Orioles sweep gives Detroit Tigers fans painful first-hand look at how a rebuild should work

Orioles sweep Tigers as organizations head in opposite directions

Manager A.J. Hinch #14 of the Detroit Tigers looks on during the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 22, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Scott Taetsch, 2023 Getty Images)

BALTIMORE, Md. – As the Baltimore Orioles swept the Detroit Tigers right out of town this weekend, it was hard not to notice the stark contract between how the rebuilds have gone for these two organizations.

Rebuilds intertwined

It’s easy to draw parallels between the rebuilding timelines of the Tigers and Orioles. Detroit’s last playoff appearance during a run of four straight division titles came against Baltimore in 2014, when the Orioles feasted on the Tigers’ bullpen and won the series in three straight games.

Then, after a bit of a dip for both teams in 2015, they finished with very similar records in 2016: the Tigers went 86-75 and the Orioles went 89-73. While Baltimore went on to the wildcard game, Detroit was left out of the postseason.

That, officially, is when both teams started to tear it all down.

The Baltimore Orioles celebrate their 2 to 1 win over the Detroit Tigers to sweep the series in Game Three of the American League Division Series at Comerica Park on October 5, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. (2014 Getty Images)

Let’s take a look at the next five seasons for both teams. If handled correctly, MLB teams can regularly go from full rebuild to competitive within that timeline. From 2017-2021, the Tigers went 275-430, a putrid .390 winning percentage. Baltimore was actually worse, going 253-455, a .357 winning percentage.

Neither team was spending money on free agents, and neither team had any interest in winning. They both wanted to restock their farm systems, get the payroll under control, and select high in the draft.

One team executed that plan to perfection, while the other continues to flounder.

Comparing draft success

Look no further than the roster the Orioles used to sweep the Tigers this weekend, and you’ll see how the franchise is rewarding fans for enduring a painful five years.

Three of the foundational pieces of the Orioles rebuild were first-round picks in the past 10 years:

  • Ryan Mountcastle: 55 home runs over the past two seasons, currently ranks sixth in AL in RBI.
  • Grayson Rodriguez: No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball, and has 25 strikeouts in his first 19.1 MLB innings.
  • Adley Rutschman: Widely considered the top all-around catcher in MLB, already has elite plate discipline (18 walks, 16 strikeouts, .423 OBP), and leads AL catchers in OPS.

Here are the Tigers’ first-round picks since Mountcastle was selected in 2015:

  • 2015: Beau Burrows and Christin Stewart
  • 2016: Matt Manning
  • 2017: Alex Faedo
  • 2018: Casey Mize
  • 2019: Riley Greene
  • 2020: Spencer Torkelson
  • 2021: Jackson Jobe
  • 2022: Jace Jung

None of these picks have turned into even above-average MLB players so far in their careers. Nobody is giving up on the likes of Greene and Torkelson, but the fact that the Tigers drafted a starting pitcher with their first pick every year from 2015 through 2018 and none of them panned out is a glaring red flag.

Orioles’ ability to develop players

As poorly as the Tigers have drafted, it’s the lack of development that really sets this franchise apart from the rest of baseball.

Look at Gunnar Henderson, for example. The Orioles drafted him in the second round in 2019, and within two years, he had risen to the No. 1 prospect in baseball. He’s off to a slow start this season, but at 21 years old, he’s sporting a .355 on-base percentage for a contending team.

Austin Hayes was a third-rounder for the Orioles in 2016 and has been with the MLB club for parts of every season since 2019. In 297 games since the start of 2021, Hayes owns a .753 OPS with 42 home runs, 67 doubles, and 5.5 WAR.

That’s an extremely productive player the Orioles developed, and he’s only getting better at age 27. Hayes already has 11 extra-base hits in 21 games this season.

Another very interesting case is Cedric Mullins, who was drafted by Baltimore in the 13th round in 2015 and struggled at first to get his career off the ground.

