After a month of covering minor league ball around the Detroit Tigers’ farm system, it’s time to step back for a quick overview. For the most part we’ll focus on the bigger names, but there are a few pop-ups to mention as well.
Overall, things have looked pretty good. There are a few key disappointments out there, but for the most part the Tigers top prospects are off to a good start. It’s a little more hit-or-miss when you get down to the 40/45 types, but even there we’ve seen a few promising signs, particularly from the Tigers 2020 draft class.
We’ll get to Riley Greene, Matt Manning, and the upper levels in a separate piece. For now, let’s look at the two A-ball affiliates, starting with the real locus on the Tigers’ prospect talent at this point, the High-A West Michigan Whitecaps.
West Michigan Whitecaps
Much of the recent crop of prospect talent is playing for the ‘Caps this year, making them the key attraction of the Tigers’ affiliates. 2020 first overall pick Spencer Torkelson and catcher Dillon Dingler, picked with the first pick in the second round last year, headline a fairly deep crop of positional talent on the west side of Michigan.
C Dillon Dingler
So far, the big news is catcher Dillon Dingler even more so than Spencer Torkelson. Coming into the 2020 draft, Dingler had a fairly wide variance of opinion around him. Some had him pegged as a first comp round pick until pretty close to the draft, while others had him late second round. Dingler had broke out to an excellent start in 2020, but the college season was cut short before some teams fully bought into it. He was still learning the catcher position, and despite his obvious athleticism, there was plenty of uncertainty as to whether he’d hit for power, and how well he’d develop behind the plate.
The Tigers were happy to see him available as the first pick in the second round, and the high side is winning out decisively so far. The key is the outburst of all fields power and rapidly developing chops behind the plate he’s displayed already.
Dingler has seven homers already in 112 plate appearances for the Whitecaps. He holds .402 on base percentage, and an eye-popping isolated power mark of .298. Call it a .998 OPS for simplicities sake. There is plenty of swing and miss in his game, but he has a decent approach and shows signs of making adjustments as teams try to get him out in different ways. More importantly, he’s done a lot of damage in a short time as well. Most scouting on Dingler placed an average or better future hit tool grade on him last July. But the power grades placed on him on draft day look a little light compared to the flashes of plus raw power we’ve seen.
Early on, Dingler hit some ropes the opposite way as opposing teams were pitching him low and away. Lately it appears they’re working more toward exploiting him with velocity up and trying to pitch him inside to keep him from extending his arms. That has gone poorly for a few pitchers as well, though there has been an increase in whiffs as well.
I’ll say it. Dillon Dingler is a DUDE.
I’m fairly certain he hit this grand slam so far, it went into the future…
Alright, fine. Just 445 feet. pic.twitter.com/SrafVxPE1E
— Dan Hasty (@ThatDanHasty) June 4, 2021
The mighty Dan Hasty is excited. We’re excited. It’s pretty exciting.
Things are looking very positive on the defensive side as well. He’s posting high end pop times and a plus arm as expected, and blocking pretty well for a catcher of his experience level. The development of his game calling, receiving, and leadership all draw high marks so far as well, though work remains ahead.
His contact ability and development at the catcher will require ongoing attention, but things frankly couldn’t be going much better. Dingler has been in the designated hitter spot most nights when not catching, so the organization has gotten him a healthy number of plate appearances and he’s been more than a match for the task. A promotion to Double-A Erie seems imminent. Dingler is a good bet to pop up onto Top 100 prospects lists regularly at mid-season.
IF Spencer Torkelson
The star of the show is still Spencer Torkelson, of course.
Torkelson obviously had a rough start acclimating himself to pro pitching in spring camp, and the first two weeks for the Whitecaps were pretty quiet for him as well. He’s since settled in, found his timing, and started putting the fear of God into opposing pitchers.
The big man has cracked four home runs in his last 10 games. Pitchers are certainly nervous with him, evidenced by an 18.2 percent walk rate already, and early on Torkelson looked a little too passive, perhaps a symptom of being pitched around so much in his college career. A little more aggression early in counts has paid off for him, and it doesn’t look like he’s long for West Michigan either at this point.
