DETROIT – With the start of the 2020 season still months away, the hot topic around baseball right now is the release of prospect rankings by both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline.
On Wednesday, Baseball America released its top 100 prospects, along with a top 10 list for each team. Meanwhile, MLB Pipeline has been dropping top 10 lists position-by-position since Jan. 14.
The Tigers have four players ranked in the top 10 at their position, according to MLB Pipeline. Casey Mize is the No. 1 right-handed pitcher, Matt Manning is the No. 7 right-handed pitcher, Tarik Skubal is the No. 4 left-handed pitcher and Riley Greene is the No. 9 outfielder.
According to Baseball America, Mize is the No. 13 overall prospect, Manning is No. 17, Skubal is No. 34, Greene is No. 49 and Isaac Paredes is No. 100. Alex Faedo, Daz Cameron, Franklin Perez, Willi Castro and Jake Rogers rounded out the team’s top 10.
MLB Pipeline won’t release the team-by-team top 30 prospects until next month, but there are a handful of prospects that should get a nice bump in the Tigers’ rankings. None of them got any love on Baseball America, but they should be on the radar of every Tigers fan.
It’s hard to give a prospect a major bump in the rankings based on five starts, but Joey Wentz certainly appeared to figure something out when he joined the Tigers’ organization.
Wentz was acquired, along with Travis Demeritte in the trade that sent Shane Greene to the Atlanta Braves. He wasn’t having a great season with the Mississippi Braves, but finished strong with the Double-A Erie SeaWolves.
The overall numbers were fantastic, as Wentz allowed just six runs on 20 hits and four walks in 25.2 innings. He struck out 37 batters and posted a 2.10 ERA and 0.935 WHIP.
But the most exciting part of Wentz’s profile is his ability to miss bats. After joining the likes of Mize, Manning, Skubal and Faedo in the Erie rotation, Wentz generated swings and misses on 17% of his pitches -- a 6% increase from the rest of his season with the Braves.
Wentz is 22 years old, and he’s started flashing the skills that made him a first-round pick in 2016.
One area of concern is the fly ball rate, which was a dangerous 81% in Wentz’s five starts in Erie. He allowed three home runs in that span, and if he continues to rely on fly balls so heavily in this era, he’ll give up a whole lot more.
The Tigers desperately needed to hit on a few offensive players in the 2019 draft, and early results suggest they did just that. In addition to Greene, the No. 5 overall pick, one of the players making noise is fifth-round selection Bryant Packard.
Detroit selected Packard No. 142 overall after he slashed .359/.427/.566 with 22 home runs and 44 doubles in 156 career games at East Carolina.
Packard proved too advanced for low-A ball and also tore through the Midwest League before ending his season at high-A Lakeland. The last stop only lasted five games, but overall, Packard got 39 professional games under his belt last year.
Between the three leagues, Packard posted an .815 OPS with three home runs, eight doubles and 21 walks. His .392 on-base percentage was very encouraging, considering he was a high on-base guy in college.
Packard needs to prove he can sustain that discipline over the course of a full season, but the early returns are positive.
The “player to be named later” often gets forgotten in trades, but it appears the Tigers got a decent return from the Los Angeles Angels in the Justin Upton trade.
Elvin Rodriguez is only 21 years old and is far away from reaching the big leagues. But he’s been consistently solid throughout his time in the low minors.
Last season, Rodriguez made 23 starts and 24 appearances for Single-A Lakeland, posting a 3.77 ERA and 1.175 WHIP across 133.2 innings. He only struck out 112 batters, but he was closer to a strikeout per inning in 2018, so it’s too early to draw conclusions there.
Experts see Rodriguez as a low floor pitcher more than a guy with ace upside. He has a solid fastball that highlights a three-pitch arsenal and good control for a young pitcher. He owns a career walk rate of just 2.6 free passes per nine innings and limits home runs.
If some of the highly ranked pitchers in the Tigers’ system don’t pan out, Rodriguez is the type of player who could fill out the rotation in the future.
People cared about the Tigers drafting Kody Clemens two years ago because he’s Roger Clemens’ son. After a bit of a rough 2019 season, some might be writing him off a little too soon.
Clemens was a monster his junior season at Texas, hitting .351 with 24 home runs and 15 doubles in 65 games. He also drew 41 walks compared to 50 strikeouts.
His college success translated to pro ball in 2018, as Clemens slashed .288/.365/.450 between two levels with 12 doubles and five home runs. His walk rate remained high and his strikeouts were low. He was shaping up to be one of the organization’s most exciting position player prospects.
But a combination of his age -- 23 years old is much higher than the average at Single-A -- and a difficult 2019 season dropped him to No. 17 in the team’s prospect rankings. He batted just .238 with a .725 OPS while hitting 11 home runs and 24 doubles.
Clemens maintained his plate discipline, though, walking in 9.6% of his plate appearances while striking out 21.5% of the time in 115 games at Lakeland.
So what happened to his overall numbers? Sure, that strikeout rate is a bit higher in high-A than it was in Single-A ball, but not drastically enough to warrant a 64-point drop in batting average and 147-point drop in OPS.
For one, Clemens hit the ball on the ground more often instead of hitting line drives. Replacing fly balls with ground balls typically comes with a bump in batting average, but the Tigers don’t want to see Clemens sacrificing line drives.
As a result, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) dropped from .342 in Single-A two years ago to .283 last year in high-A. That’s a big enough drop to explain why his on-base numbers dropped while his isolated power remained almost identical.
Simply put, Clemens probably needs to hit the ball a bit harder this season. It’s clear the promotion to Lakeland was difficult for him, and the Tigers even bumped him up to Double-A at the end of the year.
He’ll be 24 years old in May, so the Tigers are really hoping Clemens can figure out Double-A pitching and get back on the fast track to the major leagues.
Bryan Garcia was terrible when he got called up to Detroit last season, but he’s been the best relief pitcher in the organization since the Tigers drafted him in 2016.
There’s nothing left for Garcia to prove in the minor leagues, as he returned from missing 2018 due to injury and was dominant once again in the minor leagues. In 31 appearances with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens, Garcia struck out 33 batters in 33.1 innings while posting a 2.97 ERA and 1.200 WHIP.
Before the injury, Garcia flew through the system in 2017, going from West Michigan to Lakeland to Erie to Toledo. Across those four levels, he struck out 78 batters in 55 innings, allowing just 36 hits and 13 earned runs.
When the Tigers gave him a chance late last season, Garcia allowed nine runs on nine hits and five walks in 6.2 innings. That was the negative.
On the bright side, Garcia generated swings and misses on 15% of his pitches. He also induced 13 ground balls compared to eight fly balls. A pitcher who can miss bats and keep the ball on the ground has a high ceiling, which is why the Tigers are so high on Garcia.
Troy Stokes Jr.
Detroit claimed Troy Stokes Jr. off waivers in September after he was designated by the Milwaukee Brewers. He has a legitimate chance to make the Opening Day roster in Detroit.
Milwaukee had a short leash for Stokes despite his .788 OPS in 2017 and .773 OPS in 2018. He’s a toolsy prospect with 115 doubles, 57 home runs and 129 stolen bases in 554 career minor-league games.
Last season, Stokes was good in every area but batting average, drawing 47 walks in 95 games and posting a .341 OBP. He also hit 22 doubles and nine home runs while stealing 14 bases. He batted .233 for the second straight season, though, thanks to just 75 hits in 95 games.
His career .250/.351/.411 slash line in six minor-league seasons suggests Stokes deserves a shot to prove himself at the highest level.