It’s that time once again. Winter has finally located the glorious Great Lakes state, and while attention is firmly focused on the Detroit Lions, pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Lakeland just a few weeks now. And so, before we get into preseason coverage of the Detroit Tigers’ proper, it’s time for our 2024 preseason prospect list and scouting reports.
This year, we’ll go 34 players deep as the system is making for more difficult debates at the back end of the list. A piece on players who just missed will follow shortly.
We’ll start by discussing the system overall, before the rankings and some general commentary on them. Scouting reports for each player will follow in our usual gargantuan separate article that I hope makes it easier to refer back to that breaking them all up. Feel free to peruse last year’s edition to get a sense of how things have changed in the Tigers’ system after a year of new leadership in the organization. You can also judge us for previous misses.
Overall, the Detroit Tigers’ farm system is in reasonably good shape. They lack a slam dunk position player prospect right now, and the list does tail off a bit precipitously in the teens, but it’s fairly stacked with useful to very good prospects, plenty of them with significant upside. The top talent in the system overall is close to the major leagues and the farm system should give the major league roster plenty of support this year, starting with infielder Colt Keith.
The Tigers do have a pair of true high-end talents in RHP Jackson Jobe and Keith, and while 2023 first rounder Max Clark is still years away, they have a few more top 100 caliber prospects behind them in Parker Meadows and Jace Jung. A deep pool of talented players who aren’t quite to the point of looking like future everyday players or rotation stalwarts follows in the 45 and 45+ future value (FV) ranges. Things do tail off a little toward the end of our list and among the younger prospects, but a heavily prep-centered 2023 draft will likely change that this season.
This time last year, the system was probably a little underrated overall. The Tigers are getting more love this time around, and there appears to be a growing awareness that the Tigers player development system has dramatically improved over the last few years.
So while the Tigers tend to be ranked somewhere around tenth best system right now, a recent MLB Pipeline poll found the Tigers also in a tie for third as most underrated system according to a survey of MLB front office executives. Considering how much talent the Tigers have graduated over the past few years, that’s still a good sign for the future of the organization.
The Tigers player development system has improved a lot in two seasons under VP of Player Development Ryan Garko. That improvement has also made it clear that Al Avila’s front office was drafting more effectively than it seemed when the development system was still struggling to help players improve. Longtime scouting director Scott Plies can probably take a bow here as a steady stream of later round picks continue to develop into major league talent and quality prospects, while many of their early picks the past three years are trending in positive directions. The Tigers last few draft classes look reasonably good at this point, and they’ve stockpiled a pretty good overall group of pitching prospects in the upper minors, and they’ve had some surprise breakouts along the way to go with the success of top prospects like Jobe, Keith, and Jung.
The 2023 minor league season saw the pipeline still flowing strong with plenty of breakouts across the system. Recent first rounders Jackson Jobe and Jace Jung had big years, the former after a spring back injury looked liable to spoil his season. 2018 second round pick Parker Meadows finally put it together at the ripe old age of 23, made the leap to the major leagues, and is now penciled in as the club’s starting center fielder heading into spring camp. 2020 fifth round prep pick Colt Keith continued his assault on minor league pitching at the Triple-A level and is now regarded pretty widely as a top ten hitting prospect in the game despite his defensive issues. Meanwhile right-handers Keider Montero and Troy Melton, and outfielder Justice Bigbie, were among the biggest movers in the system.
Overall, the Tigers have plenty of pitching in the upper levels. Apart from Jackson Jobe, who is on his own tier, the Tigers have Montero, Ty Madden, Wilmer Flores, and lefty Brant Hurter all bound for Toledo and potentially able to contribute to the Tigers rotation or bullpen. Right-hander Troy Melton may be right behind them though he’ll begin the year with Jobe as they tackle the Double-A level. Considering the attrition rates with pitching, that depth of near-MLB caliber farm talent on top of a deep pool of major league starters could well be a major strength in 2024.
In terms of less heralded talent popping up, the Tigers had another 19th rounder, left fielder Justice Bigbie, develop into a legitimate power hitting prospect. He wasn’t on any major prospect lists entering the 2023 season. 19-year-old catching prospect Josue Briceno made a big impression as well, and could join Montero as one of the Tigers best IFA signings in quite some time while we wait to see if someone like Cristian Santana, who had a rough year and fell over 10 spots on our list, can turn his fortunes around this season.
