RHP Freddy Pacheco
The Cardinals hoped to sneak Pacheco, who was experiencing elbow discomfort, through wavers late last offseason after the bulk of teams had mostly wrapped up their 40 man moves. Detroit decided to step in and sequestered the recuperating reliever on their 60 day IL, burning an option year while he accrued a full season of service time without throwing a pitch. The two parties initially tried to avoid Tommy John surgery, but it became unavailable and he went under the knife in June.
He spent ages growing into a viable major league prospect, but a 2022 breakout put him right on the cusp of a MLB promotion. Crafted in the image of a prototypical reliever, Pacheco was throwing a very hard fastball and a swing and miss slider before his elbow gave out. It’ll be another six months at least before we can get an indication of how much of previous self came through his procedure and recovery intact. It’s a good sign at least that Detroit, who have monitored and guided his rehab thus far, brought him back on a minor league deal for 2024.
If things go well, it’s not hard to foresee a 2025 debut in the major leagues for Pacheco. Unfortunately, though, the factors at play aren’t entirely within his control. The bullpen is a crowded place in the Tigers’ organization. That new contract is a small vote of confidence, but he’ll be trying to find his major league footing at the same time as a variety of equally talented hurlers, many of whom are younger than Pacheco.
RHP Tanner Kohlhepp
A lot of bad injury luck has kept Kohlhepp off the mainstream radar, and as a reliever who is already pushing 25 years old without high minors experience, he’s demographically behind the eight ball. Even with those disclaimers in mind, I’d be willing to rank him at the first sign that he’s truly healthy. In fact, he’s among the small group of players here who I can easily see making it into my personal post-draft top prospects list.
With a low arm slot and a birdlike, upright delivery, Kohlhepp is somewhat evocative of Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Brady Singer — a comparison reinforced by the dastardly amount of armside run both men can induce on a mid-90s fastball. Kohlhepp also throws a snappy breaking ball with the velocity of a slider and a primarily vertical movement profile. That makes him a tough look for righties out of that arm slot, and he works them over on the inside part of the zone. Busting that fastball in on the hands and dropping the breaking ball just below the zone is a recipe for ugly swings and poor contact.
In the two and a half seasons after turning pro, Kohlhepp has only pitched 23.2 innings, all of them in Lakeland last season after returning from elbow reconstruction surgery. As you’d expect from a pitcher with talent and rust in equal measure, his strikeout and walk rates were both colossal. The talent is there for Kohlhepp to make a speedy climb through the minors in 2024, which would go a long way to assuage concerns about his stark lack of pro experience.
I heard from a team source that he was impressive in bullpens late last summer and the videos from his time in the Arizona Fall League looked lethal though still somewhat wild. I would expect him to start the season in West Michigan, where he should be utterly dominant, and move quickly once he gets some more experience.
LHP Andrew Magno
There has always been a soft spot for Magno among the BYB staff, springing from a draft day misreading of his name as “Mango” that eventually gave way to genuine belief in his skills on the mound.
The bullpen strategist and casual baseball fan can both appreciate Magno for the remarkably fast tangle of arms and legs that makes up his delivery. It’s a different look that’s entertaining to watch and disguises the ball until he lets it fly from a vertical arm slot, which is useful because his relatively short stature doesn’t offer much in the way of extension. Seeing him pitch in person at West Michigan always put me in mind of the tornadic Tasmanian Devil.
Most days, he works with a slightly underpowered 92-94 mph fastball that has pretty good movement and plane at the top of the zone. If he can dial in his fastball command and hit his top velocity of 95-96 mph a little more often, it should play out of the Tigers’ bullpen. Magno backs the heater with a sharp downer curveball that Statcast clocked in the 2700-2800 rpm range during his brief Triple-A stint, reaching up to kiss 2900 rpm once in a while. It was too much for Eastern League hitters to cope with and he struck them out in droves. Across 51.1 innings, Magno sat down 67 batters.
Ringing up his opponents has never been too much trouble for Magno. Instead, nagging issues with walks have curtailed his success as a pro. He finally made the transition from hemorrhaging free passes to effectively wild in 2023 and became a much steadier presence in Erie as a result. By the end of the season, half the balls put in play against him were on the ground and he was a sporting a sub-3.00 ERA and FIP. Including his handful of Triple-A innings turns up a sterling 1.99 ERA.
Will that play on the big leagues? His breakout season in Double-A screams that yes, it will, but it’s a steep and rocky road to success with low velocity and walk issues. Being left handed helps, but that might not be enough. It’s very, very hard for players who are truly one trick ponies to find a place in the modern game.
