Evaluating which Detroit Tigers are being passed by as rebuild marches on

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press


Tigers interim manager Lloyd McClendon believes the drawn-out rebuild is almost complete.

And he may be right after 10 players, including prospects Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Isaac Paredes and Daz Cameron, made their debuts this season.

But the pieces Detroit used to grind through last season’s 114 losses and this year’s shortened schedule also have roles in the rebuild. The Tigers wrapped up the 2020 season with Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals and finished 23-35 and in last place of the AL Central for the fourth time in six years.

“It goes back to defining what success is going to be,” McClendon said Sunday. “Where do we set that bar? For me, we have to set that bar high. I think this club has made great progress. The rebuild is almost over with. Now it’s time to start winning ballgames.”

[ Detroit Tigers now at crossroads after some bright spots in 2020: ‘Rebuild is almost over’ ]

Here’s an evaluation of how each Tigers player performed in 2020 — with grades ranging from “Building block” (a key player in the rebuild) to “Keeping seat warm” (somebody holding down a spot until a prospect takes it) and “Time to move on” (a player whose role in the rebuild is diminishing) —  along with an explanation of what’s next for each player:

LHP Matthew Boyd

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2020 stats: 12 games (12 games started), 60⅓ innings pitched, 6.71 ERA, 1.475 WHIP, 60 strikeouts, 22 walks.

The buzz: The 2020 season couldn’t have gone worse for Boyd, who allowed an MLB-leading 45 earned runs and 15 home runs. He becomes a free agent after the 2022 season, and since the Tigers decided not to trade him numerous times, expect him to be around to see Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Franklin Perez make their debuts. After that, it might be over.

RHP Michael Fulmer

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2020 stats: 10 G (10 GS), 27⅔ IP, 8.78 ERA, 2.060 WHIP, 20 SO, 12 BB.

The buzz: Right now, Fulmer is simply filling a spot in the rotation. Coming off Tommy John surgery, the expectations weren’t over the top. That will change in 2021. Assuming there’s a 162-game schedule, he must find consistent success. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than a waiting game for the Tigers to move on.

RHP Casey Mize (Debut: Aug. 19)

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 7 G (7 GS), 28⅓ IP, 6.99 ERA, 1.482 WHIP, 26 SO, 13 BB.

The buzz: Look, he very inconsistent over the first seven games of his career. The majors were a wake-up call, and he realized he can’t get away with mistakes — such as hanging his splitter in the zone. But that was the entire purpose of calling him up. He didn’t scratch his potential in 2020, but that doesn’t mean he won’t next season. There’s no reason to give up on the 2018 No. 1 overall pick.

LHP Tarik Skubal (Debut: Aug. 18)

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 8 G (7 GS), 32 IP, 5.63 ERA, 1.219 WHIP, 37 SO, 11 BB.

The buzz: Skubal was drafted 254 picks after Mize in 2018, but he was much better in the first eight games of his career because of his fastball. Yet being able to command it consistently is something he has to work on. If he unlocks that and continues developing his secondary pitches, which aren’t far from excellent, he could become a future ace.

RHP Spencer Turnbull

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 11 G (11 GS), 56⅔ IP, 3.97 ERA, 1.341 WHIP, 51 SO, 29 BB.

The buzz: Nothing about the 2020 starting rotation was more encouraging than Turnbull. He is at the point in his career where the only thing holding him back from leading the rotation in himself. His repertoire is superb but sometimes he gets in his head and struggles with command. As he matures as a big leaguer, his success will skyrocket.

LHP Tyler Alexander

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 14 G (2 GS), 36⅓ IP, 3.96 ERA, 1.321 WHIP, 34 SO, 9 BB.

The buzz: Outside of allowing five runs in an Aug. 11 start, Alexander was a pleasant surprise. He pitched decent last season, but the Tigers gave him a solidified long-reliever role this year and watched him flourish. He tossed 28⅔ innings in 12 bullpen appearances with a 3.14 ERA. His versatility at age 26 makes him a must-keep. His nine straight strikeouts Aug. 2 weren’t shabby, either.

RHP Beau Burrows (Debut: July 27)

Status: Time to move on.

2020 stats: 5 G, 6⅔ IP, 5.40 ERA, 1.350 WHIP, 3 SO, 1 BB.

The buzz: A starter turned reliever, Burrows’ opportunity to play a key role in the rebuild is drifting away. He started 15 games for Triple-A Toledo last season and produced a 5.65 ERA. In 2018, he had a 4.10 ERA in 26 starts for Double-A Erie. A first-round pick in 2015, he hasn’t lived up to the hype.