Torkelson still looks bound for first base, though he hasn’t been a disaster at third. He just doesn’t have the arm to make up for subpar range and hands. But of course, what matters here is the bat, and we’re seeing signs that the 2020 first overall pick is finding his groove. He still will get caught out on his front foot with good offspeed stuff, and has popped up more than you’d like to see against good fastballs up, so there are tests remaining for him, but he’ll need to move up to Double-A to go to school regularly. Like Dingler, he’s got to be close to a promotion to Erie pretty soon.
LHP Joey Wentz
Wentz, the prize of the Shane Greene trade with Atlanta back in 2019, is just getting his feet wet after missing the past year with UCL surgery. He’s made three short appearances as the Tigers build him back up. The strikeouts have been there, but as you’d expect, he’s got a ways to go to recover his command and stuff to the point he left off in 2019. Right now it’s just good to see him throwing again.
OF Parker Meadows
If the Tigers have one major disappointment on the position player side of the equation, it’s that 2018 second round pick, outfielder Parker Meadows, appears to have made little progress since his first full season of pro ball in Single-A ball back in 2019. Meadows is showing a little better approach this season, but the swing and miss remains quite disturbing, with a 34.1 percent strikeout rate, and precious little hard contact. For a high-end prep pick, this isn’t going very well at all. We’ll have to see if the Tigers stick with it or demote him back to Lakeland for another tour and some swing re-tooling. For now, he’s on the injured list without any further information.
3B Andre Lipcius
Andre Lipcius is one from the 2019 class (3rd round) who is off to a nice start as well, earning himself a promotion to Double-A Erie. Lipcius is a solid third baseman with a good arm and can handle second base as well. He’s shown a more refined approach at the plate this season, as well as growth in his contact ability. Lipcius has solid raw power, but in game it’s still more of a spray hitter approach, but with an excellent strikeout to walk ratio to date. He has four home runs and three stolen bases, and it’s good to see him handling this level well after the off year. He’s certainly improved, and if he can show progress in his time with Erie he’s going to have a fair shot at playing a role for the Tigers eventually. He did crack his first home run for the SeaWolves on Sunday, and it was no cheapie.
OF Daniel Cabrera
While Meadows is struggling, another young Tigers outfielder has thrived in his first month of pro ball. Left-handed hitting Daniel Cabrera, the Tigers Competitive Balance Round B selection in 2020 (62nd overall), is off to a solid start. He has three home runs in 121 plate appearances, with an 8.3 percent walk rate against a 19 percent strikeout rate. As a fairly polished and successful college hitter, Cabrera’s big test will come with the jump to Erie. So far he’s looked like the well-rounded player with a quality approach at the plate that the Tigers expected. There still isn’t much to stand out, but Cabrera can hold his own and does a lot of things pretty well. If he learns to tap into more of his raw power he could be a useful piece for the Tigers down the road.
OF/1B Bryant Packard
The 23-year-old Packard spent most of 2019 in West Michigan when it was still the Tigers Single-A affiliate, so he’s on familiar ground here. And he’s continued to do very Bryant Packard things this season. He’s getting on base at a .370 clip, but still striking out 25.9 percent of the time despite a pretty good approach. In 81 plate appearances he has three long balls, but still puts the ball on the ground too much for a player with below average speed. There’s just so much pressure on Packard’s bat that it’s hard to get too enthused until we see him hitting Double-A pitching with authority, but he’s held his own at the plate in West Michigan so far. Like most of the hitters already mentioned, Packard is about ready to level up to Erie.
IF Trei Cruz
The Tigers third round pick in 2020, shortstop Trei Cruz hasn’t gotten a chance to show much of anything. He was placed on the injured list back on May 10 with an undisclosed issue. Hopefully he’ll be back soon
On the pitching side, right-handed starter Keider Montero has been the name to watch in the Whitecaps’ rotation. He broke out of rookie ball as a 19-year-old back in 2019 and the Tigers liked him enough in instructional league play for a somewhat aggressive assignment here, skipping Single-A.
