Detroit News 2021 Top 50 Detroit Tigers prospects

Detroit News

Lynn Henning
| The Detroit News

Quite the mission, crafting a Tigers Top 50 Prospects thesis when the Tigers farm went 0-for-six-months in 2020.

Not a single game played.

And yet stuff happened, lots of it, which made a 2021 list intriguing and not as mysterious as might be expected.

There was a big June draft that shuffled the cards. There was also a five-week instructional camp that helped in sizing up more farm talent than the Tigers have convened in perhaps four or more decades.

So, the Top 50 Tigers talents are hereby presented, with a Best of the Rest inclusion that shouldn’t be taken lightly, given the seismic shifts prospects can make in any given year.

A customary reminder: The Detroit News’ top 50 Tigers prospects do not include players who already have stepped from the minors into a big-league uniform. They, as it were, have received their diploma.

This list is farm kids, exclusively.

1.  Riley Greene, 20, OF, 6-3, 200: If you’re taking a high-school talent in a draft’s first five picks, you’re sure about everything: exceptional skills, quality makeup, and maturity. The Tigers scored with Greene, who was taken fifth overall in 2019 out of Hagerty High in Ovieda, Florida. Greene can play center field in lovely fashion, and he has a chance to be one of big-league baseball’s very best hitters. He has power and pitch-recognition talents remarkable for a left-handed batter so young. He’s a franchise talent.

2.  Spencer Torkelson, 21, 3B, 6-1, 220: Could be at Comerica Park sometime in 2021. As with Greene, Torkelson probably benefited to some extent from working on the Tigers’ 60-man squad in 2020 that compensated for a lost minor-league season. It wasn’t ideal, but Torkelson, who was June’s first overall prize in the 2020 draft, got a taste of sophisticated pitching as he migrated to his new home at third base. He is a high-gear hitter with power from foul line to foul line. Needs everyday work, both ways, in 2021. But it’s possible his ascent will be so strong and steady that a single minor-league stint could be enough to ship Torkelson to Detroit.

3. Matt Manning, 22, RH starter, 6-6, 225: Still the best Tigers power-pitching talent that hasn’t yet pitched at Comerica Park, Manning is inching closer to Detroit. Should be arriving no later than midseason in 2021. His three-pitch quiver needs refining, especially after losing 2020 to a pandemic that rubbed out minor-league ball. Manning is hungry for innings, command, and smoothing that should coalesce rather quickly. After five years of apprentice work, it’s time a first-rounder took it all to Detroit.   

4. Dillon Dingler, 22, C, 6-3, 210: When you’re an athlete of Dingler’s stature, you pretty much bank on the bat evolving. It is. The Tigers saw enough of Dingler last summer at Toledo’s satellite camp to know his bat already is meshing nicely with size, muscle, and some heavy catching skills. Dingler is an Ohio State prize who needs time on the farm after missing too many games due to a hamate-bone injury in 2019 and COVID-19 in 2020. But the Tigers took him second in their June draft for reasons they couldn’t ignore. There simply was too much size and too many skills. Now all maturing.

5. Daniel Cabrera, 22, OF, 6-1, 200: Good hitter who looks to be the Tigers’ answer, probably soon, in left field. Cabrera deserves ample time on the farm once 2021’s schedule gets rolling, but he carries a pedigree. He’s a left-handed stick who showed during his SEC years at Louisiana State that he could/should be a big-league lineup mainstay. Not a lot of college hitters offer the security Cabrera carries even ahead of him playing a single minor-league game. Should hit for average and reasonable power.

6. Alex Faedo, 25, RH starter, 6-5, 225: Count on him arriving, at long last, in 2021. And he needs to have that slider working from the get-go. Faedo was snagged with the Tigers’ first-round turn in 2017 while he was dress-rehearsing at the University of Florida. He has a certain artistry that more than raw power distinguishes him, with that hard slider his trademark. As with Manning, and with all the young Tigers pitchers, losing 2020 was a gut-punch. But expect to see him at Comerica Park well before midseason.

7. Joey Wentz, 23, LH starter, 6-5, 220: He is mending nicely after having Tommy John surgery last March and should be pitching in games no later than next summer. Wentz will soon enough show why the Tigers wanted him badly when they traded Shane Greene to the Braves in 2019. Wentz very easily could have made it to Detroit in 2020 had a certain global bug not shut down MLB’s farm seasons. Terrific repertoire and command. Should mesh nicely in a rotation with Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Manning, and others from the Tigers stable.

8. Parker Meadows, 21, OF, 6-5, 205: Always, always, there will be stomach flutters in the Tigers front office — until, that is, Meadows proves he can steadily hit. What the Tigers liked, in tandem with his speed and overall athletic gifts, was the way he shined during a late-season call-up as the Tigers taxi squad finished its work in Toledo. Meadows was a second-round choice in 2018 and could boost a team’s down-the-road offense if he can turn that left-handed bat into the weapon it yet promises to be.