RHP Anthony Castro (Debut: July 27)

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 1 G, 1 IP, 18.00 ERA, 2.000 WHIP, 1 SO, 1 BB.

The buzz: Despite starting 18 of his 27 appearances in Double-A last season, the 25-year-old projects as a bullpen piece. The Tigers like his slider and fastball, which has movement. The command of those pitches is his biggest problem, but there’s still plenty of hope for him to become a versatile bullpen option.

RHP Jose Cisnero

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 29 G, 29⅔ IP, 3.03 ERA, 1.112 WHIP, 34 SO, 10 BB.

The buzz: Before pitching for the Tigers in 2019, Cisnero hadn’t made a big-league appearance since 2014 with the Houston Astros. In 2020, at 31 years old, he proved why the organization took a chance on him.

RHP Buck Farmer

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 23 G, 21⅓ IP, 3.80 ERA, 1.172 WHIP, 14 SO, 5 BB.

The buzz: Arguably the best reliever in 2019, Farmer replicated his success in the 60-game sprint. But keep in mind that opponents had a .273 expected batting average  against him this year — among the worst in the league. He is a free agent following the 2022 season and could be a big name at the trade deadline. If the Tigers are in a spot to win, they’ll hold onto him.

RHP Kyle Funkhouser (Debut: July 27)

Status: Time to move on.

2020 stats: 13 G, 17⅓ IP, 7.27 ERA, 1.904 WHIP, 12 SO, 11 BB.

The buzz: Similar to Burrows, Funkhouser was a first-round pick in the 2015 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers but went in the fourth round to the Tigers in 2016. The 26-year-old had a 9.52 ERA in 2019 for Triple-A Toledo as a starter and wasn’t much better this year in limited opportunity for the Tigers out of the bullpen.

RHP Bryan Garcia

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 26 G, 21⅔ IP, 1.66 ERA, 1.292 WHIP, 12 SO, 10 BB, 4 SV.

The buzz: After recovering from Tommy John surgery, the 25-year-old was the team’s best reliever in 2020. Garcia worked himself into the closer role and only gave up four earned runs. He’s on the fast track to becoming closer of the future.

RHP Rony Garcia (Debut: July 28)

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2020 stats: 15 G (2 GS), 21 IP, 8.14 ERA, 1.619 WHIP, 14 SO, 9 BB.

The buzz: A Rule 5 pick, the Tigers had to keep Garcia on the active roster for the entire season. The 22-year-old didn’t pitch in meaningful moments, but he now can move freely throughout the organization’s farm system. He didn’t do anything to warrant high remarks. Still, there’s an upside. Expect him to start 2021 in the minors.

RHP Joe Jimenez

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2020 stats:  25 G, 22⅔ IP, 7.15 ERA, 1.368 WHIP, 22 SO, 6 BB, 5 SV.

The buzz: Jimenez is the trickiest player to evaluate. He started the season with four saves in his first four appearances. Then, he imploded and lost the closer role, followed by a feud with Minnesota Twins first baseman Miguel Sano. He managed seven scoreless outings across 7⅔ innings to end the year. That’ll keep him around for now, but he doesn’t have much room for error.

RHP David McKay

Status: Time to move on.

2020 stats: 1 G, ⅓ IP, 54.00 ERA, 6.000 WHIP, 0 SO, 1 BB.

The buzz: McKay was removed from the 40-man roster Sept. 3 to make room for infielder Zach Short, who was acquired from the Chicago Cubs at a trade deadline in the Cameron Maybin deal. McKay cleared waivers, so he remains with the organization. But there’s probably not a long-term opportunity for him moving forward.

LHP Daniel Norris

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 14 G (1 GS), 27⅔ IP, 3.25 ERA, 1.157 WHIP, 28 SO, 7 BB.

The buzz: A starter for most of his seven-year career, Norris moved to the bullpen in 2020 as a long reliever. He posted eight scoreless outings and anchored the Tigers through troublesome starting pitching. He becomes a free agent after the 2021 season and should be a cornerstone bullpen piece wherever he ends up.

LHP Nick Ramirez

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2020 stats: 5 G, 10⅔ IP, 5.91 ERA, 1.125 WHIP, 11 SO, 4 BB.

The buzz: The Tigers didn’t add Ramirez to the 40-man roster until Sept. 10. Once a first baseman in the minors, the left-hander has potential but still needs to develop. At 31 years old, the Tigers may not be willing to wait around.

