Ranking the 12 most exciting young players in Detroit sports

All 4 major Detroit sports teams trying to emerge from rebuilding phase

Amon-Ra St. Brown, Akil Baddoo, Cade Cunningham and Lucas Raymond are four promising young players in Detroit sports. (2021 Getty Images)

DETROIT – There seems to be a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel Detroit sports fans have been stuck in for the better part of a decade.

The Tigers and Red Wings have already shown dramatic improvement on the field and ice, while the excitement surrounding the Lions and Pistons is more a result of some promising young building blocks.

These teams are at different stages in their rebuilds, but each has players who will be part of future playoff runs. Here’s a look at our top 12 most exciting young players in Detroit sports right now:

1. Cade Cunningham

  • Age: 20
  • Stats: 15.7 points, 5.3 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game; 39.7 field goal percentage, 32.1 three-point percentage.

Cunningham’s raw season-long numbers won’t blow anyone away, but the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft has emerged as the leader of the Pistons midway through his rookie season.

In his last 18 games, Cunningham has averaged 17.9 points, 5.7 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game while shooting 44% from the floor, 40% from 3-point range and 82% from the free-throw line. In that stretch, he’s surpassed 15 points 13 times.

This has been a learning experience for Cunningham, as the Pistons remain one of the worst teams in the league. But he’s an obvious difference-maker and leader on the court, and that’s what Troy Weaver needed to build around.

2. Amon-Ra St. Brown

  • Age: 22
  • Stats: 90 catches, 912 receiving yards, 61 rushing yards, 5 receiving touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown.

Lions fans were ecstatic when the team scooped up St. Brown in the fourth round of last year’s draft, and they’re even more excited after the young receiver’s rookie season.

St. Brown’s production was pedestrian for the first two-thirds of 2021. He made 39 catches in the team’s first 11 games, gaining 352 yards.

But in the final six weeks, the rookie caught fire, grabbing 51 passes for 560 yards and five touchdowns. St. Brown caught at least eight passes in each of those games and scored in all but one. He was one of the best players in the entire NFL over that stretch.

St. Brown finished his rookie season with 973 total yards and six touchdowns. He looks like he could be a top target for years to come.

3. Riley Greene

  • Age: 21
  • Stats (2021 Double-A and Triple-A stats): .301 batting average, .387 on-base percentage, .534 slugging percentage, 24 home runs, 25 doubles, 16 stolen bases, 153 strikeouts, 63 walks in 558 plate appearances.

Even though he hasn’t reached Detroit yet, it won’t be long for the Tigers’ top outfield prospect. Greene flourished in his first full season of minor-league play and figures to be an everyday outfielder for the big-league club at some point in 2022.

Greene’s elite combination of power and plate discipline caught the Tigers’ eye when they took him No. 5 overall in the 2019 draft. Since then, all he’s done is hit 29 home runs, steal 21 bases and post a .375 OBP across five minor-league levels.

The only surprise in Greene’s development is how well he’s adapted to center field. Considered a bat-first prospect out of high school, Greene has flashed excellent defense during his exhibition stints with the Tigers and his time in the minors.

Adjusting to the MLB level can be difficult for rookies, but Greene sure looks like he could be a star in Detroit.

4. Lucas Raymond

  • Age: 19
  • Stats: 11 goals, 21 assists, +/1 of 1 through 40 games.

Just 15 months ago, the Red Wings drafted Raymond No. 4 overall in the first round of the draft. Now, he’s among the favorites for the Calder Trophy as a teenager playing on the Red Wings’ top line.

Raymond has been a revelation for the Wings this season, ranking behind only Dylan Larkin with 32 points. Despite his age, Raymond has adapted to the speed of the NHL game quickly, and he’s an incredibly smart player.

Fans are already starting to see the fruits of Steve Yzerman’s roster overhaul, but even The Captain couldn’t have envisioned Raymond being this impactful so early in his career.

5. Spencer Torkelson

  • Age: 22
  • Stats (2021 Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A stats): .267/.383/.552, 30 home runs, 29 doubles, 114 strikeouts, 77 walks in 530 plate appearances.

In some ways, Torkelson was even better than Greene in his first full year of professional baseball.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2020 lost a year of development when the minor league season was canceled due to COVID-19. He didn’t seem to miss a beat, though, smashing 30 home runs while getting on base at a .383 clip in 2021.

Torkelson was a dominant hitter at Arizona State and the obvious choice for the Tigers by the time the 2020 draft rolled around. He put that power and plate discipline on display last year, forcing the Tigers to promote him all the way from Single-A West Michigan to Triple-A Toledo.

Now just one step from the major leagues, Torkelson will likely begin the 2022 season with the Mud Hens, where he hit just .238 but posted a strong .350 OBP and drew 23 walks while striking out 36 times in 40 games.

Torkelson’s defense isn’t spectacular at first base, but his bat doesn’t need much more seasoning. He’ll be entrenched at the heart of the Tigers’ lineup soon.

6. Penei Sewell

  • Age: 21
  • Stats: Five sacks allowed, 77.4 overall PFF grade in 16 games.