9. Bryant Packard, 23, OF, 6-3, 200: Not many times is a prospect’s big concern position more than bat. But with Packard, that rarest of all baseball species — a natural hitter — there probably is more mystery about his eventual defensive niche than if his left-handed stick and power make it to Detroit. It’s that latter knack for ripping pitches that the Tigers are convinced will please fans and someday thrill new manager AJ Hinch. Whether he helps at first base, a corner outfield spot, or designated hitter doesn’t overly worry a team that can’t wait for Packard’s offense.

10. Gage Workman, 21, SS/3B, 6-3, 200: Get an impression the Tigers have focused on hitting and power upside the past few drafts? Workman, it seems, is more evidence that a team from Detroit is re-doing its draft-day philosophy and gambling that certain pluses will prevail. Workman is a switch-hitter who was Torkelson’s buddy at Arizona State until both were grabbed by the Tigers in June’s draft. The Tigers like their thinking here: Torkelson has been moved from first base to third base, while Workman, who played third at ASU, is now getting a look-see at shortstop. It might sound weird now. But check out that Tigers lineup in a couple of years. Blueprints are drawn for a reason.

11. Kody Clemens, 24, 2B, 6-1, 185: There’s a long-term Tigers hole waiting to be patched at second base. Clemens would be ideal: left-handed bat, nice file from his University of Texas days, third-round status from the 2018 draft. He might have been dusting off an everyday roster spot for 2021 had 2020 not been upended globally. But minus the Double A-Triple A polishing Clemens needed, and still requires, it’s tough to make lasting projections on a player who in May turns 25. Still, he’s a tough cuss with power and with enough possibilities for the Tigers to hold faith.

12. Colt Keith, 19, OF/IF, 6-2, 220: Might have as much potential as anyone in the system not named Greene or Torkelson. Tigers someday may say they got the 2020 draft’s best fifth-round bargain when they stole Keith from his Arizona State scholarship. He is another of those left-handed power investments and in this case an athlete of superb range and strength. Keith classifies as the kind of shooting star a team’s more religious followers will want to track every day of his minor-league life. A possibly big payoff here for the Tigers.

13. Jose De La Cruz, 18, OF, 6-1, 200: The Tigers went big in signing De La Cruz ($1.8 million in 2018 — huge money for a Dominican Republic teen) and one look at him during autumn’s instructional camp explained things. He has the physique and presence of a much more mature prospect. He bats right-handed and looks like one of those exceptional power guys teams like the Rangers always seemed to be rolling out every few years. A long time, probably, until he’s seen at Comerica Park. He turns 19 next month. If he can make contact that’s acceptable, Tigers might have added a heavyweight puncher in De La Cruz.

14.  Roberto Campos, 17, OF, 6-3, 200: There’s a reason the Tigers paid $2.85 million to sign Campos in 2019, which is about $1 million more than they had ever offered another teen from the international-prospect world. Campos qualified as a thoroughbred, as elite, even if he could remind the Tigers and all of baseball that there’s no such thing as a guarantee when you’re signing 16-year-olds. His size, power, innate hitting gift — the Tigers had decided long before Campos turned 16 that he was a prize they couldn’t ignore. We’ll see about that. But for now, he is being massaged slowly and has a shot at being the guy envisioned.

15. Trei Cruz, 22, IF, 6-2, 200: Having the gifts to play just about anywhere in a big-league infield is one plus. Being a switch-hitter is another. Sharing baseball blood, as defined by the Cruz family’s past MLB achievements (father and grandfather played), is yet another. The Tigers almost surely got help when they drafted Cruz in June’s third round as he was wrapping up his college days at Rice. At the very least he should be a quality backup in the image of longtime Tigers maestro Ramon Santiago. He has the arm to play second base, third base, or shortstop. Footwork and his bat might restrict options. But expect to see him as a fit in Detroit.

16. Franklin Perez, 23, RH starter, 6-3, 200: First things first: He made it through 2020 minus breakdowns. Now factor other pluses: He just turned 23, he was an upper-tier prospect before LAT muscle issues wiped out most of 2018 and 2019, and he remains a premium pitcher — if he can regain full-throttle strength and get that hard stuff back. Which is achievable, if he can only have a full season of work and doesn’t have any relapses. Maybe a big if, maybe not, for a star arm Detroit got from the Astros in 2017 for one Justin Verlander.

17. Adinso Reyes, 19, SS, 6-1, 195: He was part of the Tigers’ 2018 international haul that brought De La Cruz. Reyes was right there, in terms of prestige money, getting $1.45 million, and the Tigers haven’t regretted a penny of it. Reyes is a right-handed stick who got hurt in more ways than one by 2020’s pandemic. Not only did it cost him a year of minor-league ball, he, like Dingler, missed Instructional Camp when he dealt with his own COVID-19 bout. Lots of development time needed. And lots of time on the side of a talented kid.

