Not so many moons ago you would look at the Tigers farm and wonder if it should, in agricultural terms, be plowed up and re-seeded. There wasn’t a lot growing there.
Times and conditions changed as bad seasons during a long rebuild led to better drafts. And, soon enough, Detroit’s farm system began to revive to a point it is now viewed by outside appraisers (MLB.com, Baseball America, etc.) to be one of the MLB’s top five talent hatcheries.
Most of that rejuvenation has come by way of early-first round talent, and the Tigers lately haven’t missed. There remain questions about depth, but after having nothing deeper than the fifth overall pick in the past four MLB drafts, the Tigers now feature a top-heavy assembly of skilled players who head The Detroit News’ cast of Tigers Top 50 Prospects.
(Those players who already have appeared in a big-league game do not qualify for The Detroit News’ list of Tigers Top 50 Prospects.)
► 1. Riley Greene, 21, OF, 6-foot-3, 200 pounds: Mark down Opening Day, 2022, as more than a reunion with big-league baseball’s delights. Consider it the probable birth of Riley Greene as a generational Tigers talent. He has a percentage shot at becoming, straight out of spring camp, the Tigers’ new everyday center fielder. His left-handed bat, which crackles with power and surprising polish for a player so young, has the crunch to move manager AJ Hinch’s lineup one step closer to playoff thoughts. Greene’s combined work last season at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo: .301 batting average, .387 on-base percentage, .534 slugging, .921 OPS, 24 home runs. He’s all but a lock for instant duty at Comerica Park.
► 2. Spencer Torkelson, 22, 1B/3B, 6-1, 220: Less certain is whether Torkelson will follow his buddy, Greene, to Detroit as a likely Opening Day cast member. The Tigers might decide the first overall pick from 2020’s MLB Draft needs a few more weeks to marinate at Triple-A Toledo. But there is no debate about Torkelson’s ticket to Detroit. It’s marked “2022” — and very likely he will be swinging that right-handed, dynamite-stick of a bat by late May, or June at the latest, in Detroit. Torkelson has nearly instant 30-home-run potential for the Tigers, with batting average, and the ability to draw a walk, all high among his categorical pluses. Hinch is beginning to like, really like, this future Tigers lineup.
► 3. Jackson Jobe, 19, RH starter, 6-2, 205: Even with all the customary caveats and qualifiers that accompany young pitchers, the Tigers can get greedy thinking about Jobe. He has the supernal talent to pitch in Detroit as early as 2023. It will make following his every-six-days routine on the Tigers farm in 2022 as entertaining as a Netflix night. Jobe showed uncommon power and poise pitching last spring at Heritage Hall High in Oklahoma City, which led the Tigers to toss aside the usual hesitancies in drafting so early (third overall) a prep pitcher. He has an extraordinary combination of high-speed, high-rpm pitches, with control to match. If health cooperates, Jobe figures to be major farm-team theater in 2022.
► 4. Dillon Dingler, 23, C, 6-3, 210: Had it not been for a mid-summer broken finger, Dingler might have continued doing at Erie what he had done at high-A West Michigan (.287 in 32 games, .925 OPS, eight homers). His hitting pretty much spurred that promotion to Double A only a year after the Tigers drafted him out of Ohio State. But the combination of a fracture, in tandem with adjusting to Double-A pitchers, and all while learning a few thousand nuances in defending and directing a game, chopped into Dingler’s offense during his closing months at Erie. Expect a bust-out season for him in 2022 and deeper designation as the Tigers’ next everyday catcher.
► 5. Joey Wentz, 24, LH starter, 6-5, 220: Once upon a time (2016), the world-champ Braves drafted Wentz as a first-round talent. They later traded him to the Tigers in a deal that sent Shane Greene to Atlanta. The Tigers are satisfied. Very satisfied. Wentz spent most of 2020 healing from Tommy John surgery but made it back last season to show, at Lakeland and Erie, why he’ll be tuning up at Triple-A Toledo in 2022 for sudden promotion to Detroit. Wentz has a sharp left-handed repertoire that figures to be on display at Comerica Park, probably sooner than later.