C Josh Crouch
To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure what to make of Crouch. For a year or more, I had an article in my drafts titled "Josh Crouch is the model of a modern catching prospect," but I could never make the pieces quite fit together. He dominated High-A in 2022, but stumbled out of the gate after earning a spot in Erie to start the year in '23. The Tigers demoted him to the Whitecaps again and he never quite got right.
Mention his name and the West Michigan coaching staff will fall all over themselves to tell you how much they trust Crouch to handle their pitching corps. Talking to the man himself, it's plain that Crouch is a baseball nerd and enjoys puzzling out best way to attack any given opponent.
The catcher is magnanimous and blustery in a likable way. I can't remember ever seeing him turn down a kid hoping for a high five or an autograph seeker. Everyone who has crossed paths with him has a Josh Crouch story of one shape or another. You'll never see it graded on the scouting scale, but when it's harnessed correctly, that outward friendliness can make a real difference in helping to present game plans to pitchers and impart broader developmental strokes the Tigers want to implement.
The question remains, can he hit? I'm really not sure. A return trip to High-A is a death sentence for most prospects drafted from college, but catchers are graded on a curve. By the same token, his results worsened even while his BABIP rose. At this point, he absolutely must hit in Double-A in 2024. If things coalesce a bit on offense, he projects as a backup catcher with line drive power and adequate defense. If his bat is gone for good, it's a bleak road ahead.
OF Seth Stephenson
If you're willing to ignore the context of potential future MLB contributions and weigh single seasons on their own merit, Stephenson is right up there with Colt Keith and Troy Melton as one of the most electrifying individual performers in the Tigers' pipeline last year. He was a terror, picking up 70 swiped bags and tied for second place in the FSL with 8 triples.
Genuinely elite baserunning is a viable career skill thanks to the new MLB rules designed to increase excitement inside the modern game. Stephenson can rocket around the bases like few others. That, combined with the ability to play center field, means he only needs to produce the barest minimum at the plate to reach the majors and at least get a shot at pinch running roles with the league's rebuilding teams.
Unfortunately, he may not even be able to do that much. At a listed size of 5'8", 165 lbs, he struggles to routinely access even gap power. It's an issue that places a definite cap on his value, one that likely falls below the level of the major leagues. He discussed the process of retooling his swing with our friends at TMLR, saying this in part: "I had the problem when I got drafted that my swing was real steep, I would get up on my legs at times, stuff like that." That tracks with the available batted ball data from Stephenson's time in Lakeland, namely, a 27.5 percent infield fly ball rate and 48.7 percent ground ball rate.
He's going to start the year in West Michigan, and I anticipate he'll endear himself to fans there, but until he can find a swing path that produces some power and batted ball results somewhere in between the two extremes, he won't crack our list no matter how many bases he steals. Still, he’s enough of a bench weapon that it wouldn’t take a huge amount of progress to make a future major league cup of coffee a possibility somewhere down the road.
OF Ben Malgeri
That's right! Another prospect list with my input, another year of Ben Malgeri propaganda, and there's nothing my editors can do about it!
Malgeri was a roman candle to start the season, earning honors as the Midwest League Player of the Week in the second series of the season. That five-game stretch that saw him hit .421/.478/.895 was followed by an immediate promotion to Double-A, where his offense slowed to a league average pace. He finished with 99 games played at Erie and put up a .233/.319/.413 line, good for a final 101 wRC+.
Last offseason, Malgeri added muscle to his runner's body, leaving him with a physique that old timers might call "country strong." It led to an increase in well-struck balls in 2023. Among players who failed to make our list, he might be the toolsiest. He will show off easy defensive skill, athleticism that prioritizes function over flash, and positional versatility between center and right field.
Unfortunately, he can't seem to find the ball inside the zone, particularly low in the zone during my in person looks in '22. Despite his healthy walk rates, Malgeri wore a gory strikeout rate last season that finished just a whisker over the dreaded 30 percent mark. Unless he can correct that issue, none of the rest of his skills will matter.
I might be the only professional anywhere who thinks he's a prospect. Frankly, I understand why, but it's a tough pill to give up on a player with so many tools. I'll keep banging that drum until I'm proven right or he retires.
SS Danny Serretti
Serretti was the Tigers' sixth round pick in 2022, propelling himself to that status on the back of a strong draft year campaign. He's as old school a player as they come these days — an offensive profile powered by line drives and consistency, lacking the potential for big time flashy plays or bone-crushing power at the plate. He checks all the boxes for the guy your dad will cheer on: gritty, hardworking, and respectful of the game.
Post-draft, Serretti chewed up High-A pitching in a 53 game sample last season. He slashed .284/.367/.441 with 5 home runs and a respectable walk to strikeout ratio while being hilariously impossible for me to photograph flatteringly. After a well earned promotion, his value dropped starkly in Erie. His plate discipline remained intact but his batted ball results worsened to the point of chopping his 127 wRC+ with the 'Caps down to a paltry 69 wRC+ in Double-A, all while transitioning from a primary shortstop to a primary third baseman.
