The main weakness in an otherwise strong Detroit Tigers prospect pipeline, is the struggle to land quality talent in the high rounds beyond the first. Matt Manning, Alex Faedo, Casey Mize, Riley Greene, and Spencer Torkelson is quite a haul with first round picks for general manager Al Avila, but of course two of those were first overall selections, while Manning and Greene were both top ten picks. Where the Tigers have scuffled is in rounds two through five, where you need to land a good prospect with some regularlity.
The 2020 draft class may be the one to turn things around in that regard. Pretty widely hailed as a nice haul of position player prospects, the fourth round selection of Gage Workman could prove to be the best of the bunch.
Workman hails from Arizona, and played his college ball alongside Spencer Torkelson at Arizona State. He’s been on the scouting radar a long time, and after graduating from high school a year early, he was a 17th round selection by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017, but declined the offer to go to school.
With the Sun Devils, Workman played shortstop, but ultimately found his home at third base. After a pretty good freshman year, he hit .330 as a sophomore with eight home runs, before getting out to a bit slower start in his junior year. Still, he hit three homers in just 17 games before the season was called off due to COVID. That slow start may have really been a gift to the Tigers, as opinions on Workman ranged quite a bit with some analysts considering him as a solid late second round pick. Ultimately, the Tigers were quite pleased to land Workman with their fourth pick in the 2020 amateur draft.
There is an awful lot to like in the plus column. Workman is a below average runner, but stands out in just about every other way. He has a strong arm, and despite his six-foot, four-inch, 200 pound frame, was a good defensive shortstop in college and made way only for an even better defender in teammate Alika Williams. He’s sure handed, with a strong accurate arm and good agility. He also plays with a high energy motor and displays good instincts to the ball. The Tigers believe he can play any position but centerfield and catcher, and they’re likely correct, though shortstop may be a bit of a stretch as well.
At the plate, the switch-hitter features above average power from the left side with the potential for more as he fills out, while his right-handed stroke lags behind in the power department. Workman has solid discipline at the plate and drew plenty of walks in his college career. It’s also notable that Workman was just 20 years old when he was drafted, giving him a little more time developmentally that most in his draft class.
There is one issue that could hold Workman back, and it’s his contact ability. His strikeout rates in college weren’t anything special, and while he’s good at identifying fastballs in or out of the strike zone, he still whiffed more than you’d like to see. Workman has a quiet lower half, and still manages to leverage that power stroke left-handed. But the swing remains a bit long and flat, and the Tigers will presumably work on shortening him up and getting his bat in a little better position as he loads. The right-handed stroke just looks too disjointed, with mediocre batspeed. We’ll see if the Tigers decide to keep going with him as a switch-hitter, or whether they’d prefer to have him focus on hitting left-handed.
Still, there’s an awful lot to like here in a fourth rounder. The defensive ability and athleticism give him a lot of paths to a major league career, and the power should allow him to have success even if the contact ability doesn’t quite come along as you’d hope. If he puts everything together, Workman could be a heck of a player. As things stand, he looks like a likely role player with a chance to start if he can leverage enough of his power to compensate for a hit tool that will probably top out short of major league average.
Projected 2021 team: High-A West Michigan Whitecaps
As he did in college, Workman is likely to share some time with Spencer Torkelson at third base. The Tigers appear serious about give Torkelson plenty of time there to see if he can develop at the position. That could move Workman all around the diamond, and potentially even into right field some days. The Tigers new manager, A.J. Hinch, appears to really value versatility, and the Tigers development staff is likely to love Workman for the same reason. This is a very interesting prospect with a strong floor because of his defensive utility, and the chance to be a whale of a player if he can tap into enough of his power at the dish.