Detroit Tigers minor league season preview

Bless You Boys

While most of the minor leagues don’t open until Friday, April 8, the same as the major leagues, the Triple-A level will begin play on Tuesday. Listed rosters aren’t totally finalized yet, other than the Triple-A edition, and even that will likely change quickly once all levels start play on Friday. So expect to see some changes and reassignments in the coming days. For now, let’s just give you a quick overview of each franchise in the system and their likely key players and prospects.

Estimates about prospect assignments are generally dialed to where they should spend most of their season. Roster shuffles early on may delay or accelerate certain promotions. So until we have finalized rosters for all levels, just take this as a rough estimate.

League: Triple-A East

2021 record: 74-56, 1st place in the Midwest Division

Manager: Lloyd McClendon

Bench Coach: Tony Capucilli

Pitching Coach: Doug Bochtler

Hitting Coach: Adam Melhuse

The Mud Hens were a force in the Triple-A East’s Midwest Division in 2021. Powered by a huge season from veteran Aderlin Rodriguez—no longer in the system—among others, the Hens were already going well when Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, and Ryan Kreidler arrived in mid-August. That trio helped power them in a big way down the stretch, while players like Daz Cameron, Victor Reyes, Isaac Paredes, and Kody Clemens formed key parts of the roster.

This season we should see several of the Tigers better pitching prospects in the Hens’ rotation, including Joey Wentz, Beau Brieske, and once his rehab assignment ends, probably Alex Faedo as well. For now, Wentz, Brieske, and Kreidler are the big attractions on the Hens’ Opening Day roster. Wily Peralta, signed back on a minor league deal, will be the veteran leader of the rotation and will likely end up spending much of the season with the Tigers once again.

Kreidler will continue to hold down the shortstop position, while Kody Clemens and Isaac Paredes remain key members of the infield. Along with Daz Cameron playing a lot of center field, the Tigers do have some positional depth to draw on here. Veteran infielder Jack Lopez had a good camp and could get a look, while Zack Short seems like a good bet to be the utilityman. Veteran catcher Ryan Lavarnway will hold down the leading role at catcher, with Brady Policelli and Chris Rabago, veterans of the system, in backup roles. Jacob Robson will once again be a staple in the outfield as well, and if we could get the Maple Hammer a cup of coffee in the bigs this season, that’d be nice.

Amanda Levine at The Blade has a full roster breakdown for your enjoyment.

The Hens will open the 2022 season at home against the Rochester Red Wings, and the minor league schedule will again feature six-game series from Tuesday through Sunday, with Monday off days for travel, and will alternate between home and away series, simplifying the calendar for everyone. Fifth Third Park and the surrounding district is packed with fun bars and good restaurants. If you want to avoid the crush of Opening Day in Detroit, Opening Day on Tuesday against the Rochester Red Wings will no doubt be a hot ticket and a fun time as well. Here is a link to the big scheduled promotional days on the Mud Hens’ calendar.

Double-A Erie SeaWolves

League: Double-A Northeast

2021 record: 64-55, 3rd place in the Southwest Division

Manager: Gabe Alvarez

Pitching Coach: Daniel Ricabal

Hitting Coach: John Murrian

Development Coach: Ollie Kadey

While the Triple-A calendar kicks off on April 5, the Double-A schedule starts on Friday, April 8, just like the major leagues. The SeaWolves will start at home against the Akron RubberDucks for three games, before heading to Somerset on Tuesday, April 12, at which point the six-game weekly schedule will hold sway the rest of the season.

In a bit of a surprise move, last year’s SeaWolves manager, Arnie Beyeler, has been replaced this season by Gabe Alvarez. Beyeler is now a roving instructor in the Tigers’ organization.

Catcher Dillon Dingler, the Tigers first overall pick in the second round of the 2020 draft, will start the year as Erie’s big attraction. The highly athletic catching prospect made a lot of good progress defensively in 2021, showing off great pop times and a strong, accurate arm. His receiving and blocking improved as well, though further refinement is needed. And of course, Dingler torched High-A offensively before struggling to acclimate to the Double-A level, and then sat a month with a fractured finger. He never got it going at the plate again, but will get a fresh start this season.

Reese Olson is almost certainly going to be the most highly ranked pitching prospect at this level early on. Olson has fantastic stuff and made some mechanical changes to simplify his delivery this spring. If he can improve his command he may ride a fast track to Detroit in an auxiliary role this summer. For now he’s still carrying a lot of relief risk despite a deep repertoire of quality pitches.