► 6. Ryan Kreidler, 24, SS, 6-4, 208: No prospect on the Tigers farm carries intrigue to match Kreidler. No farm kid made greater progress in 2021. No one, quite possibly, has his ability to be a true bonus — a fourth-round pick (2019, UCLA) who could bring 20 home runs (or plenty more) per season to the left side of a big-league infield. Kreidler was tossed into a large, cold lake (Double A) last year and told to sink or swim. He decided to all but win an Olympic medal. He hit a combined .270, with an .803 OPS and 22 home runs at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. He did all of this while playing sturdily at shortstop. The dress rehearsals will continue this season at Toledo. Also, the Tigers signed a shortstop, Javier Báez, who could be in Detroit for a long while. Kreidler simply offers the possibility that Detroit’s potential draft steal in 2019 could be turned into roster gold, in one manner or another.
► 7. Alex Faedo, 26, RH starter, 6-5, 225: Welcome back, oh patient one. It has been two years since Faedo last pitched, all after Tommy John surgery whacked his 2021 season and slowed the arrival of a first-round draft star (2017) from the University of Florida. There yet remain questions about Faedo’s role: Starter or reliever? What isn’t in dispute is that his slider, if it returns to old ways, will be his ticket to putting away plenty of big-league hitters. Remember that when Faedo last worked, in 2019 at Double-A Erie, he had a strikeout ratio of 10.9 per nine innings against just two walks per game. That’s on something of a par with what he could be doing for the Tigers, perhaps early in 2022.
► 8. Colt Keith, 20, 3B/2B, 6-3, 211: A year from now, it’s a decent bet Keith will be discussed in much the same vein as Greene and Torkelson are talked about entering 2022. This is not a deep surprise to talent snoops who in June 2020 speculated that Detroit might have found fifth-round treasure when the Tigers snagged him out of Biloxi (Mississippi) High. Keith has a sweet left-handed swing, with power that will evolve, and has the skills to play infield or outfield. He was more than fine last summer at Single-A Lakeland (.320 batting average, .858 OPS), then got a taste of life at high-A West Michigan. He probably will rejoin the Whitecaps for what is expected to be a hefty 2022 and an eventual boost to Double A.
► 9. Reese Olson, 22, RH starter, 6-1, 160: Olson was Detroit’s compensation last summer when Daniel Norris was shipped to the Brewers in a trade that could help the Tigers a good deal more than Norris thus far has been aiding Milwaukee. Olson is a legit starter who had a pair of strong games at West Michigan before he was hustled off to Double A. His cumulative work (21 starts) at two Single-A stops, including five games at Erie: 3.96 ERA, 1.27 WHIP. He walks a few too many people (4.4 per nine innings in his three-season farm career), but Olson looks as if he should be decent back-end rotation help in Detroit.
► 10. Ty Madden, 21, RH starter, 6-3, 215: The Tigers are yet sending thank-you notes (rather, they should) to all the MLB teams that last July backed away from an early first-round pick and allowed him to be snagged by the Tigers with the 32nd overall turn. There were reasons, almost certainly tied to an agent’s dollar demands, for a University of Texas ace slipping to Detroit. Whatever, the Tigers were tickled to find Madden unclaimed. He will begin work this year, probably, at low-A Lakeland. But this is a pitcher with the stuff to match his size and with a pedigree that likely makes his path through the Tigers farm super smooth.
► 11. Gage Workman, 22, SS, 6-3, 202: Workman is about where Ryan Kreidler was a year ago. And the Tigers would love to see a repeat tale here, with Workman pounding home runs, chopping down on strikeouts, and showing that he offers the Tigers yet another big bat on the infield’s left side, or wherever a switch-hitter with Workman’s muscle might be stationed. The Tigers scooped Workman (Arizona State) with a fourth-round pick in 2020 and instantly did with a third baseman what at least one other club had also intended to do had it gotten Workman: They moved him to shortstop. He needs to lessen those swings-and-misses, but remember that was Kreidler’s primary mission a year ago, as well, and he flourished in 2021.