The Lions didn’t care about making a sexy choice with their first pick in the 2021 draft, instead selecting Sewell at No. 7 overall. There were some questions surrounding the rookie after he opted out of the 2020 college season at Oregon due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s safe to say that pick was a resounding success. Sewell was one of the best rookies in the NFL this season, cementing himself next to Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson and Taylor Decker along the Lions’ offensive line.

Pro Football Focus says Sewell allowed only five sacks in 1,039 snaps this season. He committed 11 penalties and graded out as an elite tackle in terms of quarterback protection.

Whenever the Lions decide to draft their next franchise quarterback, Sewell will be his best friend on the edge of that offensive line.

7. Moritz Seider

  • Age: 20
  • Stats: Three goals, 22 assists, +/- of 1 through 40 games.

It was a bit of a surprise when Yzerman drafted Seider with the No. 6 overall pick in 2019, but his vision is starting to become clear.

Seider made his debut for the Red Wings this season at just 20 years old, and he’s already one of the most productive players on the team. The young defenseman leads the team with 22 assists this season, continuing what he did in the Swedish Hockey League before exploding onto the scene with the Wings.

Like Raymond, Seider has adapted to hockey’s highest level quickly, and is already a dangerous player at both ends. He’s earned the trust of Jeff Blashill and ranks second behind Filip Hronek in average time on ice.

8. Saddiq Bey

  • Age: 22
  • Stats: 15 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game; 38% FG, 33.1% from 3-point line.

Bey’s overall numbers are underwhelming when compared to his rookie season, but he’s come on strong since Jerami Grant’s injury.

In his last 16 games, dating back to mid-December, Bey is averaging 20.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 43% from the floor and 37% from three-point range. He’s topped 20 points nine times over that stretch.

The Pistons are starved for three-point shooting, so it’s a relief to see Bey get back on track, though he’s still not quite at the 38% clip he made as a rookie. Bey will only benefit from Weaver adding more shooters to the roster, likely through a Grant trade and the draft.

9. Tarik Skubal

  • Age: 25
  • Stats: 4.34 ERA, 5.09 FIP, 1.259 WHIP, 164 strikeouts and 47 walks in 149.1 innings.

In his first full season with the Tigers, Skubal did almost everything they were hoping for. He struck out nearly 10 batters per nine innings and paired that with an excellent walk rate. He made 31 appearances and stayed healthy across 149 innings. He even gave the Tigers some length, with nine starts of at least six innings.

Home runs were the one major downfall for Skubal. He allowed 35 homers in 2021, which accounted for well over half of the 72 total runs he allowed all season.

Skubal wasn’t quite as dominant as his minor-league numbers teased, with a swinging strike rate of 12%. But he was trying to find his footing at the MLB level, and the swings and misses should continue to rise.

10. Akil Baddoo

  • Age: 23
  • Stats: .259/.330/.436, 13 home runs, 20 doubles, 18 stolen bases, 122 strikeouts and 45 walks in 461 plate appearances.

The Detroit Tigers are way more fun when Baddoo is in the lineup.

Acquired in last year’s Rule 5 draft, Baddoo wasn’t even expected to make the team out of spring training. But he played so well that the Tigers were forced to bring him north.

Baddoo famously hit the first MLB pitch he ever saw for a home run, and smacked a grand slam days later. He also delivered a walk-off single to cap a magical first week.

Through his ups and downs at the plate, Baddoo maintained that flare for the dramatic. He’s got some power and excellent speed, but what could really make him an impact player is his ability to get on base.

A few miserable slumps dragged down Baddoo’s overall numbers. But his eye at the plate, especially against right-handed pitchers, could allow him to take another step forward in 2022 and beyond.

11. D’Andre Swift

  • Age: 23
  • Stats: 617 rushing yards on 151 attempts (4.1 average), 62 catches, 452 receiving yards, seven total touchdowns.

Swift’s Thanksgiving Day injury took some of the shine off his excellent season, but the second-year running back still managed to surpass 1,000 total yards in just 13 games.

When the Lions put Swift in position to succeed, he’s a dynamic ball carrier and home run threat. He’s one of the NFL’s best pass catchers out of the backfield and a nightmare to tackle in space. He can hit running lanes and churn out big gains between the tackles, too.

St. Brown stole the offensive headlines at the end of the season, but the Lions love to run the ball. As the clear No. 1 back moving forward, Swift will continue to be a focal point of the offense.

12. Casey Mize

  • Age: 24
  • Stats: 3.71 ERA, 4.71 FIP, 1.137 WHIP, 118 strikeouts and 41 walks in 150.1 innings.

Many Tigers fans would have Mize ahead of Skubal on this list, especially since he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft. He was more effective in limiting runs and base runners last year, and that’s something he’s done at every stop along the way.

That’s why he’s included on this list. As for why he’s lower than Skubal -- look no further than the strikeout rate.

Mize has never been an elite bat-misser in the minors, partially because he’s so efficient in getting through lineups. But his strikeout rate at the MLB level will have to improve from the 7.1 per nine innings he posted a year ago.

Only 9% of Mize’s pitches resulted in swings and misses last year, and while he parlayed that into a strong 3.71 rookie ERA, that’s an extraordinarily delicate balancing act.

When the Tigers took Mize at the top of the 2018 draft, they knew he was a polished pitcher who could get outs on balls in play. If he’s going to become a true ace, Mize will need to maintain that while adding more whiffs to the arsenal.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.