Then, the Orioles asked Mullins to stop switch hitting and focus on batting left-handed full time. That season, he hit 30 home runs, stole 30 bases, posted an .878 OPS, made the All-Star team, and finished top 10 in AL MVP voting.

Since then, Mullins has been one of the premier outfielders in baseball, racking up 10.4 WAR over 336 games.

When the Orioles selected Anthony Santander from Cleveland in the 2016 Rule 5 draft, he was 21 years old and coming off a few decent seasons in the low minor leagues. But since becoming a fixture in the Baltimore lineup in 2019, Santander has been a very solid player, hitting 83 home runs with a .765 OPS.

Last season, Santander broke out with 33 homers at age 27. It was just another example of the Orioles getting the most out of a player’s skill set.

Tigers’ lack of development

The Tigers, on the other hand, are the epitome of organizational failure in terms of developing talent. Those recent first-round picks are a perfect example.

Mize was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft and had eye popping numbers throughout his minor-league career. But as soon has he got to the majors, his dominance vanished.

In 188.2 innings, Mize completely lost his ability to miss bats, striking out just 7.1 hitters per nine innings. His 4.29 ERA came with a 4.95 FIP and an xERA (expected ERA) well north of 5.00.

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Casey Mize throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

During his only full season in 2021, Mize ranked in the bottom 25% of MLB pitchers in every expected stat and every strikeout metric. In short, Mize allowed hard contact, didn’t strike hitters out, and didn’t have any standout pitches.

The same goes for Manning, who was a strikeout specialist in the minors. His 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings in MLB casts doubt over his ability to be even a serviceable starter. His whiff rate, chase rate, and strikeout rate are all bottom 30% in the league for a third-straight season.

I could go on and on and on. Beau Brieske and Garrett Hill looked like potential success stories for the Tigers’ development, but their ability to miss bats vanished as soon as they reached the MLB level. Tarik Skubal appeared to be trending toward the top of the rotation, but injuries have kept him off the field.

From an offensive standpoint, who has developed into a plus MLB hitter within the Tigers system since Nick Castellanos? The last Tiger to play at least 100 games and post an OPS over .800 in a season was Castellanos in 2018 -- that was five years ago, and an .800 OPS isn’t even that high of a bar.

Torkelson was the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2020 draft, and even though his quality of contact metrics show some promise, there’s little reason to believe the Tigers can unlock his full potential.

Greene was a consensus top five prospect throughout his time in the minors, and so far, way too much of his time at the MLB level has been spent striking out (36.8% of his plate appearances this season).

Final thoughts

Skim through the list of MLB organizations and you’ll find examples of developmental success within almost every one.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been bad for years, but along the way, they’ve developed young stars in Bryan Reynolds, Oneil Cruz, and Ke’Bryan Hayes.

The Oakland Athletics are 4-18 this season. Their situation is so bad that ownership is actively sabotaging the team so they can move it to Las Vegas. But over the past few years, they’ve fielded stars like Matt Olson, Sean Murphy, and Matt Chapman.

In the Tigers’ very own division, the Kansas City Royals are looking at another potential last-place finish. But Bobby Witt Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino, and M.J. Melendez look like excellent building blocks for the future.

Detroit has been drafting in the top five, saving money in free agency, and trying to rebuild the farm system for nearly a decade, and what does the organization have to show for it? Next to nothing. The Tigers are no closer to making a playoff run than they were in 2017, which means the last eight years have essentially been a waste.

There are a dozen examples like the Orioles -- teams that have gone from the bottom of the standings to postseason contention while the Tigers have been rebuilding. But this weekend’s series in Baltimore, and seeing how much farther along the Orioles are, felt especially like a slap in the face.

Last week’s five-game winning streak was fun, but four losses later, Tigers fans have been thrust back into reality.

And reality doesn’t look pretty. Not now, and not for the near future.

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.