18. Zack Hess, 23, RH reliever, 6-6, 220: Might surprise those who aren’t overly familiar with Hess’ right arm. But this is one of those back-end blowtorches the Tigers absolutely require if their Big Rebuild is to pay off in ways that don’t betray all the architectural work being done to the Tigers’ rotation. Hess was a possible/potential/probable steal from LSU in 2019 who slipped to the seventh round only because of some groin issues that have since cleared up. This is a man who can fire a fastball at near 100-mph clips and who doubles it up with a mean slider. Cutting down on walks is a requirement, but watch out for Hess, who had enough sizzle to make the Tigers’ 60-man, pandemic-spurred taxi squad.

19. Alex Lange, 25, RH pitcher, 6-3, 200: Lange was one-half of the payoff (it included Paul Richan) from Detroit’s 2019 summer swap that sent Nick Castellanos to the Cubs. The Tigers got a first-round pick in Lange, who, like Hess, is an LSU alum who went to the Cubs, 30th overall, in 2017. Lange was a starter originally but looks now as if he’ll be a steady bullpen option. His plus-pitch is a curveball, which makes the fastball better-suited to short-innings shifts. Another of the 60-man group who filled in this summer at Toledo.

20. Keider Montero, 20, RH starter, 6-1, 145: Wait on this guy. Because as he adds sinew and savvy to a pitching package that already impresses, Montero could be one of the best stories from Detroit’s farm in 2021 and beyond. That work he did at Single-A Connecticut during a short stint there in 2019, when he had just turned 19, was a nice window into Montero’s portfolio: 24.2 innings, 22 hits, five hits, 26 strikeouts. This kid has a future.

 21. Marco Jimenez, 21, RH reliever, 6 feet, 165: Very impressive talent here. One of the likely fast-movers you haven’t heard a lot about. Good repertoire, fastball through change-up, with authority.  

22. Paul Richan, 23, RH starter, 6-2, 200: It’s a good trivia question: What two players did the Tigers get in their Nick Castellanos trade with the Cubs? Richan’s one of the names, and solid. Could help AJ Hinch’s staff in 2021.

23. Eliezer Alfonzo, 21, C, 5-10, 160: Switch-hitter from Barcelona, Venezuela, and one of those homegrown Tigers catching prospects who looks as if he could actually make it, as a regular. Talented youngster.

24. Wilkel Hernandez, 21, RH starter, 6-3, 200: He will spend 2021 healing from Tommy John surgery. Doesn’t diminish his future, which could be more than meaningful. Tigers got him in a trade with the Angels that featured Ian Kinsler.

25. Elvin Rodriguez, 22, RH starter, 6-3, 160: Another of the Angels alums who came to the Tigers in a 2017 deal (Justin Upton), Rodriguez keeps a tight leash on hits-per-inning while flashing enough pitches to get his share of strikeouts. Good prospect and arm. 

26. Zack Short, 25, IF, 5-10, 180: You might remember John McDonald, who played for just about everyone, including the Tigers, during 16 big-league seasons. Short’s got a little McDonald in him — only with better offense. Happens to have been a teammate of Jason Foley’s at Sacred Heart. Tigers snagged him in a deal for Cameron Maybin.

27. Jason Foley, 25, RH reliever, 6-4, 220: Tigers feared they would lose Foley in this month’s Rule 5 draft. And for good reason: Foley the past year moved from his old 100-mph four-seam to a two-seam sinker that he flings in the upper 90s. Watch out.

28. Angel De Jesus, 23, RH reliever, 6-4, 200: Really good stuff for a bullpen asset who’s about to break loose. Low hits-per-inning, big on strikeouts, with tolerable control. Might be the most underrated arm in the Tigers system.

29. Max Green, 24, LH reliever, 6-1, 195: The kind of upward-surging, later-blooming reliever who can boost a bullpen in a hurry. Green is a Pepperdine product who was hanging around in the eighth round in 2017. The Tigers might have gotten a big bonus.

30. Nolan Blackwood, 25, RH reliever, 6-5, 195: Talk to Spencer Torkelson about this past summer’s stint on the Toledo taxi-squad. No pitcher gave him as many fits as this drop-down slinger the Tigers got in a 2018 trade that shipped Mike Fiers to the A’s.

31. Cooper Johnson, 22, C, 6-foot, 215: Sixth-round pick out of the University of Mississippi in 2019. The makings, at the very least, of a solid back-up catcher. Tigers will give his right-handed bat all the time it needs. 