Montero has a quality fastball and a pretty nasty breaking ball, but with plenty of work refining his command and secondary pitches ahead of him. Blow-ups in three of his first four starts had his ERA at 8.10 in the early going. However he’s since rebounded with two excellent five inning outings in which he didn’t allow an earned run. The strikeout numbers and the stuff are compelling, so while he deserves some patience, he’s definitely one to keep an eye on.
In the bullpen, the best of the bunch has been right-hander Yaya Chentouf. The undersized reliever can run it up to 97 mph with a quick arm and some deception. He also has an inconsistent, but sometimes impressive slider to pair with it. He has only allowed one earned run in 13 2⁄3 innings, generally gets a lot of weak contact, and has found his strikeout touch again this season. The Tigers promoted him to Erie this past week, and he tossed two scoreless frames with two strikeouts in his Double-A debut.
Single-A Lakeland Flying Tigers (12-12)
The Flying Tigers have split their last two six-game sets, and hold a .500 record as of May 31. They’ve had a pretty mixed bag of performances thus far. Until the Gulf Coast League opens at the end of June, this represents the lowest level of the Tigers’ farm system, and as a result the roster is a mix of recent draftees and developmental projects, along with a couple of recent high picks looking to build some traction to the next level.
The 21-year-old, switch-hitting Gage Workman was considered a bit of a steal when the Tigers landed him underslot in the fourth round of the 2020 draft. He was on the young side for his class, only 20 on draft day, and that too bodes well for him considering the strong start he’s off to in Lakeland. There are still plenty of questions about his hit tool, but Workman has shown some of the power and defensive ability that made him a popular fourth round selection on draft day.
The Tigers have had him playing shortstop, bumping Wenceel Perez to second base—Perez has since moved to West Michigan—and Workman’s solid glove and strong arm seem playable at the position, though his range and reactions forecast a future at the hot corner instead. Through 28 games, Workman has three home runs and an .804 OPS. He’s striking out a bit more than you’d like, with a 25 percent K rate, but also shows a good approach in his first look at pro ball. He’s probably not long for Lakeland, and could be swapped out with Whitecaps’ shortstop Trei Cruz when Cruz returns from the injured list.
Wenceel Perez broke on the scene back in late 2018 as he came out of rookie ball featuring really good contact skills, plus speed, and the makings of a solid defensive shortstop. Still only 21, Perez hasn’t really made major strides defensively and was shifted to second base in favor of Workman this year. He still puts a lot of balls in play, and has shown a little better approach this season. He also looks to have a fair amount of stolen bases in his future, but there just isn’t much power involved, nor forecast in the future. Perez was promoted to High-A West Michigan on Tuesday, and his progress as a potential future utility player will be worth tracking. A lot would have to improve to turn him into a potential future starting shortstop.
On the negative side of the ledger is 2019 second round pick Nick Quintana. The former ASU third baseman really struggled in his short season debut post-draft, so we’re looking for signs that he’s starting to figure things out. Those signs haven’t been apparent thus far. He’s cut his strikeout rate down to reasonable levels. However, the power still isn’t showing up at all. In fact it’s been an awful lot of pop-ups and beating grounders around the infield in the early going. Quintana has the makings of a good defensive third baseman, and showed solid power potential to the pull side in college, but he’s still spinning his wheels to date.
The Tigers converted Venezuelan Carlos Guzman, a former third baseman, to pitching as a 19-year-old back in 2017. Packing a pretty good fastball, advanced feel for a changeup, and an athletic delivery, Guzman was just getting on the radar as a quality starting pitching prospect when he was shut down in 2019 with an elbow injury. So far, he’s picked up where he left off, drawing plenty of whiffs and allowing little hard contact. The control is still a work in progress, but he’s missed significant time. There’s enough potential here to remain patient. We’ll be interested to see if he tighten up his strike throwing and make a push into the upper levels later this year.