The Arizona Fall League will get underway on October 2, and the Tigers will be well represented on the Salt River Rafters roster. Top pitching prospect Jackson Jobe will be the featured attraction, but numerous names off the Tigers’ prospect list will be on hand.
Typically, the Fall League rosters are made up of High-A and Double-A level players, with some exceptions. Pitching staffs are filled with young players who had an injury and didn’t get their full workload in during the regular season. Jobe and right-handed pitching prospects Wilmer Flores and Dylan Smith fill the bill in that regard. Jobe has established himself as perhaps the top pitching prospect in the game over the last six weeks.
Flores exploded on the scene with a fantastic 2022 campaign, but struggled to build on it much this season and dealt with some minor injuries. Personally I still think he’s the second best pitching prospect in the system, though the likes of Keider Montero, Troy Melton, and Ty Madden are hot on his heels now. Smith is talented and projectible, but has had a few injuries that have made it difficult for him to put it all together and advance. The Tigers third rounder out of Alabama in 2021, Smith has fallen off fans radar a bit, but certainly has the talent to get back into the conversation.
On the positional side, teams may send a hitter there with specific things to work on in their approach at the plate, or on the defensive side. As with the pitchers, you tend to see players who were prevented from getting a full season’s work in due to injury. Colt Keith was the Tigers top representative last season after his regular season ended in June 2022 due to a shoulder injury.
The second ranking prospect from the Tigers system will be second baseman Jace Jung. The 2022 first rounder produced a breakout campaign, advancing from High-A West Michigan to Double-A Erie in late July. Jung mashed 28 home runs in 128 games this season, and really turned it on after moving up to Erie. There he cracked 14 home runs in just 47 games.
Jung played a full season and doesn’t need reps in the AFL, necessarily. However, he’s still got some things to clean up in his approach to left-handed pitching, and continues to strike out a little too much, despite the power and solid walk rates. So he does have some things to work on to ensure he’s on the fast track to Triple-A Toledo in 2024, with a potential debut waiting for him if he can take the next steps.
Outfielder Justice Bigbie has to be considered the Tigers wildest breakout story since...well since Kerry Carpenter in 2022. The 24-year-old corner outfielder doesn’t bring a ton to the table defensively, though he has some experience at first base as well, but Bigbie did nothing but rake this season. He averaged close to a .350 average between High-A and Double-A, cracking 18 home runs in 100 games between those levels, with a miniscule strikeout rate. Bigbie has struggled in 13 games with the Toledo Mud Hens, but looks to be getting his feet under him against much more experienced pitching at the Triple-A level.
Bigbie’s breakout has made him one to watch this season, and no doubt the Tigers would like to see more. We’ll also be interested to see if he moves around more defensively to try and find more options to get his bat into action should he reach the major leagues in 2024.
The other intriguing positional prospect headed to the AFL is infielder Hao-Yu Lee, who was acquired from the Phillies for starting pitcher Michael Lorenzen near the trade deadline. The 20-year-old showed some skills, but also some swing and miss in a brief stint with the West Michigan Whitecaps. He didn’t even get the chance to settle in and show Tigers’ fans what he could do before a leg injury ended his regular season in mid-August. So he needs the reps, and the Tigers’ player development staff no doubt has things they want him to work on and have more time to evaluate him defensively.
Rounding out the Tigers’ contingent for the Rafters will be RHP Tanner Kohlhepp and RHP RJ Petit. Both are relief prospects who need innings after returning from injuries this season.
In an unrelated bit of prospect news, per Lynn Henning of the Detroit News, second base prospect Jace Jung is working on a move to third base. With both Colt Keith and Justyn-Henry Malloy struggling to make the throws from the hot corner, the Tigers are still trying to find ways to fit these three into their plans next season positionally.
The Arizona Fall League opens on Monday, October 2 and runs through Thursday, November 9, before a quick playoff game and a championship game on November 11. You can get an overview of the top prospects from around the league who will be attending in MLB Pipeline’s preview here.