After the completion of the regular season and alternate training sites, most player development staffs have turned their attention to instructional league play. In the past, instructs have been populated by new draftees, recent international signings and players at the bottom rungs of their organizational ladder. This year, in an attempt to make up for lost time due to the pandemic, it’s been expanded to include many more players. MLB Pipeline will be providing position-by-position reports from instructional league camps in Florida and Arizona.
Gio Arriera, RHP; Drew Carlton, RHP; Ethan DeCaster, RHP; Angel De Jesus, RHP; Rodolfo Fajardo, LHP; Jason Foley, RHP; Ruben Garcia, RHP; Max Green, LHP; Carlos Guzman, RHP; Wilkel Hernandez, RHP; Zac Houston, RHP; Marco Jimenez, RHP; Alex Lange, RHP; Keider Montero, RHP; Gerson Moreno, RHP; Cleiverth Perez, LHP; Wladimir Pinto, RHP; Paul Richan, RHP (No. 29); Elvin Rodriguez, RHP (No. 30); Joseph Salazar, RHP; Jared Tobey, LHP; Will Vest, RHP; Brendan White, RHP
The Major League debuts of Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal this season marked an important turning point in a Tigers rebuilding effort that had largely been centered on the stockpiling of pitching prospects via the Draft, trades and international market. The organization’s next wave of young arms, a group led by 2016 first-rounder Matt Manning, aren’t far off either, especially after so many of them progressed in their development this summer at the Tigers’ alternate training site in Toledo.
As for Detroit’s crop of young, lower-level pitching prospects, they’re now busily trying to recoup a lost Minor League season at instructional league camp in Lakeland, Fla.
“You want to get the work in, and because all the guys are younger and very enthusiastic, they sometimes want to do a little too much,” Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield said when asked about the challenges of the 2020 season. “It’s a good problem, but part of our role as professionals is to make sure we give them good guidance and direction.”
Marco Jimenez and Keider Montero have been standouts in the group, with both 20-year-old right-handers showing well in camp and proving more advanced than they were a year ago.
“We saw a bunch of these guys for a month or so in the spring before getting shut down,” said Littlefield. “So it’s been nice to see guys like Montero and Jimenez back here again this fall, getting stronger. But because of the start-and-stop nature of the season, it’s obviously been different.”
Paul Richan, 23, is one of the more advanced pitchers in camp and appears poised to help the club in some capacity in the coming years. Acquired from the Cubs along with righty Alex Lange in the 2019 Trade Deadline deal for Nicholas Castellanos, Richan posted a 4.00 ERA with 115 strikeouts and 20 walks over 123 2/3 innings in his first full season, spending the entire year at the Class A Advanced level.
“He’s an advanced guy who’s very smart and uses his stuff well,” said Littlefield.
Elvin Rodriguez looks noticeably stronger this fall and has performed well in camp after a 2019 campaign in which the 22-year-old righty logged a 3.77 ERA and .228 BAA over 133 2/3 innings in the Florida State League.
“With such a tall, lanky body, he’s gradually put on some more good weight,” noted Littlefield. “It’s helped him from a durability standpoint and overall moving better as an athlete.”
Eliézer Alfonzo; Cooper Johnson; Sam McMillan; Yoandy Rea; Eduardo Valencia
The Tigers landed one of the 2019 Draft’s better defensive catchers in sixth-round pick Cooper Johnson. He’s been as advertised during his brief time in the organization, showcasing a strong arm and advanced catch-and-throw skills behind the plate, with blocking and receiving skills that continue to improve. Club officials also believe that Johnson will one day make an impact offensively, too, and have been pleased with his progress on that front so far this fall.
“He has some power,” said Littlefield about the 22-year-old backstop. “He looks like a Major League catcher, so we just need to keep working on the bat. Our staff is doing a really nice job with him and seeing him make some improvements.”
Cesar Calderon, SS; Kody Clemens, 2B (No. 19); Trei Cruz, SS (No. 27); Alvaro Gonzalez, SS; Carlos Irigoyen, SS; Colt Keith, 3B (No. 21); Ryan Kreidler, SS; Andre Lipcius, 3B/2B (No. 28); Wenceel Perez, SS (No. 16); Daniel Pinero, INF; Nick Quintana, 3B (No. 24); Adinso Reyes, SS (No. 23); Spencer Torkelson, 3B/1B (No. 1/MLB No. 4); Gage Workman, 3B (No. 22)
The Tigers’ 2020 Draft class is well represented in their instructional league infield group, where four of the club’s six picks, including No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson, are putting the final touches on their first professional experience.
The first No. 1 pick in the bonus-pool era (since 2012) to sign for more than slot value ($8,416,300), Torkelson was immediately assigned to Detroit’s alternate training site and spent the summer getting acclimated to third base, a position he hadn’t played regularly since high school. The Arizona State product’s work at the hot corner has continued this fall in instructional camp, where he’s made impressive progress in a short amount of time, all while showcasing impact potential at the plate.
“We’ve now worked with him for a couple months at third base and he’s made some strides there. Alan Trammell has really done a good job with him,” said Littlefield. “Offensively, he’s come as advertised in terms of a mature, advanced, intelligent player who really looks like he’s going to be a hitter.”
Trei Cruz (third round) and Gage Workman (fourth) have spent much of instructional league at shortstop, showing well on both sides of the ball. The latter has really stood out, impressing club officials with his combination of size, athleticism and remaining projection.
“Just a great-looking athlete and switch-hitter,” said Littlefield about the 20-year-old Workman, “and he’s a big man, too, at 6-foot-4.”
The Tigers are similarly excited about fifth-rounder Colt Keith, the club’s lone high school selection from this year’s Draft. Many teams viewed Keith as a potential two-way player in the pro ranks because of his low-90s arm strength. The Tigers, however, like the 19-year-old third baseman’s power potential and overall upside at the plate.
“Colt is a big, strong athlete who can really impact the ball. We’re all glad to be able to have him here,” said Littlefield.
“To be able to see Torkelson, Workman, Cruz and Keith, guys we hadn’t seen to that point outside of some Zoom calls and discussions, has been great. It’s been great to get them to the ballpark here in Lakeland and get to use the facilities and get to know the staff, on top of everything they’re doing on the field.”
Detroit’s outfield group, much like its crop of infielders, is teeming with future impact bats, with 2019 first-round pick Riley Greene leading the way. After an outstanding showing during his first big league Spring Training that carried over to his time in Tigers’ Summer Camp and at the alternate training site, Greene, 20, has continued to turn heads in instructional league with his all-around performance and development.
“This guy is going to be an outstanding player as he moves through the system … very impressive,” said Littlefield.
Daniel Cabrera, selected by Detroit with the No. 62 overall pick in this year’s Draft, has been an offensive standout in his first taste of pro ball, though that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that he slashed .305/.392/.518 with 59 extra-base hits in 140 games at LSU.
“He’s got ballplayer written all over him. He can really swing the bat and just looks advanced as a hitter as well,” Littlefield said.
Jose De La Cruz, 18, has made a strong impression with his right-handed bat, showing a promising blend of hitting ability and raw power as the group’s youngest player.
“He can really impact the ball and has some power,” said Littlefield. “He’s still very young but has some really, really good tools.”