► 12. Roberto Campos, 18, OF, 6-3, 200: You look at his numbers from 2021 (that .228 batting average, principally) and wonder if this is the brand of teenager who should have gotten a mountain of cash ($1.8 million) to sign as a 16-year-old with the Tigers three years ago? And the answer is: We’ll see. It’s still too early to grade Campos, a right-handed swinger with an arm worthy of right field. But note in those 39 games he played last summer for the Tigers West team in the Florida Complex League that Campos did smack eight home runs. Do some math, projecting to a 162-game, big-league schedule, and you get a small clue as to why the Tigers believe they spent wisely. He will be one to monitor, regularly, during 2022.
► 13. Dylan Smith, 21, RH starter, 6-2, 180: No, he has not yet thrown a pitch in a professional game. But he threw plenty of Friday night, ace-status innings last spring for the University of Alabama, which is why the Tigers were comfortable making Smith their third-round pick in last July’s draft. Considering the Southeastern Conference’s lineups and minor-league equivalencies, the Tigers believe Smith will be a handy rotation piece, and maybe quickly. He started 16 games last year for ‘Bama, working 98.1 innings, striking out 113 and walking 20. That ratio, alone, tells you why Smith could be ready for Comerica Park as early as 2023.
► 14. Manuel Sequera, 19, SS, 6-0, 170: Sequera was plucked from Barquisimeto, Venezuela, three years ago and created little splash, all because the big bucks and big headlines that year went to Detroit’s signing of Roberto Campos. But what the Tigers saw from Sequera last summer in the Florida Complex League was noteworthy: 11 home runs in 46 games for a right-handed batter who had an .823 OPS. Keep a tight eye on Sequera this year at Single-A Lakeland, and possibly at West Michigan. The Tigers are overdue to hit on international talent, and Sequera, like Campos, could be a winner.
► 15. Cristian Santana, 18, SS, 6-0, 165: Consider that the Tigers last January spent a team-record $2.75 million to sign a 17-year-old from Azua, Dominican Republic. The money was nearly $1 million more than was spent on Roberto Campos, which was then a blow-away sum in Tigers annals for signing international talent. But the Tigers are of the opinion Santana, who has power in that right-handed bat, will be a prize once he tastes a bit of States-side ball and begins auditioning for work in Detroit. He had a fine summer in the Dominican Summer League: nine homers and a .942 OPS in 54 games.
► 16. Beau Brieske, 23, RH starter, 6-3, 200: Once in a while, even as MLB amateur scouts seemingly have every square inch of the prep and college terrain smothered, there is a guy who is missed — or, more accurately, is sold short. The Tigers had paid attention in 2019 to a kid from Colorado State-Pueblo. Beau Brieske, they figured, was worth a 27th-round gamble. Last season, he pitched so brilliantly at West Michigan and Erie (21 starts, combined 3.12 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) Brieske was anointed Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He’ll continue his apprenticeship in 2022. He still must show that his pitches can beat good hitters, but an eventual move to Detroit seems to be part of a script that grows more intriguing with every Brieske start.
► 17. Izaac Pacheco, 19, SS/3B, 6-4, 225: When you pluck a prep infielder as your second-round pick, there are convictions, more than projections, that a hitter so young will blossom into a big-leaguer. The Tigers are believers, even if Pacheco found professional ball to be way above the stuff he was seeing on sandlots in the Houston-Galveston region of Texas. Pacheco is a left-handed hitter with a brand of power the Tigers insist will blossom. He learned some pro-ball realities in a 30-game stint last summer with Tigers West: .226 batting average, 43 strikeouts. But this was in keeping with adjustments typical for 18-year-olds a few weeks out of high school. The Tigers will get a better, probably more reassuring, bead on Pacheco in 2022, with a shift to third base possible.
