DETROIT – We’ve reached the unofficial midway point in the Detroit Tigers’ season, and even though an otherwise promising couple of months were derailed by an ugly weekend in Minnesota, prospects and draft picks are the talk of the town.
There’s so much going on for Tigers fans right now between the draft, the Futures Game and a fascinating MLB roster. I decided to put all those thoughts in one place as we look forward to All-Star weekend.
First half overview
It’s hard to talk about the first half as a success after such a disappointing series in Minneapolis (more on that in a moment). But let’s try to look at the bigger picture.
Since starting 9-24 this season, the Tigers bounced back exceptionally, finishing 31-27 overall to get within 11 games of .500. Before the final four games of the first half, the Tigers had won or split five straight series.
What’s most promising about what the Tigers have done since mid-May is how they’ve fared against top-tier competition. They won the season series against the first-place Houston Astros. They took five of six from the Seattle Mariners. They even won back-to-back series against the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox -- two teams that have given them fits for years.
Despite playing their toughest stretch of the season from mid-May through the end of June, the Tigers managed to finish back-to-back months with winning records. All we wanted this season was to see signs of progress, and that’s what we’ve gotten so far.
Unfortunately, most fans will have a bad taste in their mouths over the next four days, all because of four brutal games in Minnesota.
On Thursday, the Tigers held a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning. On Friday, they out-hit the Twins 8-4. On Saturday, they led 4-0 heading into the sixth inning. Then, in the series finale, they led 4-0 in the fifth and 9-8 in the ninth.
Detroit didn’t win a single one.
With a split against the Twins -- who were four games behind the Tigers heading into the series -- Detroit would have been just seven games below .500 heading into the break. Even losing three of four would have kept them within nine games of .500. Instead, all of the progress the Tigers made in the Astros, Indians, White Sox and Rangers series was erased.
They’re right back to 11 games under .500. It was pretty discouraging.
Middle relief problems
When Kyle Funkhouser -- currently sporting a 2.41 ERA and 1.16 WHIP through 33.2 innings -- isn’t available, the Tigers are completely lost in the middle innings.
The combination of Daniel Norris, Joe Jimenez, Derek Holland and Buck Farmer has been disastrous this season, with each sporting ERAs north of 6.00.
Jimenez allowed three runs while recording just two outs Saturday and two runs in just one-third of an inning Sunday. Norris gave up a run Sunday, and the Farmer-Holland combination allowed five earned in 2.1 innings.
Funkhouser has been excellent in his new role, and Tyler Alexander is quietly reliable. But there are four or five relievers on the roster who simply can’t be counted on in any situation.
Gregory Soto to the All-Star game
One reliever who can be counted on is Soto, though he did have a rough finish to the first half.
Ironically, Soto was named the team’s lone All-Star representative minutes after allowing three earned runs in two-thirds of an inning against the White Sox. Before that game, Soto had fired 11 scoreless innings while allowing one hit, three walks and striking out 13. Overall, he had allowed just one run and 10 base runners in his previous 17 innings, while striking out 20.
Soto blew his first save Sunday against the Twins, but between those two rough outings, he flashed his tremendous upside, pitching two scoreless innings with three strikeouts against the Rangers. He came in with the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth inning and escaped after allowing just one of those runs to score. He generated seven swinging strikes on 32 pitches and secured a series victory.
When he’s on, Soto is electric. If he gets into the All-Star game Tuesday, Soto will open some eyes with his 100 mph fastball and wicked slider.
Missing Matt Boyd
It doesn’t sound like Matt Boyd will return before August, and that hurts for a variety of reasons.
Not only will he be difficult to move at the trade deadline, but Boyd’s absence has forced the Tigers to stick with two pitchers who probably should not currently be in an MLB rotation.
Every fifth day, the Tigers trot out Jose Urena and, well, the odds are stacked against them. He’s sporting some unsightly ratios -- 6.43 ERA, 5.49 FIP and 1.688 WHIP -- and averages nearly as many walks per nine innings (4.3) as strikeouts (5.8).
In his last five outings, Urena has allowed 27 earned runs, 31 hits and 13 walks in 17.2 innings. He’s allowed nine home runs while striking out 14 batters. Hitters have a 1.256 OPS against him in that stretch. The Tigers simply cannot afford to keep using him, but there aren’t many other healthy options.
Matt Manning hasn’t been nearly as bad as Urena, but he’s still not ready for the MLB level.
Between a 5.35 FIP, a 1.591 WHIP and nine strikeouts in 22 innings, you don’t even have to dive under the surface to know Manning needs more seasoning. But to provide some context, he’s sporting a 6% swinging strike rate and 41% hard-hit rate. Yikes.
