Reasons for caution … and who is next after the big five?
With spring training well under, we have had a good opportunity to watch the future of the Detroit Tigers. Be it Tarik Skubal with his electric stuff or Matt Manning and Casey Mize making life difficult for the front office by pushing for spots that are otherwise accounted for in the Opening Day starting rotation. Or even Riley Greene who has been a monster this spring, also making life for general manager Al Avila interesting, making his own case for an Opening Day roster spot. And with Isaac Paredes making his long-awaited spring debut we’ve now seen all of the top five prospects of the Tigers farm system in action.
While the top five are making cases for their advancement in the Tigers farm system and possible (but unlikely) inclusion on the Opening Day roster, what about the rest of the farm system? Therein lies the question, and to steal a catchphrase from current WWE Universal Champion Bill Goldberg … Who’s next?
In a recent article in The Athletic, Keith Law ranked the Tigers farm system 19th overall, calling it “The most top-heavy system in baseball.” Which, compared to MLB.com’s ranking of fifth, is a truer reflection on the state of the Tigers franchise and the rebuilding effort. This should set off alarms bells for all Tigers fans.
Now we have already seen Castro and Rogers both struggle at the major league level last year with their ill-fated call-ups to Detroit. Castro with a .230 batting average and Rogers with a dismal .125 batting average over 112 at-bats.
Cameron struggled heavily for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens hitting .214 AVG in 448 at-bats last season, and had former Mud Hens manager Doug Mientkiewicz advocating last June for a demotion to Double-A for “a breather”. Mientkiewicz was sacked in October just one year after signing a two-year deal; he publicly stated that the call-ups of Rogers and Castro were ill-advised as they were not ready.
Joey Wentz, along with outfielder Travis Demeritte, was acquired from the Atlanta Braves for closer Shane Greene at the July trade deadline. Wentz started five games for the Erie SeaWolves with a 2-0 record and a 2.10 ERA, and along with Mize, Manning and Skubal is predicted to start the season in Toledo. However, with both Kyle Funkhouser and Beau Burrows recently optioned to the Toledo rotation, it is hard to see where Wentz could slide in.
Alex Faedo, the former first-round pick (18th overall) in the 2017 draft, has given up three hits in 2⅔ innings so far this spring, striking out three. Faedo was part of the Erie SeaWolves highly-touted starting rotation last season and is projected as a number four starter, assuming he continues his development alongside the rest of that rotation. However, with the logjam of pitching prospects currently at Toledo, there is a small case to be made that Faedo could start the season back with the SeaWolves or end up in a relief role with the Mud Hens.
Those five players round out the top 10 of the Tigers farm system. That is, in this humble writer’s opinion a steep decline in overall talent within the top 10, let alone the top 30.
You would expect this to set alarm bells ringing off throughout the Tigers front office and in GM Avila’s head, especially with him being a former scout (apparently). Moreover, that he would take steps to address these issues with international free agent signings, the current top international signing in the system is shortstop Wenceel Perez who is ranked No.14 in the top 30 of Tigers prospects. And is a glaring indictment of the philosophy the Tigers have had at spreading international money across multiple middling players hoping to strike gold in acquiring several players instead of one big acquisition.
Avila has already shown with his trading record these past five years, that he will settle for just about anything to slash payroll and is, all in betting on the pitching or bust strategy that has yet to provide any glimmer of success.
A prime example is Franklin Perez who was recently optioned to High-A Lakeland, who along with Cameron and Rogers, came over from the Houston Astros in the Justin Verlander trade that moved the Tigers away from a partial rebuild to a full one in 2017. Perez himself has only recently started throwing pitches again after spending the past two seasons injury-laden and has a long way to go to show he was worth the price paid for him.
In my first Bat Flips and Nerds article, I asked if there was any hope for the success of this rebuild. And while the top five prospects provide what can only be short-term hope, long term, I believe that Avila has taken the franchise down a route that still has a long way to prove successful. While I personally still believe he isn’t the man to lead this rebuild, one thing is for sure, and that is it will be a long time before we see any kind of meaningful or dare I say winning baseball in Detroit.
Paul Robinson has joined the team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds to cover the Tigers in 2020. Follow him on Twitter @Robbo1701a