► 18. Kody Clemens, 25, 2B/1B/OF, 6-1, 170: Clemens is closing in on age 26 (May) and hasn’t yet cracked a big-league lineup. This raises valid questions about a guy’s ability to survive against the MLB’s daily firepower. Clemens is no sure thing, but he now is part of the 40-man roster. He has a left-handed bat that can knock a ball into the seats, and carries flexibility that allows him to play on the infield’s right side, or even in the outfield, Clemens could yet make the Tigers appreciate why they grabbed him in the third round in 2018 from the University of Texas. He might not cut it as a starter. But as a handyman he owns enough skills to offer Hinch some possible lineup help, quickly.
► 19. Austin Bergner, 23, RH reliever, 6-5, 210: Bergner pitched at the University of North Carolina. Thus, he shows a bit of sophistication, the kind often flaunted by prime-time Atlantic Coast Conference athletes. Bergner was a ninth-round pick in 2019 who pitched niftily last season at Lakeland and then at West Michigan (2.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings). Expect him to bunk at Double-A Erie for much of next summer. From there, it could be a quick trip to Detroit.
► 20. Abel Bastidas, 18, SS, 6-2, 165: Here is another reason to believe the Tigers’ international cash crop might at last be ready to pop. Bastidas got $1.17 million a year ago, on top of Santana’s whopping $2.75 bonus, to offer the Tigers depth and options at that sexiest of baseball positions, shortstop. Bastidas has size and right-handed power possibilities that mesh with a body and glove that should allow him to anchor at short. He had paltry numbers last summer in the Dominican Summer League (.600 OPS), but pay little heed there and instead chart his work this year as he begins his shifts at the Florida Complex League. The heavy money Detroit laid on him a year ago will, most likely, begin to make sense.
► 21. Garrett Hill: 25, RH reliever, 6-0, 185: He was one of the Arizona Fall League sweepstakes winners in 2021 after he had a bushel of strikeouts (99 in 75.2 innings) at West Michigan and Erie. That overall WHIP of 1.19 confirms Hill is ripening nicely.
► 22. Angel De Jesus, 24, RH reliever, 6-4, 200: What bodes well for De Jesus is that he is hard to hit and strikes out lots of batters (10.9 per nine innings in 35 games last season at Triple-A Toledo). That he walked 5.6 batters per nine is the caveat.
► 23. Daniel Cabrera, 23, OF, 6-3, 200: Major downer, Cabrera’s entire 2021 season that saw him get as far as Double A. But he didn’t hit, not appreciably, at either level, which is bad news for a second-round draft pick in 2020.
► 24. Eric De La Rosa, 24, OF, 6-3, 186: He was a seventh-rounder in 2018 (Grossmont College, El Cajon, California) who kept getting promoted in 2021 for good reason: .273 batting average, .807 OPS in 104 games at Lakeland, West Michigan, and Erie. He’s a right-handed batter and a fair bet to get the kind of quick call-up injuries so often necessitate.
► 25. Wilmer Flores, 20, RH reliever, 6-4, 225: Flores is from Valencia, Venezuela, but made it to junior college in Arizona, and eventually to a Tigers contract. The Tigers are pleased: Flores whiffed 90 batters in 66 innings in 2021 at the FCL and with Single-A Lakeland.
► 26. Elvin Rodriguez, 23, RH starter, 6-3, 160: Rodriguez made it as far as Triple-A Toledo last season (one game) after working long hours at Double-A Erie (1.29 WHIP in 18 starts). There are questions about his breaking ball and whether his overall repertoire will scare big-league batters, but Rodriguez specializes in being dismissed.
► 27. Jose De La Cruz, 19, OF, 6-foot, 216: Here is a man in a bind: He has a Hall of Fame body and can often look like a stallion ready to leap the corral fence and get on with serious big-league dreams. But he had 74 strikeouts in 39 games at Lakeland, and 58 whiffs in 44 games at the Florida Complex League. Yikes.