We've never really bought in on Serretti here at BYB, and his lack of results at Double-A are very concerning for a player without projectable athleticism. Nevertheless, Eric Longenhagen placed him among the Tigers' top prospects over at FanGraphs. We may not see the appeal beyond the possibility of future temp work as an injury replacement for the Tigers infield, but if he can catch the eye of the nation's most reputable prospect evaluation source, we have to give him a shout here.
RHP RJ Petit
Visually speaking, Petit is impossible to ignore. His huge, 6'8" frame, a vigorous black moustache, and the bright red rings on his neck and shoulders left behind by cupping therapy present a striking image.
The Tigers drafted Petit relatively anonymously out of Charleston Southern University in the latest stages of the 2021 draft, his value deflated by a relief-only role and matriculation through a small school. He throws hard, no surprise given his stature, but the fastball isn't an out pitch for him even though he clocks upper 90s velocity on the regular. He struggles to find consistent shape with the pitch — something he discussed in a brief interview spot with the media team at Tread Athletics, where he trains privately.
The Tigers have made a lot of hay at the major league level by helping under the radar pitchers fix up an ineffective fastball shape, which made me a bit excited when I initially discovered that Petit is made hittable by his fastball shape. However, Detroit has pulled that off with pitchers whose heater inherently move in a way they know how to refine. Petit, on the other hand, finds himself flattening out the pitch too often to be effective at the major league level for now.
Having spent the last three seasons in the Tigers' minor league system, Petit is entering his Rule 5 evaluation year in 2024 and will have to be rostered or exposed to poaching at season's end. That is a serious consideration for a relief arm who can pump gas and has found a measure of success in the high minors, boxes that Petit checks. He will need to show some growth in Triple-A this year to merit a 40-man spot among the Tigers' many young arms.
SS Javier Osorio
Starting with Osorio, the next few players worth talking about were signed out of international free agency too recently to escape leaning on the opinions of others.
Osorio himself was inked to an impressive $2.2 million deal by the Tigers in 2022. That money lines up pretty closely with the amount slotted for the a draft pick in the mid-30s, offering a sketch of the evaluation the Tigers had on him at the time. His first turn as a pro resulted in atrocious numbers, but this season, he performed a sight better and wound up with a 127 wRC+ in the DSL.
That being said, DSL numbers are always subject to small sample size weirdness and I wouldn't take battling lines from that league too much to heart. Instead, the huge strikeout rates he's carried through both of those short season performances grab my attention, especially because they speak to a concern about identifying breaking balls voiced by MLB Pipeline prior to his signing.
The Tigers may try to get Osorio into the lineup at Lakeland sometime late next season regardless. The track record of players who spend more than two seasons without making the transition to full season ball is pretty barren. Furthermore, Osorio does a lot of things well and you can see why Detroit splashed out so much money for him. He is quick in the field and projects to stay at shortstop. His batting practice swing looks great and he has above average bat speed. Everything is poised for him to take a big step into the public eye if he can get a firmer grasp on the strike zone.
SS Reylin Perez
Of course, there's a selection bias when it comes to videos that athletes post of themselves, but you can't totally fake highlights. Perez' social media has plenty of videos of himself at the plate, and when he sees a pitch hang, he can unload a big time swing onto it. Playing in the often powerless DSL, he cranked seven home runs in 47 games after signing in 2022. Detroit pushed him to a complex league assignment last season. He fall flat on his face and hit a ghastly .152/.270/.257.
Reasons for optimism going forward exist. If FanGraphs' eyewitness reports are to be believed, Perez' athleticism is undeniable and his footspeed will keep him up the middle defensively. Even in a season where he couldn't hit to save his life, Perez walked 13 percent of the time. Among those skills, lots of contact isn't mandatory, but is extremely concerning that he struggled so badly to hit against age appropriate pitching.
3B Nestor Miranda
MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs both had Miranda ranked as the 40ish best prospect in the 2024 signing class. It's a bit of an oddity for the two sources to agree on the value of a non elite player, but they make up for it tenfold in the disparity between their scouting reports.
Pipeline describes an intelligent but largely uninteresting hitter whose athleticism is trending in the right direction. FanGraphs put a fat 80 on his raw power potential, but has serious questions about whether he can control the zone or stay at the hot corner going forward. Until we see him play pro ball, Miranda is essentially Schrodinger's ballplayer.
