DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers have five players listed in Baseball America’s preseason list of the top 100 prospects in the game.
Baseball America released its list Wednesday, naming Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco as the league’s top prospect for the second year in a row.
The top player in the Tigers’ organization is Casey Mize, who checks in at No. 13 overall. Mize is the No. 4 pitching prospect on the list and the No. 2 right-handed pitcher on the list. Earlier this month, MLB Pipeline named Mize the No. 1 right-handed pitching prospect in its rankings.
“His pitch mix, advanced control and double-plus splitter paint the picture of a future front-of-the-rotation around whom the Tigers can build,” Baseball America says.
Detroit made Mize the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, and he was excellent in his first full season of professional ball.
Mize began the season in Single-A Lakeland, making six starts and allowing just 17 of 107 batters to reach base while striking out 30. His 0.88 ERA and 0.552 WHIP forced the Tigers to promote him before the first month of the season came to a close.
In his first Double-A start, Mize famously tossed a no-hitter, allowing just one walk and one hit batter in nine innings. He struck out seven and threw under 100 pitches to get the job done.
That success carried through the middle of June. In nine starts, Mize posted a 1.21 ERA and allowed just 49 of 199 batters to reach base. He had 50 strikeouts and 35 hist allowed in 52 innings. His walk and home run rates were virtually nonexistent as hitters posted a .504 OPS.
Then, he left in the third inning of his June 13 start against the Reading Fightin Phils. The Tigers announced he had minor inflammation in his shoulder. Even though it was revealed as “minor posterior shoulder inflammation,” it immediately raised red flags for fans. Mize was one of the few bright spots to look forward to as the major league club lost game after game.
Unfortunately, some of those concerns appeared to be valid, as Mize missed a month before making a pair of rehab outings in Lakeland and returning to the Erie SeaWolves rotation.
In his first game back, Mize allowed six runs. In his first game, Mize allowed six runs. In his fifth game, Mize allowed six runs.
For a pitcher who allowed just 35 hits and seven earned runs in 52 innings the nine starts before his injury, the numbers for Mize upon his return were a bit alarming. He allowed 34 hits and 21 earned runs in 26.2 innings, posting a 7.09 ERA. Opponents hit .304 against him with an .846 OPS.
It was only a six-game sample, but for a franchise that has so much riding on Mize, it was enough to sour the taste of an otherwise unbelievable debut.
Tigers fans will have their eyes glued to Mize the first month of the 2020 season. If he looks like pre-injury Mize, there will be instant relief. If he struggles, well, remember that he’s still only 22 years old.
Like MLB Pipeline, Baseball America also thinks highly of the Tigers’ Matt Manning. In fact, Baseball America likes him even more. Manning, who will turn 22 on Tuesday, checks in as the No. 17 overall prospect in the league and the No. 7 pitcher.
He was listed as the No. 7 right-handed pitcher in MLB Pipeline’s rankings. He’s No. 4 on this list.
The Tigers knew they would have to be patient with Manning when they took him in the first round -- No. 9 overall -- in the 2016 draft. He was a multi-sport star with a big frame who needed to learn how to be a pitcher, not just a hard thrower.
Well, Manning has learned how to be a pitcher. He was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2019 and the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year after posting the most consistent numbers of his career.
Manning was a bit of a journeyman in 2018, pitching well enough in West Michigan and Lakeland to warrant two promotions in one season. Though he struggled in two Double-A starts, he finished the year striking out 11.8 batters per nine innings while posting a 3.29 ERA and 1.198 WHIP. He was obviously on the right track.
In 2019, he made all 24 starts with the SeaWolves, tossing a career-high 133.2 innings. His strikeout rate dipped a bit, but it was still very good -- an even 10 strikeouts per nine innings. Most importantly, he slashed his walks down to 2.6 per nine innings and kept the ball in the park at an elite rate.
Manning is a great athlete, and that has translated to valuable durability despite all the concerns about his mechanics. He generated whiffs on 12% of his pitches last season, threw 68% of his pitches for strikes and held batters to a .540 OPS.
Though Mize is ranked as a higher prospect across the board, Manning has less injury risk and a higher ceiling because of his ability to miss bats. If he continues to pair that elite upside with so much reliability, the Tigers won’t be able to keep him down for much longer.
Tarik Skubal checks in at No. 34 overall on the list -- good for the No. 14 pitcher and No. 5 left-handed pitcher. Skubal was ranked No. 4 in the left-handed pitcher rankings by MLB Pipeline.
At the end of 2019, Baseball America had Skubal ranked 77th, so this is one of the most significant rises of the off-season. In fact, in Skubal’s bio, Baseball America calls him “the biggest breakout prospect of last season.”
By now, everyone in the town knows about the former ninth-round pick who was overshadowed by being in Mize’s draft class. While Mize had the most impressive stretches and Manning was the most consistent, Skubal was by far the most dominant player in the entire organization last year.
In 80.1 innings with the Flying Tigers, Skubal struck out 97 batters and posted a 2.58 ERA and 1.008 WHIP. He walked just 2.1 batters and allowed just 0.6 home runs per nine innings.
A promotion was inevitable, but Skubal’s success at the next level had to surprise even himself. He pitched 42.1 innings in Double-A and struck out an incredible 82 batters. His 17.4 K/9, though obviously unsustainable over a full season, allowed him to finish with he third-most strikeouts in the minors last year.
The only blemish on Skubal’s Double-A resume was a significant bump in free passes. His walk rate jumped to 3.8 per nine innings after the promotion, but those concerns were erased by the ridiculous whiff rate. Skubal was basically unhittable even when batters made contact, allowing just 87 hits and seven home runs in 122.2 innings between the two levels.
