On Monday morning, Eric Longenhagen at FanGraphs released his Detroit Tigers prospect list for the 2024 season. Unsurprisingly, it began with right-handed starting pitcher Jackson Jobe at the top of the pile.
Unlike MLB Pipeline and Baseball America, who cap their organizational rankings to 30 and 10 players respectively, FanGraphs does not limit the slots available on the list. They place as many prospects as they believe merit a 35+ FV evaluation, in other words, a projection as at least a short-term role player at the major league level. Detroit's 31 players ranked falls shy side of average; in recent years, many teams wind up with 35 or so players who receive writeups.
Of course, Jobe, outfielder Max Clark, and infielders Jace Jung and Colt Keith are first names that spring to mind when discussing Tigers prospects, but the book on them hasn't really shifted that much. Jobe got a lot nastier this year, Keith and Jung mash, and so on. If you'd like to see what FanGraphs had to say about them, you can read it here. I'd like to use this space to discuss some of the more surprising or interesting choices FanGraphs made, as judged by my entirely arbitrary opinion.
Perusing the list, the first thing that grabbed my attention was the inclusion of lithe, slap hitting shortstop Josue Briceno as the 12th best prospect on the organization. Why? Well, I just lied to you about every part of Briceno's game, and you didn't even notice. Briceno is a thumping, big-bodied teenage catcher who demolished the complex league in 2023. That's kind of the point — entering the offseason only the sickos really knew who he was.
Longenhagen has always been willing to stick out his neck for recent international signees who pop in pro ball. In Briceno, he sees the potential for an offensively potent if defensively limited backstop. The accompanying blurb cites hit tracking data that backs up the gut feel on his power output. If this one pans out, Briceno could be a nationally notable prospect in a year or two. It's a bit of a gamble to put him this high this early, though.
That willingness to pump up international guys who improve in pro ball made me think FanGraphs would pounce on pitcher Keider Montero after the major strides he made in 2023, and was disappointed to see him just 22nd in these rankings.
Admittedly, we were always going to be the high watermark for hype on Montero. But placing him anywhere beneath the halfway mark on a Tigers prospect list feels like scouting the stat line, which is a major ick (am I cool?). Montero made his way through High-A and Double-A to reach Toledo last summer and showed serious gains in his fastball, changeup, and overall command. While younger than fellow pitching prospect Ty Madden, Montero’s status as a member of the 40-man roster already means he and his 3000 rpm breaking ball will be coming to Detroit in 2024.
Keider Montero is such an interesting arm to me. Lead AAA with 16 whiffs last night. Pitched very well until the pouring rain in the 5th(HBP,BB,HR)— Chris Clegg (@RotoClegg) August 30, 2023
Fastball velo improves throughout starts, up to 97.2 mph.
CH up to 17 in of fade
CB up to 58 in of vMov
SL up to 16 in of sweep pic.twitter.com/7bbhP0jR5J
On the other side of that coin, FanGraphs was happy to embrace Troy Melton's growth as a pitcher and put him within the top ten spots. As a converted catcher, Melton's college career was built on blowing his fastball by guys, but he is becoming more refined in the Tigers' system. He was untouchable for a lengthy midsummer stretch in West Michigan and is arguably the team's most exciting starting pitching prospect outside of Jackson Jobe.
I got the chance to interview Melton last summer and came away impressed with not just his love of the game, but also the level of excitement he has for the player development process itself.
"When I got into the Tigers’ system last year, I’m exposed to all this technology, really for the first time. I had to learn about who I was, I had to learn about what all the numbers meant, how I play into those numbers, and then how I can improve on those numbers," he said.
I was really proud of how that feature turned out; check it out here.
Two brand new additions to the organization snuck into the backend of the list: infielder Nestor Miranda and relief arm Devin Sweet. The Tigers inked the hard-hitting but defensively limited Miranda as the top player among their 2024 international signees and placed a waiver claim on Sweet in mid-January.