RHP John Schreiber

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2020 stats: 15 G, 15⅔ IP, 6.32 ERA, 1.468 WHIP, 14 SO, 4 BB.

The buzz: The 26-year-old from Gibraltar Carlson High has made 28 relief appearances in two seasons for the Tigers. His numbers haven’t been impressive. He should get a few more chances to prove himself, but he will have to pitch well in spring training and the minors to get those opportunities.

LHP Gregory Soto

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 27 G, 23 IP, 4.30 ERA, 1.261 WHIP, 29 SO, 13 BB, 2 SV.

The buzz: Soto is the textbook example of everything the Tigers want in a reliever. His fastball averages 97.3 mph and can crank up to 100 mph. His slider is an excellent complement, helping him produce strikeouts at a high rate. The 25-year-old still needs to iron out his command, but the team is banking on that with time.

INF Sergio Alcantara (Debut: Sept. 6)

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 10 G, 21 At-bats, .143 avg., 1 HR, 1 RBI, 4 SO, 2 BB.

The buzz: Don’t expect Alcantara to crush home runs as he did in his first career at-bat; he only hit nine home runs in seven minor-league seasons. His top quality is his defense at second base, shortstop and third base. He has a strong arm and doesn’t make many mistakes. So if he can figure out how to hit, even if it’s just for contact, he will find a role in the majors.

OF Jorge Bonifacio

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2020 stats: 30 G, 86 AB, .221 avg., 2 HR, 17 RBIs, 26 SO, 5 BB.

The buzz: Bonifacio was a platoon outfielder. If the Tigers bring him back to the majors in 2021, he will continue to be one until Riley Greene, the organization’s No. 4 prospect (MLB Pipeline), makes his debut.

DH/1B Miguel Cabrera

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2020 stats: 57 G, 204 AB, .250 avg., 10 HR, 35 RBIs, 51 SO, 24 BB.

The buzz: There still is doubt that Spencer Torkelson, the team’s No. 1 prospect, ends up at third base, especially with an already loaded left side of the infield. Will Torkelson take over at first, Cabrera’s old position? Probably. In the meantime, Cabrera is a placeholder at the designated hitter spot as he rides out the hefty $244 million contract extension he signed in 2014. He led the Tigers with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 2020. His contract expires in 2023.

OF Daz Cameron (Debut: Sept. 9)

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 17 G, 57 AB, .193 avg., 0 HR, 3 RBIs, 19 SO, 2 BB.

The buzz: The 23-year-old started with a slump, but he worked out of it with a 10-for-30 streak in his final nine games. There’s a lot to like from Cameron, and he should be an Opening Day starter in 2021.

3B/1B Jeimer Candelario

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 52 G, 185 AB, .297 avg., 7 HR, 29 RBIs, 49 SO, 20 BB.

The buzz: After hitting .203 in 2019 and getting sent to Triple-A, Candelario turned his career around in 2020 with a .360 on-base percentage and .503 slugging percentage. He’s one of the position players the Tigers are counting on the most to carry them out of the rebuild.

INF/OF Harold Castro

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 22 G, 49 AB, .347 avg., 0 HR, 3 RBIs, 11 SO, 5 BB.

The buzz: Because Castro can play just about every position and hit for average, he is an invaluable piece. He has proven in the past two seasons that he can be in the starting lineup , but it remains to be seen how the Tigers want to use him in the long run. At  26 years old, his upside — even in a platoon role — is tremendous.

SS Willi Castro

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 36 G, 129 AB, .349 avg., 6 HR, 24 RBIs, 38 SO, 7 BB.

The buzz: Castro finished with the second-highest rookie batting average in franchise history, just behind Fred Haney’s .352 average in 1922. He only played 36 games, which is why he is unlikely to win the AL Rookie of the Year. But he took a giant leap forward from his .230 average in 30 games last season. While it’s unclear whether his success is sustainable, the Tigers think he can be the shortstop of the future.

OF Travis Demeritte

Status: Time to move on.

2020 stats: 18 G, 29 AB, .172 avg., 0 HR, 4 RBIs, 14 SO, 3 BB.

The buzz: Only getting in 18 games in 2020 — after playing 48 in 2019 — is a good representation of Demeritte’s progress. He was the No. 30 overall pick in the 2013 draft and came to the Tigers from the Braves in a 2019 trade. He already has been traded twice in his career, and the Tigers might end up having to make it three.

INF/OF Brandon Dixon

Status: Time to move on.

2020 stats: 5 G, 13 AB, .077 avg., 0 HR, 2 RBIs, 4 SO, 1 BB.

