Tigers’ minor-league season in review: Who shined, who struggled

Detroit News

With the minor-league regular season in the books, Detroit News contributor Lynn Henning takes a look back some of the highs and lows from the Tigers’ farm system.

POSITION PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Colt Keith, Single-A West Michigan: Says everything that a player who went down June 5 with a shoulder separation ranks as this season’s top choice. Keith swung the bat so well through two spring months, and maintains such robust potential only weeks after he turned 21, that he wins the ribbon.

Keith plays third base and second base and was hitting .301, with a .370 on-base percentage and .544 slugging average (.914 OPS), when on June 5 he dived into first base on a pitcher’s pick-off attempt and a swipe-tag caught him flush. The Tigers will be unleashing him at this autumn’s Arizona Fall League. Next season, assuming his shoulder is fine, he’ll be on his way to Double A. And if all goes as expected, to Detroit in 2024.

Runner-up: Parker Meadows, Double-A Erie. Honorable mention: Josh Crouch, West Michigan; Izaac Pacheco, Single-A Lakeland.

PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Wilmer Flores, Erie. Some would go with Ty Madden, some with Reese Olson. But when youth and upside are factored into games in which Flores dazzled, this 21-year-old, right-handed, sprout of a professional pitcher finishes first. He is 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, with a delivery the Tigers would love to overlay on every organizational pitcher. He wore down a bit in July, then finished with fury. He has a rotation-ace profile and is only beginning to flourish.

Runner-up: Madden, Erie. Honorable mention: Olson, Erie; Jackson Jobe, West Michigan.

BIGGEST BREAKTHROUGH PLAYER: Meadows, the 22-year-old outfielder who finally showed in 2022 everyday big-league promise. Meadows still needs to prove he can handle left-handed pitcher, but his .275 batting average and .820 OPS against Double-A pitching (he had a .354 on-base percentage), alongside 16 homers, suggested his bat at last might merge with his speed and defense to equip the Tigers with a potential fixture in center field. That, of course, assumes Riley Greene will eventually move to left. Meadows’ bust-out 2022 implies a move might be coming as soon as 2024, to the Tigers’ overall benefit.

Runner-up: Wenceel Perez, shortstop, Erie. Honorable mention: Dane Myers, Erie.

THE GUY TOO MANY FANS THOUGHT WAS A MISTAKE AND WHO ISN’T: Jobe, last year’s first-round pick, whose first season of professional baseball was split between Single-A Lakeland and the upstairs-A stop at West Michigan. Jobe is 20 years old and 16 months from high school. His three starts at West Michigan, after graduating from Lakeland: 1.15 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 15.2 innings, 10 hits, 10 strikeouts, five walks. The metrics on his fastball-slider-change are tip-top. He will be tossing at Double A next season. Yes, arm ills are always a trap door, for any pitcher. But he has age, low mileage, and exceptional physical pluses in his favor.

BEST BETS TO SPUR CHATTER ONE YEAR FROM NOW: A solid bet might today be placed on Roberto Campos, 19, the splendidly sculpted, 6-foot-2, 200-pound outfielder for whom the Tigers three years ago spent their then-all-time high for a teenage international talent: $2.85 million. Campos played at Lakeland in 2022 and was fine, given his age: .258 batting average, .711, five home runs. The Tigers will work on his swing to help turn those 105-mph ground balls he hits with regularity into soaring fly balls that leave ballparks.

Another wager, perhaps heavier, to slip his 18-year-old shackles and wag tongues in 2023: Cristian Santana, a shortstop the Tigers in 2020 signed for an even heavier paycheck, $2.95 million. Santana had an oblique issue that pained him for too much of 2022. But he survived at Lakeland and his right-handed bat, glove, and arm, should lead to a boffo 2023 and probably to a rapid assignment at West Michigan. He ranks as major insurance for those still upset the Tigers didn’t pick Marcelo Mayer over Jobe in 2021.

SURPRISE HITTER WHO MATCHED KERRY CARPENTER’S 2022 ASCENT: Josh Crouch, catcher at West Michigan, and later at Erie. He was far from blue-chip status at the season’s start. But that’s all before he batted .290 in 90 games for the Whitecaps, with 10 home runs, a .367 on-base average, and .811 OPS. He is pushing Dillon Dingler as potentially the Tigers’ top catching prodigy, which isn’t the way it goes for every 11th-round draft pick.

