toledo.
INF Jermaine Palacios was a mediocre prospect in Minnesota’s organization, but he’ll fill a utility role for the Hens in 2023 and could possibly serve as emergency depth for Detroit.
RHP Ashton Goudeau is a minor league journeyman with a little big league time who has been around since 2012 and will eat innings for Toledo.
OF Brendon Davis has a bat that plays well at Triple-A and he debuted last season with the Tigers for a three-game cup of coffee.
LHP Andrew Magno has a violent over the top delivery that’s tough on hitters and entertaining to watch but leads to lots of walks. If he gets dialed in, he could certainly give the Tigers’ bullpen a boost.
INF Andy Ibáñez is a hit-over-power corner infielder who didn’t live up to his billing in the majors last year, but he’ll be fine as a plug and play option in Toledo. Significant major league playing time is highly unlikely, but he can contribute in a pinch.
LHP Tyler Holton is a relief arm with a good changeup, but his fastball just doesn’t play at its high 80s/low 90s velocity without pinpoint control.
RHP Matt Wisler has made a nice major league career on the back of his terrific slider, but it’s not as effective as it once was and he’s also grappled with neck injuries. The two are likely inter-related issues, and the Tigers are hoping to get him right this spring.
LHP Jace Fry was an effectively wild reliever for the White Sox for a few years until 2021, when he became just plain wild.
RHP Aneurys Zabala throws fire and strikes out tons of guys, but he also gets hit hard and has trouble keeping it in the strike zone.
RHP Brenan Hanifee developed very slowly and the strikeouts never came, but he’s pretty young for a minor league pickup and might have a little something left to give with a new coaching staff.
C Andrew Knapp was once the Phillies catcher of the future, but he’s had an unremarkable MLB career and his offense isn’t big league caliber anymore.