Nobody should give up on Manning long term, but right now, he’s a liability in the rotation.
Right now the Tigers’ hands are tied, and they have little choice but to ride Urena and Manning until Boyd and Spencer Turnbull get healthy. Unfortunately, that doesn’t figure to be anytime soon.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, where would the Tigers be without Wily Peralta?
The 32-year-old hadn’t started an MLB game since 2017, and even at his peak, Peralta was never much more than an average innings eater. But in his last four outings for the Tigers, he’s allowed just one earned runs over 19.2 innings (0.46 ERA) while striking out 13.
He hasn’t been dominant, but Peralta is limiting hard contact, throwing strikes and keeping the ball on the ground at an elite rate. That’s exactly the recipe he needs to follow to overcome a low strikeout rate.
Don’t expect Peralta to maintain his current 2.08 ERA or 0.885 WHIP, but there are reasons to be optimistic about him going forward. Click here to read more about that.
Speaking of pleasant surprises, how about that first half for Akil Baddoo?
Everyone was worried about him jumping from Single-A straight to the MLB level this season -- and for good reason. That’s not the type of development path most players can handle. But after a very rough 5-50 stretch (with 27 strikeouts) in mid-April into early May, he’s been fantastic.
Baddoo overcame that massive slump to post a first-half slash line of .271/.351/.462 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage). He leads the league with four triples and also has 14 doubles, six home runs and 13 stolen bases. He’s already taken over leadoff duties against right-handed pitchers thanks to his .351 OBP and unique combination of speed and extra-base power.
Baddoo is 22 years old, has six years of team control remaining and the Tigers got him for free. This is the most positive development of the entire season so far.
Joey Wentz’s solid outing
Before being knocked out by injury last year, Joey Wentz was working his way into the Casey Mize-Tarik Skubal tier of Tigers pitching prospects. Since returning in May, the road has been rocky.
Wentz isn’t missing bats at an elite rate, and Double-A hitters are teeing off on him. He’s also issuing far too many free passes.
If you’re looking for a positive sign, though, Sunday might have been a step in the right direction. He pitched 4.1 scoreless innings while allowing just one hit and striking out six. He did walk four batters and generate just six whiffs, though. Baby steps.
Wentz was the prized piece acquired in the Shane Greene trade with Atlanta two years ago. The Tigers need him to return to form and add depth to the organization’s pitching.
On Sunday, the game’s top prospects took center stage in Colorado for the MLB Future’s Game, and the Tigers were well-represented.
Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson started in center field and third base, respectively. They were two of the lone bright spots for the American League team, collecting a combined three hits and a walk in six plate appearances. The rest of the AL roster went 2-for-20 with nine strikeouts.
Greene also showed off some excellent defense in center field (he shifted over to left field later in the game). Not only is his bat developing as the Tigers had hoped when they drafted him No. 5 overall in 2019, but Greene has also turned into a plus defender.
Torkelson, meanwhile, has hit 12 home runs and 14 doubles to go along with 36 walks and 44 strikeouts across Single-A and Double-A. He looks every bit the polished offensive player the organization wanted when they took him at the top of the 2020 draft.
Tigers draft Jackson Jobe at No. 3 overall
The Tigers selected high school pitcher Jackson Jobe with the No. 3 pick in the 2021 draft, and that was met with mixed reviews.
On one hand, Jobe is believed to have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the draft class, and many experts believe he’s not as risky as a typical high school pitcher.
But still, he’s a high school pitcher. Everyone knows that comes with a tremendous amount of risk, especially for a top-three pick.
Detroit passed on Marcelo Mayer, the No. 1 prospect in the draft, to select Jobe. Mayer is the type of potential generational shortstop the team could have built an offense around, but to be fair, he’s also coming out of high school. He’s not a sure thing, either.
Here’s the most fair way to view Jobe going forward: Yes, it’s an extremely risky pick, and the Tigers passed on some very high-end offensive prospects to take him. But Al Avila and the Tigers’ front office knew there would be backlash and took Jobe anyway -- that says something about how confident they are in his skill set.
Ty Madden a Day 1 draft steal
Detroit also landed one of the steals of the draft, taking Ty Madden with their competitive balance pick at No. 32 overall.
Madden is ranked the No. 9 prospect in the draft by MLB Pipeline and No. 12 overall by Baseball America. The flame-throwing right-hander could have gone in the top 10 picks.
The Tigers got a 21-year-old pitcher who posted a 2.45 ERA as a senior at Texas. He struck out 137 batters in 113.2 innings with a 1.047 WHIP. When Madden fell to them at the end of Day 1, it was a no-brainer.