Pitchers and catchers are due to report a week from today on February 14. The first full squad workout is February 19. So we’re getting close to major league activity, if not yet actual games. Truck day will be here before we know it, and by the last week of February we’ll be into the Grapefruit League schedule.
The Tigers dropped their full spring training roster on Wednesday, and the more I look at the group of prospects scheduled to be in major league camp, the more excited we are to see things get underway. 18 total non-roster players have been invited to Major League Spring Training, and most of them are legit prospects rather than older minor leaguers signed or claimed this offseason.
More specifically, the major league camp roster will feature 13 players from our recent BYB top prospects rankings. That’s a testament to how much talent the Tigers have in the upper levels of their minor league system. Here’s the list of prospects set to join the club in major league camp with their ranking on our list in parentheses. The names in bold are already on the 40-man roster.
(1) RHP Jackson Jobe
(2) 2B/3B Colt Keith
(4) CF Parker Meadows
(5) 2B/3B Jace Jung
(7) RHP Ty Madden
(9) RHP Keider Montero
(10) OF/3B Justyn-Henry Malloy
(11) RHP Wilmer Flores
(12) C Dillon Dingler
(15) OF Justice Bigbie
(16) LHP Brant Hurter
(22) INF Eddys Leonard
(25) UT Wenceel Perez
The club didn’t make any splashy additions this offseason, which may leave some fans frustrated headed into the season, but they will have a deep group of talented young players supporting the major league roster this season. The two sports are very different, but the recent success of the Detroit Lions shows you what can happen when you bring in a excellent rookie class who can carry some of the load as a long season unfolds.
For those who don’t spend a lot of time following the farm system, or who have read the articles but never seen them in action, this will be an introduction to the next wave of talent coming out of the farm system this season and next.
Obviously, it’s a fool’s errand to judge players much by how they perform in spring camp as they’re just preparing for the season, but in particular, getting to see the pitchers facing better hitters than they’re used to will make the rare televised games must-watch baseball for devoted fans. Top prospect Jackson Jobe vs. any and everyone this spring will be of particular interest as the 21-year-old looks to put a pair of injury plagued seasons behind him to make the final push to the major leagues this summer.
However, the feature attraction should be infielder Colt Keith. The Tigers second ranked prospect recently inked a long-term contract that could extend nine years assuming the three option years are picked up by the Tigers. Barring something unforeseen, Keith will be the Tigers starting second baseman on Opening Day and should provide an offensive boost to a roster that needs the help as long as he can avoid the freshman slump that afflicted Spencer Torkelson. After a great first trip through major league camp last year, Keith should be well prepared to come in, do his thing, and win the job.
Another key note of interest will be watching top catching prospect Dillon Dingler work with the pitching staff alongside Jake Rogers, Carson Kelly, and Donny Sands. Dingler’s defensive skills have continued to develop very well though his bat has lagged behind. AJ Hinch and Chris Fetter heavily prioritize defense at the position and no doubt getting Dingler up to speed as the club’s main backup in the minors this season will be a focal point for the coaching staff.
Parker Meadows is almost a lock to win the center field job regardless of how much he hits this spring, but there are quite a few prospect hitters we’ll be interested in seeing against major league competition for the first time. Jace Jung, Justyn-Henry Malloy, and Justice Bigbie are all bat first prospects set to be stationed at Triple-A this season. Any of the group could make their way to the majors with a strong season, so while Malloy has already succeeded at Triple-A over a full season, Jung and Bigbie will be seeing the toughest competition they’ve faced on the mound.
Likewise, getting a look at Keider Montero, Ty Madden, Brant Hurter, and Wilmer Flores against major league caliber hitters will also be fascinating. Their success or failure will likely drive the adjustments they’ll need to make pitching with the Mud Hens this season. However, much like the hitting group of prospects, you never know when a player might break out with a huge spring and change their trajectory to major league readiness.
All in all, this is a very interesting time for the Tigers as they look to take the next step from pretender toward contender. Spring training has a tendency to get overanalyzed and ultimately turn out to be less meaningful than we’d like, but if we keep this all in perspective it should be a very fun camp to follow, with plenty of interesting roster battles.
While the position group seems pretty well set from the start, the Tigers have a real competition set up for the final two spots in the rotation behind Tarik Skubal, Kenta Maeda, and Jack Flaherty. Matt Manning, Reese Olson, Casey Mize, and Sawyer Gipson-Long will all be vying for those two spots. Meanwhile, older starters who haven’t worked out like Joey Wentz and Alex Faedo will be tasked with breaking into a bullpen that already has five relative locks in Jason Foley, Tyler Holton, Alex Lange, Andrew Chafin, and Shelby Miller on hand. Those two groups are where most of the intrigue will come from, but of course injuries, and the odd breakout performance elsewhere could tip the scales among those position groups.
We can’t wait.
Here’s the complete list of 58 players invited to major league camp courtesy of MLive’s Evan Woodbery.