► 28. Paul Richan, 24, RH starter, 6-2, 205: He was a second-rounder with the Cubs who was shipped to Detroit in the Nick Castellanos trade in 2019. And he was looking good till shoulder issues, always frightening, held him to eight games in 2021.
► 29. Tyler Mattison, 22, RH starter, 6-1, 216: Although he didn’t throw in any games after the Tigers blessed him with a fourth-round pick (Bryant University) last July, he didn’t need to pitch to convince his bosses that Mattison someday will start in the big leagues. Good, overall arsenal, with command.
► 30. Trei Cruz, 23, IF, 6-2, 204: We’ll assume 2021 was a one-off for Cruz. Or, rather it needs to be, because the Tigers thought they had something of an all-around whiz in Cruz, a third-round snatch-and-grab from the 2020 draft. But he was hurt for much of last season and that needs to explain a .159 batting average in 26 games at West Michigan and a .162 mark during a 33-game refresher course at Lakeland.
► 31. Tanner Kohlhepp, 22, RH starter, 6-4, 210: Kohlhepp was among that wheelbarrow loaded with pitchers the Tigers dumped onto their formerly arms-deficient farm last summer. He pitched at Notre Dame, was a fifth-round Tigers pick, and should have a pleasing 2022.
► 32. Adam Wolf, 24, LH starter, 6-6, 215: He turns 25 the day after Christmas and has yet to pitch above high-A, but Wolf was a fifth-rounder from Louisville in 2018 and has enough of a resume (4.12 ERA and 1.24 WHIP at two levels, total, in 2021) to hang as a candidate.
► 33. Jack O’Loughlin, 21, RH reliever, 6-5, 223: O’Loughlin is from Adelaide, Australia, and wouldn’t it be nice to have that accent to color a Tigers clubhouse, especially if he can continue against better hitters to do what he did last season at three farm stops. The best of his work was at the FCL and Lakeland: 2.19 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 37 total innings.
► 34. Keider Montero, 21, RH starter, 6-1, 145: Montero was supposed to have had a grand 2021 season, and by no means did. He pitched in 15 games at West Michigan, with a 1.68 WHIP. Grant him a pass. There was too much talent here to suddenly lose.
► 35. Zack Hess, 24, RH reliever, 6-6, 219: Hess can make a hitter wish he hadn’t seen this seventh-round grab (2019) from Louisiana State. His 69 punch-outs in 52.2 innings last season, mostly at West Michigan, confirms as much. Ah, but there were 33 unintentional walks. Ouch.
► 36. Mike Rothenberg, 23, C, 6-3, 215: Here’s a switch-hitter from Duke the Tigers liked in last summer’s draft (12th round). Had a nice start (.768 OPS) in 24 games at low-A Lakeland and resembles, at this early stage, a most valuable big-league back-up catcher.
► 37. Alvaro Gonzalez, 21, 2B, 6-0, 165: Tigers paid a goodly amount ($1 million) to sign Gonzalez as a 16-year-old. His problem, to date, is an old one: inability to hit in a manner that suggests he one day will be an infield starter.
► 38. Iverson Leonardo: 20, OF, 6-0, 173: He’s a left-hand batter who hit five homers in 44 games with the FCL Tigers West team, while building an .804 OPS, including a .377 on-base average.
► 39. Parker Meadows, 22, OF, 6-5, 205: Oh, there were hopes. Such hopes for a big, fleet, left-handed hitter whose brother, Austin, plays in the big leagues. But a three-year batting average of .223, an on-base percentage of .303, and the .638 OPS tell a glum story for Detroit’s second-round pick in 2018.
► 40. Gio Arriera, 23, RH starter, 6-2, 236: He had issues with his right shoulder in 2021 and pitched in only nine games, all at low-A Lakeland. But he was a fourth-round gamble in 2017 and still has enough arm and time to recover lost luster — if that shoulder comes around.