Though Miranda was portrayed by MLB Pipeline as a well rounded, unexciting corner infielder, FanGraphs popped an 80 for his raw power but warned of severe bat to ball concerns. Some disparity here is expected; it's tough to get a feel for teenage signees and Pipeline has always skewed toward conservative 50 grades on player tools before seeing international guys come stateside.
I'm more inclined to believe that Miranda, whose signing was orchestrated by former General Manager Al Avila, is the low-feel, high exit velo player described by Longenhagen. Avila often paid out for physically mature players from the overseas market and rolled the dice on their plate presence coming around. Names like Jose De La Cruz and Adinso Reyes come to mind.
Sweet is a changeup artist who works from the bullpen. He spent a whole bunch of years working his way up the food chain in Seattle, only to be promptly waived after getting beat up in his first MLB action. The Athletics claimed him, but they decided to move on this winter and the Tigers were next in line.
Even though he's 27 years old, not really a “prospect” in the truest sense and with a very narrow path to becoming a contributor, I'm intrigued at what Detroit has up their sleeve for Sweet in 2024. They've done some wizardly things with other teams' leftover relievers and I trust them to patch up castoff pitchers more than any other element of roster building. Sweet’s two options and place on the 40 man roster mean he may not break camp with the team but will probably see time in Comerica at some point if their plan for him bears a bit of fruit.
There's a too many notable players in the honorable mentions list to comment on them all, but here's my thoughts on a few.
Roberto Campos was unimpressive in High-A, but he was young for the level and mostly held his own. I think it's too early to throw in the towel on him. Izaac Pacheco was also young for High-A ball, but he was really terrible at the plate and is a non-premium defender. I've heard that the Tigers think he's just an adjustment away from a breakout, but became increasingly frustrated with him as the season closed out. There’s still plenty of time, but only if he can make some real adjustments to both his swing and his approach.
Cristian Santana went from a highly ranked teenager after his 2022 stateside debut, to nearly unplayable for months in Lakeland. The theory here goes that Santana and the Tigers were working on his swing mechanics and things took time to gel. Santana then flipped the switch in July and was a monster for the rest of the year. Justice Bigbie mashed all year, but is incredibly polarizing because of his lack of athleticism and towering BABIP. FanGraphs is out on him, and I agree, to the chagrin of my coworkers here at BYB. Seth Stephenson hit for high average and stole 70 bags, but his lack of physicality or power prevented him from even getting an honorable mention.
Jatnk Diaz came out of nowhere right before the draft with a big time fastball and secondary stuff that flashes plus. The Tigers swooped in on the teenager with their 8th round pick. Diaz immediately showed off serious though pretty raw potential, making him a post-draft darling among fans. Freddy Pacheco puts up big numbers out of the 'pen and spent the 2023 season rehabbing from Tommy John with Detroit. He reupped on a minor league deal and could quickly become their top relief prospect if his stuff is intact and he can tighten his fastball command up a bit more. Andrew Dunford is a mammoth pitcher who the Tigers scooped out of high school in the 12th round and snuck into the 30th ranked spot. He has a lot to prove, but has a lot of time to do it and can pull 97 mph out of his bag of tricks already.
Overall, the BYB site staff didn't really connect with this list. It seemed to us that a few of the choices seemed reactionary to small sample sizes or limited looks, while overlooking players who deserved more recognition. On the other hand, Longenhagen remains a consensus choice as the best national prospect writer, and most of our quibbles and complaints are just the nature of following one system very closely.
That being said, I would encourage anyone who got this far to go read it for themselves. Without getting on too much of a soapbox, clicks are the easiest way to help keep the struggling baseball writing community afloat, even at an established site like FanGraphs. I've deliberately left out many juicy tidbits from the article explaining their Tigers prospect list for you to find for yourself. Let us know what you think of their list in the comments when you're done!