Starters Brendan White and Garrett Hill should spend most of the season here to see if either can take the next step. Depending on the final rosters, Keider Montero will bear watching as well, assuming he makes the leap from High-A early on. Positionally, interesting names include first baseman Bryant Packard, who dealt with back issues last summer but could potentially break through this year, infielders Andre Lipcius and Wenceel Perez, and eventually prospects like Gage Workman, Parker Meadows, and Austin Murr should all spend much of the year at the Double-A level. Right now, the key names in the outfield will be Daniel Cabrera and Eric de la Rosa, with Kerry Carpenter looking to build on a solid 2021 season and creep into prospect territory.

Here is the SeaWolves promotional schedule. They’ll be doing Tork Tuesdays, giving away Spencer Torkelson collectibles at all Tuesday home games at UPMC Park. Overall, the Tigers farm teams really do it right. You’re going to hear the same about West Michigan as you did about Toledo and Erie. The parks are nice and the games are a great time, and a superb alternative for getting kids, and adults too, into baseball.

High-A West Michigan Whitecaps

League: High-A Central

2021 record: 58-62, 5th place in the East Division

Manager: Brayan Pena, the legend

Pitching Coach: Dean Stiles

Hitting Coach: CJ Wamsley

Development Coach: Nick Bredeson

Continuing our theme, they do things right out at LMCU Park. It’s a great place to take in a game, with a lot of fun for kids, and delicious dietary physical challenges for the adults to boot.

Everyone’s favorite minor league manager, former Tigers’ catcher Brayan Pena will be running the show as manager, and there are going to be a lot of interesting players to watch this season. Key infield prospects like Colt Keith, Trei Cruz, and eventually Cristian Santana and Izaac Pacheco could be on hand. Gage Workman will likely start out there though he’ll hopefully graduate to Erie fairly quickly. The same can be said of Parker Meadows, Bryant Packard, and Austin Murr, with two of that group potentially in Erie right from the start.

On the pitching side, Brendan White, Austin Bergner, Keider Montero, and perhaps Jack O’Loughlin are probably the key names to start with. Andrew Magno and Angel Reyes are possible relief prospects who could move quickly as well.

You can find the Whitecaps promotional schedule here. Like the SeaWolves, the Whitecaps get under way on Friday, April 8. They’ll be on the road against the Great Lakes Loons for three, with the home opener against the Lansing Lugnuts slated for the 12th.

Low-A Lakeland Flying Tigers

League: Low-A Southeast

2021 record: 55-63, 5th place in the West Division

Manager: Andrew Graham

Pitching Coach: Juan Pimentel

Hitting Coach: Francisco Contreras

Development Coach: Matt Malott

Despite the complete overhaul of the Tigers’ player development system, there is still a familiar face running the show in Lakeland. Andrew Graham will hold the manager’s chair, as the Aussie begins his 13th season as a coach or manager in the Tigers’ system.

Some key names will include starting pitcher Wilmer Flores, one of the big risers on our 2022 BYB Tigers prospect list. Dario Gardea is a metrics darling who will bear watching, as will right-hander Gabriel Sequeira. Of course the biggest name to start with will be 2017 first round pick Alex Faedo, who will rehab with the Flying Tigers and look to jump back into the upper minors once his arm is built up in his return from Tommy John surgery.

What we’re really interested in there though, is the Tigers’ 2021 draft picks, from Jackson Jobe to Ty Madden and Dylan Smith. The latter two have the college experience to quickly reach West Michigan, but the Tigers protocol currently seems to favor pitching them in Lakeland where the development and performance science departments can’t keep close tabs on them initially. We’ll have to wait for the full rosters to be released.

The other big feature at Lakeland is seeing some of the Tigers’ top international free agent signings in recent years. Teenage infielder Cristian Santana looks like he should be a fast mover, and he’s one of the most well regarded IFA’s the Tigers have had in decades. He’s currently seventh on our Tigers’ prospect list. Outfielder Roberto Campos should also spend much of the season in Lakeland. Those two represent the Tigers two biggest IFA signings and they will have plenty of eyes on them.

Former top IFAs who stumbled badly in 2021 will also be in Lakeland or West Michigan this year. Outfielder Jose de la Cruz has big time power and good athleticism, but struck out a ton last year. The story was similar for third baseman Adinso Reyes. A little further down the list, infielders Manuel Sequera, who impressed with a lot of power at the Complex League in 2021, and Abel Bastidas will be two more in Lakeland who bear watching.

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