► 41. Eliezer Alfonzo, 22, C, 5-10, 155: Alfonzo’s a bit undersized and, at 22, probably needed to be doing at Double A what last season he was managing, fairly effectively, to do offensively at Lakeland and West Michigan (.287 batting average, .744 OPS). But he’s a catcher. Wait him out.
► 42. Adinso Reyes, 20, IF, 6-1, 195: Lots of time, and Reyes appears to need it. The Tigers tossed $1.45 million at Reyes four years ago, believing they had a blue-chip shortstop in the hopper. His right-handed bat needs to flower. He batted a combined .184 in 48 games in the FCL in 2021.
► 43. Austin Murr, 22, OF, 6-2, 218: This is a left-handed slasher to inspect closely in 2021. Murr doesn’t have great tools, except for the one that counts: a bat, which is why the Tigers snagged him last summer from N.C. State with a sixth-round pick.
► 44. Bryant Packard, 24, OF, 6-3, 217: Dismal season, all around, for Packard, who didn’t hit at West Michigan and found himself back on the Tigertown lots in late summer.
► 45. Bryce Tassin, 24, RH reliever, 6-2, 209: Wasn’t a hotshot in scouts’ eyes, but the Tigers liked him as a 31st-round pick in 2019 (Southeastern Louisiana) and he did more than fine last year at West Michigan: 2.44 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 30 games.
► 46. Wenceel Perez, 22, 3B/2B, 5-11, 202: Once was a shortstop (heavy $550,000 bonus in 2016) who the Tigers believed would stick at shortstop and be a serious, switch-hitting commodity. Now working more at third base and second base, he has the earmarks of a man who might, at best, be a utility option.
► 47. Andre Lipcius, 23, 3B/2B, 6-1, 190: Still young enough to justify the Tigers taking a stab at him in the third round of the 2019 draft, following his days at the University of Tennessee. Started strong last spring at West Michigan and was so-so during 94 games at Erie: .235 batting average, .690 OPS, nine homers.
► 48. Cooper Johnson, 23, C, 5-11, 209: Johnson qualified as a sixth-round investment (University of Mississippi) in 2019 and will remain warm because of his position: catcher. But he’ll need to hit more than he hit last season at West Michigan (.177 batting average, .315 on-base, .280 slugging) if he hopes to stick around.
► 49. Logan Shore, 26, RH starter, 6-2, 215: He was trustworthy during 16 games (15 starts) at Toledo: 3.95 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. The issue is how Shore’s stuff will work in the big-league arena.
► 50. Angel Reyes, 24, RH reliever, 6-2, 205: Reyes worked well enough last season at West Michigan (1.08 WHIP), but at his age and with 8.2 strikeouts per nine, the future is murky.
Best of the rest
As is the case every year, some Tigers prospects who did not crack the Top 50 listing could well have made it. And some of those players, after the ensuing season, could find themselves in the Top 25.
Such is life in the mercurial world of minor-league baseball.
Among those who narrowly missed Top 50 inclusion: Yaya Chentouf, 24, RH reliever, 5-9, 205; Max Green, 25, LH reliever, 6-1, 175; Aaron Haase, 21, RH reliever, 5-8, 193; Wilkel Hernandez, 22, RH starter, 6-3, 195; Carlos Irigoyen, 20, IF, 6-2, 165; Marco Jimenez, 22, RH starter/reliever, 6-0, 165; Andrew Magno, 23, LH reliever, 5-11, 190; Ben Malgeri, 21, OF, 6-1, 215; Sam McMillan, 23, C, 5-10, 193; Dane Myers, 25, OF/IF, 6-2, 205; RJ Petit, 22, RH reliever, 6-8, 300; Dylan Rosa, 25, OF, 6-2, 200; Jared Tobey, 25, RH reliever, 6-4, 225.
► Prospects who following the 2021 season either retired, became minor-league free agents, or otherwise departed the Tigers farm system: Nolan Blackwood, RHP; Ethan DeCaster, RHP; Sandel De La Cruz, RHP; Rodolfo Fajardo, LHP; Gerson Moreno, RHP; Wladimir Pinto, RHP.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.