Even at 18 years old, Miranda is big-bodied, square-jawed, and has treelike legs compared to the often whippy infielders that come out of Latin America. His signing was almost certainly orchestrated by Al Avila, judging by how little time has passed since the Tigers relieved him of his duties relative to the long-sighted IFA market. Based on that, the track record of players Avila signed during his time in Detroit points to reality being something closer to FanGraphs' version of Miranda.
LHP Lael Lockhart
The Tigers kept a close eye on the Los Angeles Dodgers system in 2023, which is always good policy. They were able to get an interesting infield depth prospect in Eddys Leonard for cash in July as the Dodgers looked to clean up their 40-man roster in advance of deadline acquisitions. Before that, the Tigers picked up left-hander Lael Lockhart in a cash deal in May.
Like Austin Bergner below, Lockhart is an older southpaw without big time stuff whose potential tops out as a depth piece. However, of the two Lockhart has the better stuff, sitting low 90’s with good extension and a really low release point. He mixes sinkers and fourseamers, while packing a pretty good changeup that allows him to pitch in reverse enough to keep hitters off the heater. The Tigers have built in enough depth that it’s highly unlikely that Lockhart gets a shot without something popping for him in terms of stuff, but he has the control and pitch mix of a starter, and lefties with those traits sometimes surprise with their utility at the major league level.
RHP Wilkel Hernandez just hasn’t been able to get things going since returning to full-time action after Tommy John surgery. Acquired from the Angels as a teenager back in 2018, Hernandez still packs a pretty solid fastball with interesting plane and movement, but his curveball and changeup have never developed much. He’s still shy of his 25th birthday, so there’s no reason to give up entirely on him, but it’s time to try him out in the upper minors and convert him to relief if something doesn’t break for the better early this season.
RHP Colin Fields is a potentially interesting relief prospect who went undrafted out of Valparaiso and was signed as a minor league free agent in July of 2022. He’ll turn 24 in six weeks, so he’s an older pitcher who didn’t advance to High-A in his first season, but did handle Low-A as a starter with little trouble.
Fields tops out at 91 mph, leading with a cutter rather than a true fastball. However, he stands 6-foot-2 with a slender frame and has a little projectability remaining. What makes him interesting is a high spin cutter-curveball combination that lower level hitters couldn’t deal with. If the Tigers can build him up a little more and find a pitch that moves to his armside to balance him out, they might have a pretty unique looking reliever here. Still, he’s very much a longshot at this point.
RHP Carlos Marcano has a pretty good low 90’s sinker, but not much more. He’s still just 20 years old, but has filled out his 6-foot-2 frame to a significant degree already. Marcano tossed 100 innings for the Lakeland Flying Tigers in 2023, but continues to lack the whiffs to project any significant major league future. If the Tigers can help him tune up his changeup and breaking ball a little further, they might have an innings-eating depth piece who collects a lot of ground balls and keeps the ball on the park.
RHP Yosber Sanchez is a 22-year-old who came up with the Texas Rangers organization. He’s a thicky built right-hander who possesses a pretty big fastball but still struggles to repeat his delivery. He has a fringy curveball, and really needs to find a more imposing breaking ball to back up the big heater. If he puts it together there’s a possible setup man level reliever here just based on the fastball velocity and movement.
C Bennett Lee walked and struck out at the same rate in college and is supposedly a good pitch framer. The Tigers invested a sixth round pick in him, and it wasn’t for his bat. However, the defense may be enough to carry him if he can keep enough out of his contact ability.
RHP Johnathan Rogers is a metrics darling who gets monster spin and IVB numbers on his fastball, but he’s a slow burn prospect from high school. Expect him to take some time to develop, but the Tigers may really have a talented pitcher here with time.
OF Brady Allen strikes out too much but the Tigers traded cash for him last year and he has fun hot stretches. Right now he looks like a solid upper level org outfielder who could perhaps fill in at the major league level briefly in a pinch, but isn’t likely to go any further barring a radical change in his offensive game.
LHP Carlos Peña was a clubhouse favorite in West Michigan last year. He's tiny and underpowered but gets whiffs on a big changeup. A future as a depth lefty who can fill in as a spot starter is still possible, but it’s hard to see where further gains are going to come for the slightly built 25-year-old. Probably he tops out in the upper levels of the minors.
1B Chris Meyers massacred High-A for 40 games last year, but fell back to earth in Erie. The raw power data is impressive enough to keep an eye on him, but he’s unlikely to hit enough against more experienced pitchers to remain a factor.
C Enrique Jimenez was the Tigers' top international signee last year and he did fine in his first round of pro ball but young catchers are impossible to gauge. More to the point, we don’t tend to add them to our prospect list until they’ve shown some game stateside and we can compare early reports to the current level of the player.
RHP Nick Starr is an MiLB Rule 5 draftee with strikeout stuff, but he got battered a bit last season.