The buzz: Dixon led the 2019 Tigers with 19 home runs but didn’t return until the final stretch of games this season. It was a kind gesture after he spent the year at the alternate training site in Toledo, but as the Tigers aim to turn the page, Dixon is unlikely to have a long-term role.

INF/OF Niko Goodrum

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2020 stats: 43 G, 158 AB, .184 avg., 5 HR, 20 RBI, 69 SO, 18 BB.

The buzz: Despite strong defense, Goodrum went through a 43-game slump in 43 games played this season. The Tigers have rising position players in the farm system. While it makes sense to keep the 28-year-old as a utility option, he won’t be of much use if his offense doesn’t improve.

C Grayson Greiner

Status: Time to move on.

2020 stats: 18 G, 51 AB, .118 avg., 3 HR, 8 RBIs, 20 SO, 3 BB.

The buzz: The Tigers have given Greiner 106 career games to get his offense in check, but the 27-year-old hasn’t done so with a .194 batting average. For developmental purposes, it would be best for the Tigers to chase a seasoned catcher in free agency and make prospect Jake Rogers the backup. And if Rogers isn’t the long-term answer, it’s only a matter of time before Ohio State’s Dillon Dingler, a second-round pick in 2020, makes his debut.

C Eric Haase

Status: Time to move on.

2020 stats: 7 G, 17 AB, .176 avg., 0 HR, 2 RBIs, 6 SO, 1 BB.

The buzz: Similar to Greiner, Haase isn’t in the rebuilding blueprint. Haase has a .122 batting average in 26 career games.

OF Derek Hill (Debut: Sept. 4)

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2020 stats: 15 G, 11 AB, .091 avg., 0 HR, 0 RBI, 6 SO, 1 BB.

The buzz: Despite being picked No. 23 overall in 2014, Hill took six years to develop in the minors. And when he was called up, he only got 11 at-bats in 15 games and primarily was used as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement. He will probably play in the majors next season, but with Greene, Parker Meadows and Daniel Cabrera in hot pursuit, he has to step up in his limited opportunities if he wants to stick around.

OF JaCoby Jones

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 30 G, 97 AB, .268 avg., 5 HR, 14 RBIs, 34 SO, 7 BB.

The buzz: Jones never has played a full season for the Tigers, primarily because of injuries. In 2020, he fractured his hand Sept. 1 on a hit-by-pitch and did not  return. Before his injury, Jones shot out of the gate by hitting .423 with three homers and seven RBIs in July. He added a few highlight-reel catches in center field, as well.

3B Dawel Lugo

Status: Time to move on.

2020 stats: 9 G, 10 AB, .200 avg., 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 SO, 1 BB.

The buzz: Lugo was designated for assignment in August and cleared waivers, forcing him back to the alternate training site in Toledo. He has a .236 batting average in 113 career games across three seasons. The Tigers are more focused on other players.

3B Isaac Paredes (Debut: Aug. 17)

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 34 G, 100 AB, .220 avg., 1 HR, 6 RBIs, 24 SO, 8 BB.

The buzz: Although Paredes slumped after his go-ahead grand slam Aug. 21, he produced a 10-game hitting streak down the stretch and looked comfortable at third base. It’s unclear whether he will stay at that position, but the 21-year-old is a large piece of the rebuild and will continue to get at-bats.

[ The inside story of how Isaac Paredes was discovered ]

OF Victor Reyes

Status: Building block.

2020 stats: 57 G, 202 AB, .277 avg., 4 HR, 14 RBIs, 45 SO, 9 BB.

The buzz: Most Rule 5 draft picks don’t pan out, and Reyes never was a big piece of the rebuild until he forced himself into the conversation. He can play all three outfield positions and should have a starting spot on the Opening Day roster.

OF Christin Stewart

Status: Time to move on.

2020 stats: 36 G, 90 AB, .167 avg., 3 HR, 9 RBIs, 30 SO, 5 BB.

The buzz: Drafted No. 34 overall by the Tigers in 2015, Stewart pounded home runs in the minors, but he isn’t a reliable defender and hasn’t produced at the plate. In 157 games across three seasons, he is hitting .225 with 15 homers, 59 RBIs, 146 strikeouts and just 49 walks.

NOTE: Free agents and players no longer with the Tigers were omitted from the rankings: C.J. Cron, Carson Fulmer, Cameron Maybin, Jordy Mercer, Ivan Nova, Austin Romine, Jonathan Schoop, Jordan Zimmermann.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content

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