Add to this a 2023 draft where the Tigers took a lot of shots at the upside of prep players. Beyond centerfielder Max Clark, infielder Kevin McGonigle, and left-hander Paul Wilson, all taken in the first few rounds, the Tigers selected six other prep players and were able to sign most of them, adding a significant influx in teenage talent to a system that was looking a little old and not so well-rounded a year ago. There will be plenty of interest in how Scott Harris’ first draft class performs in 2024.
One final note here, is that you won’t see Kreidler, or Andre Lipcius, or Sawyer Gipson-Long on our prospect list just because they’ve all played in the major leagues and are headed into their age 26 seasons. We’ll generally regard them as having graduated at that point. You also won’t see international free agents who haven’t reached A-ball either, simply because we haven’t seen them yet.
So, without further ado, here is your BYB preseason top 35 for the Detroit Tigers farm system. We’ve sorted them by traditional scouting grades to alleviate the tend of arguments that tend to brew up over a couple of spots one way or the order in the numerical rankings. Full reports will follow separately. Debating all this is most of the fun and no one knows what’s going to happen with any of these players, so enjoy and be nice to each other in the comments.
Detroit Tigers top 34 prospects
#1 RHP Jackson Jobe
#2 2B/3B Colt Keith
#3 CF Max Clark
#4 CF Parker Meadows
#5 2B/3B Jace Jung
#6 RHP Troy Melton
#7 RHP Ty Madden
#8 2B/SS Kevin McGonigle
#9 RHP Keider Montero
#10 3B/OF Justyn-Henry Malloy
#11 RHP Wilmer Flores
#12 C Dillon Dingler
#13 SS Peyton Graham
#14 2B/3B Cristian Santana
#15 OF Justice Bigbie
#16 LHP Brant Hurter
#17 LHP Paul Wilson
#18 C Josue Briceno
#19 2B Hao-Yu Lee
#20 2B Max Anderson
#21 RHP Jatnk Diaz
#22 INF Eddys Leonard
#23 RHP Andrew Dunford
#24 RHP Dylan Smith
#25 UT Wenceel Perez
#26 RHP Tyler Mattison
#27 OF Roberto Campos
#28 3B Carson Rucker
#29 2B/3B Luke Gold
#30 RHP Jaden Hamm
#31 UT Trei Cruz
#32 3B Izaac Pacheco
#34 SS Gage Workman
#34 C Brady Cerkownyk
Overall, it’s a fairly good system for a club that is getting closer to looking like a true contender. They have a couple players who could really boost the major league roster this season in Colt Keith and, later on in the season, Jackson Jobe or Jace Jung. Parker Meadows is going to be the starting centerfielder. Behind them are a lot of quality upper level prospects who are flawed in one respect or another but close enough to provide good depth for the Tigers pitching staff this season.
The surplus of solid hitting prospects who aren’t expected to provide much defensive value, from Jace Jung, to Justyn-Henry Malloy, to Justice Bigbie, continues to beg for a trade in my eyes. So does the collection of good arms behind Jackson Jobe. Keeping prospects past their peak value is as much of a choice as dealing them away trying to cash in their value in current major league talent. Either way, the front office will be evaluated on whether their evaluations are accurate in who stays and who goes. Without much experience with Harris and none with new general manager Jeff Greenberg, it’s hard to predict how they’ll approach this season if things go reasonably well.
Job one for the Tigers is to get out to a good start and convince the front office to really make a move. Two of the last three seasons, the team has played very solid ball from mid-May onward, but those starts made it too hard to believe in a second half run to the playoffs.
Overall, we were pretty impressed with the creativity and confidence shown in the first draft by Harris and his new scouting department. They went their own way, targeted players they liked with a mix of data analysis and old-school scouting and relationship building, and then managed to allocate their bonus pool really effectively to buy a lot of upside in young prep players. That, along with major improvements in player development under Ryan Garko, lends credence to the idea that the Tigers can trade away some talent as needed and still keep a healthy pipeline flowing toward the major league roster.