Skubal turned 23 years old in November, so he’s still a young prospect. If he can prove 2019 wasn’t an outlier, there’s no reason to believe he won’t compete with Mize and Manning to be the Tigers’ ace in 2021. His numbers were that dominant.
The team’s first-round pick from last year, Riley Greene, is No. 49 on the Baseball America list. Greene was the No. 5 pick in the 2019 draft, but he’s the sixth-ranked player from the draft in Baseball America’s top 100.
Greene won’t turn 20 until the 2020 season is nearly complete, but the Tigers drafted him with the belief that he could hit the fast track to the MLB roster. Early indications seemed to support that as Greene lasted just nine games in rookie ball before getting promoted to low-A Connecticut. He needed just 100 at-bats there before moving up to West Michigan, where he ran into his first true struggles.
Overall, Greene played 57 games across three levels and finished with decent stats for an 18-year-old. He hit five home runs, eight doubles and three triples while batting .271 with a .749 OPS. He flashed the ability to draw a walk, which is important because the Tigers desperately need hitters who can get on base and hit the ball over the fence.
Baseball America gives Greene a 60 power rating, a 55 run rating and a 60 hit rating. He projects as a corner outfielder who can hit for power and average while playing very good defense.
It’s difficult to gauge a prospect after a partial professional season following their draft. The Tigers will know much more about Greene after a full year in the minors.
A borderline top 100 prospect on MLB Pipeline over the last couple of seasons, Isaac Paredes landed right at No. 100 on Baseball America’s preseason list.
It seems like years ago that the Tigers traded Justin Wilson and Alex Avila to the Chicago Cubs for a Paredes and Jeimer Candelario, but it was only two full seasons ago.
Remember, Paredes won’t turn 21 years old until next month. Baseball America notes he was the second-youngest player in the Eastern League last season.
Paredes’ numbers weren’t elite last season, but they were solid. He clubbed 13 home runs and 23 doubles while batting .282 with a .784 OPS. He doesn’t have great speed or play elite defense, but the underlying numbers at the dish are worth getting excited about.
Despite being just 20 years old, Paredes showed an advanced understanding of the strike zone in 2019, drawing 57 walks compared to 61 strikeouts in 127 games. That resulted in an excellent .368 on-base percentage.
Paredes backed up those numbers in the Arizona Fall League, drawing 12 walks and striking out 13 times in 15 games. In the Mexican Pacific Winter League, he drew 17 walks and struck out 18 times in 44 games.
Home run power is expected to develop for Paredes, but his plate discipline is encouraging because that’s a difficult skill to teach and develop. The current Tigers roster is void of any exciting bats for the future, so Paredes is a player to keep an eye on as he flirts with another promotion.
Rest of team’s top 10
Here’s how Baseball America rounds out the top 10 prospects in the Tigers’ organization:
6. Alex Faedo
7. Daz Cameron
8. Franklin Perez
9. Willi Castro
10. Jake Rogers
Faedo pitched in the same rotation as Mize, Manning and Skubal last season, making 22 starts for the SeaWolves. He posted a solid 3.90 ERA and 1.118 WHIP in 115.1 innings.
Faedo took a major step forward in 2019, raising his strikeout rate from 8.2 to 10.5 batters per nine innings. He whiffed 134 batters overall and finished with a 15% swinging strike rate that suggests his gains were real.
The problem for Faedo is keeping the ball in the park. He served up 17 dingers last season, which would translate to a whole lot more at the MLB level. He was able to get by due to elite strikeout and walk rates, but Faedo needs to keep the ball in the yard to make the MLB rotation.
Cameron, Perez and Rogers were the pieces acquired in the Justin Verlander trade with the Houston Astros in 2017. None have lived up to the hype since joining the Tigers.
Cameron played 120 games for the Toledo Mud Hens last season, suggesting he’s the closest of the top 10 prospects to reaching the MLB -- other than Castro and Rogers, who made their debuts late last season.
Cameron finished with a weak .707 OPS in Triple-A, largely because he struck out 152 times. There are positive signs -- 22 doubles, 13 home runs, 62 walks and 16 stolen bases -- but he simply won’t be a productive player with a strikeout rate that astronomically high.
His 62 walks in 120 games raised his OBP to .330 -- 116 points higher than his average. That suggests he either has a better grasp of the strike zone than his strikeouts show, or he’s simply taking too many pitches.
Perez was an elite pitching prospect when he came to Detroit. Unfortunately, he’s spent almost the entire last two seasons on the injured list, making just nine starts in the Tigers’ system.
Baseball America is ranking Perez based on his great stuff and the fact that he’s still just 22 years old. But the injuries have already piled up for the young right-hander, and that’s a difficult trend to buck. If he’s healthy in 2020, he could shoot back into the league’s top 100 prospects, but the Tigers likely aren’t counting on that.
Rogers was ranked among MLB Pipeline’s top 10 catchers before getting the call to the Tigers’ roster. He managed just 14 hits while striking out 51 times 35 games -- a recipe that spit out a .481 OPS. He drew 13 walks and hit four home runs, but it’s clear Rogers wasn’t quite ready.
Castro was excellent for Toledo last season, batting .301 with an .833 OPS, 11 home runs, 28 doubles and 17 stolen bases in 119 games.
MLB pitching proved much tougher, though, as Castro struck out 34 times in 30 games with just eight extra-base hits and a .624 OPS. He’ll still be just 22 years old when the 2020 season begins, so the Tigers have plenty of hope for Castro.