32. Ethan DeCaster, 26, RH reliever, 6-3, 190: Looked like one of those 18th-round prayers when the Tigers grabbed him out of Duke and signed him for all of $4,000. Then he began shutting down hitters across the Tigers farm rungs. Does it the old-fashioned way: with well-located pitches that don’t always overwhelm.

33. Drew Carlton, 25, RH reliever, 6-1, 215: Not a typical story, a 32nd-round draft pick climbing the farm heights and forging himself as a potential big-league add. Carlton, though, has had a nice, and surprising, ride since his Florida State days.

34. Alvaro Gonzalez, 20, SS, 6-foot, 165: Tigers signed this switch-hitter out of Valencia, Venezuela, and gave him handsome money: $1 million. Revealing minor-league season likely headed his way in 2021.

35. Wenceel Perez, 21, SS, 5-11, 195: One of those higher-paid teens when he signed with the Tigers in 2016, but — you might have heard this before — the bat thus far hasn’t met necessary heights. Perez is a switch-hitter. Curtain hasn’t dropped quite yet.

36. Ryan Kreidler, 23, SS, 6-4, 208: Played at UCLA and was good enough in a tough conference to draw a fourth-round bite from the Tigers. Size and right-handed bat make him appealing at the infield’s most serious spot.

37. Brady Policelli, 25, C, 5-10, 195: He’s the kind of guy who could get a call-up and everyone says: “Who’s he?” In fact, he’s a 13th-round pick (Towson) with some power and with enough crust at a position of need to get a ticket to the bigs.

38. Daniel Pinero, 26, IF, 6-5, 210: You never know. Pinero’s been hanging in, stepping along the farm-system’s stones. He turns 27 in May, so it’s Moving Year for a ninth-round draft grab from the University of Virginia.

39. Sam McMillan, 22, C, 6-2, 200: Tigers thought they’d made a heist when they talked McMillan out of his University of Florida offer. Bat hasn’t evolved, but he’s gaining.

40. Gio Arriera, 22, RH starter, 6-2, 220: Has had a rough go of it, at least as far as fourth-round picks tend to develop. But give him a full 2021. Big turnaround potential.

41. Andre Lipcius, 22, 3B, 6-1, 190: Third-round pick by the Tigers in 2019 from the University of Tennessee, which, one might recall, is where the Tigers found Christin Stewart and one-time shortstop prospect A.J. Simcox. As it was with those two, Lipcius has some proving to do with the bat.

42. Carlos Guzman, 22, RH starter, 6-1, 185: Has had three solid minor-league seasons (2.76 ERA, .208 opposing batting average, 1.10 WHIP), although nothing above Single A for a prospect who turns 23 in May.

43. Cleiverth Perez: 20, LH starter, 5-11, 160: Has pitched beyond his size, which will remain the challenge for a young Venezuelan lefty.

 44. Rodolfo Fajardo, 20, LH starter, 6-3, 170: Another apprentice lefty who was betrayed by 2020’s shutdown. In three minor-league seasons and 128 innings, Fajardo has a WHIP of 0.997.

45. Wladimir Pinto, 22, RH reliever, 5-11, 170: Has the heat, as those strikeouts attest. But Pinto’s relationship with the strike zone has been rocky.

46. Nick Quintana, 23, 3B, 5-10, 187: No prospect perhaps was hurt more than Quintana in losing 2020’s farm schedule. He was a second-round pick in 2019 who had first-season issues. A big bounce-back is this right-handed hitter’s mission.

47. Carlos Irigoyen, 19, SS, 6-1, 165: Right-handed stick from Carababo, Venezuela. Book far from finished — wait for the ending.

48. Kerry Carpenter, 23, OF, 6-2, 220: Looking for a 50-to-1 horse who could make you rich? Here could be your man. Left-handed slasher who hits somewhat in the fashion of Bryant Packard.

49. Martin Herrera, 20, LH starter, 6-foot, 175: Mexico native who has shown enough to keep Tigers farm sleuths busy following his (likely) upward arc.

50. Kingston Liniak, 21, CF, 6-2, 180: Was a fourth-round California prep pick in 2018. One of those athletes a team hopes will develop at the plate, which is quite the crowd.

Best of the rest

Players here could easily have been listed from 25-50, and could be there, or even higher, a year from now: Austin Bergner, 23, RH reliever; Cesar Calderon, 19, SS; Ruben Garcia, 24, RH reliever; Cam Gibson, 26, OF; Garrett Hill, 24, RH starter; Zac Houston, 26, RH reliever; Billy Lescher, 25, RH reliever; Gerson Moreno, 25, RH reliever; Yoandy Rea, 20, C; Joseph Salazar, 21, RH starter; Hugh Smith, 23, RH starter; Jared Tobey, 24, LH reliever; Eduardo Valencia, 20, 1B; Brendan White, 22, RH reliever.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

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