If he maintains his batting mastery at Erie, and sharpens his defense, Crouch, 23, could become next year’s Carpenter – the blossoming outfielder who made it from Erie to Toledo to Detroit in the span of months in 2022.

MOST DISAPPOINTING SEASON (HITTER): Daniel Cabrera, outfielder, back and forth from West Michigan and Erie: Tigers thought they were getting a good, line-drive, hit-to-all-fields, left-handed stick in 2020 when they made Cabrera the 62nd-overall pick in 2020’s MLB Draft. Nothing along those lines has developed for a 24-year-old man whose 2020 numbers from Erie were deflating: .206 batting average, .288 on-base, .592 OPS. His two-season minor-league numbers: .235/.298/.371/.669. Ouch.

Runner-up: Trei Cruz, infielder. Tigers thought they were getting a third-round bargain in 2020, the same draft that saw them grab Cabrera. Cruz figured to be an all-around, plug-in infielder, and a switch-hitter, to boot, who had played so well at Rice University. He had big-league family DNA, also, and size (6-2). And he hasn’t hit since the Tigers drafted him: .208 in two seasons, with a .675 OPS.

MOST SO-SO SEASON (PITCHER): Keider Montero, West Michigan. On occasion he has some of the best pitches thrown by anyone in the Tigers farmlands. The problem, at least early, was Montero seemed not to know it. He began tuning-in at midseason and acknowledged that his pitching coaches might actually know what they’re doing. Voila − a better second half, highlighted by his final seven starts: 2.57 ERA, 1.03 WHIP. Montero is 22 years old. He could ignite in 2023.

▶ BEST PERFORMANCE BY A HATCHERY PROSPECT: Abel Bastidas, shortstop, Florida Complex League. He is 18, a switch-hitter, and got a tidy sum ($1.17 million) from the Tigers in 2021 after they signed him out of Carora, Venezuela. Bastidas batted .260/.361/.409/.770 in 44 games for the FCL Tigers. He is 6-2, 165, and has a chance to stick at short. Watch him, closely, in 2023.

MOST PLEASING CAMEO FROM A 2022 DRAFT PICK: Danny Serretti, shortstop, Lakeland, West Michigan and Erie. He was no hotter than a sixth-round pick in July, from the University of North Carolina, but outgrew Lakeland in a couple of weeks and continued to hit, everywhere, including Erie, where he has helped deliver the SeaWolves to a potential Eastern League championship: Serretti’s numbers for 27 regular-season games: .315 batting average, .474 on-base percentage, .946 OPS, with a pair of home runs, 24 walks, and 21 strikeouts. Good stuff from a switch-hitter, 6-1, 195.

BIGGEST MAKE-IT OR BREAK-IT CANDIDATE FOR 2023: Gage Workman, Erie. He came along rather nicely during the season’s second half at Erie, particularly during a hot August. His power, switch-bat, excellent arm and defense, and his age – 22 – make Workman an awesomely appealing project. But, that question, standing over him like Godzilla: Can he chop down on the strikeouts? He had 206 whiffs in 128 games. That, everyone including Workman knows, will determine further conversations in 2023.

Runner-up: Manuel Sequera, shortstop. He had some season for a 19-year-old: 19 homers at Lakeland. But until he ceases swinging at everything, this is a splendid hitter who will waste a great deal of talent. His overly generous strike zone is a pitcher’s best friend.

DEPTH-CHECKS REVEALED DURING 2022 FARM SCHEDULES: A nice batch of starting pitching is evolving for the Tigers, from Madden, to Flores, to Olson, to Jobe, to Austin Bergner, and beyond, perhaps including Chance Kirby. Relievers also are lining up: Elvis Alvarado, Andrew Magno, Jack Anderson, Brendan White, Gerson Moreno, Dario Gardea, Tyler Mattison, Yaya Chentouf, RJ Petit, etc.

Infielders are the Tigers’ current inventory prize: Keith, Jace Jung, Perez, Pacheco, Santana, Andre Lipcius, Bastidas, Workman, Peyton Graham, etc., with Graham definitely a frequent-follow in 2023 for Tigers farm snoops.

Catching is, for now, OK, with Dingler and Crouch, but in need of help.

Outfielders: Meadows and Campos are the prizes. Tigers will need some further infusions there.

More farm-pieces figure to be added during the coming offseason by way of the usual delivery systems: minor-league free agents, as well as trades, that with a new front-office chief in place, Scott Harris, stand to be part of next year’s new and intriguing rosters rehearsing for possible appearance in Detroit.

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

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