Detroit Tigers protect five prospects from Rule 5 draft, trim 40-man roster to create space

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers added five players to their 40-man roster — outfielder Parker Meadows, infielder Wenceel Perez, infielder Andre Lipcius, right-handed starter Reese Olson and right-handed reliever Brendan White — before Tuesday’s deadline to protect them from being selected in December’s 2022 Rule 5 draft.

Olson is the Tigers’ No. 9 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, followed by Perez at No. 14, Meadows at No. 16 and Lipcius at No. 22.

The most notable omission is 20-year-old outfielder Jose De La Cruz, the 27th-ranked prospect who signed for $1.85 million out of the Dominican Republic in July 2018. He struck out 132 times with in 92 games for Low-A Lakeland this season.

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To make room for the additions, the Tigers designated for assignment right-handed relievers Miguel Díaz and Kyle Funkhouser, left-handed reliever Sean Guenther, catcher Michael Papierski and outfielder Brendon Davis.

Guenther cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Triple-A Toledo.

The 40-man roster is now full.

“You never want to lose talented young players,” Scott Harris, president of baseball operations, said last week at the general manager meetings in Las Vegas. “However, I really appreciate 40-man flexibility, and I know what we can do with available roster spots. We’re going to try to walk that line between protecting the players that are most likely to be taken in the Rule 5 draft while maintaining that 40-man flexibility that allows us to stay nimble and seize opportunities throughout the winter. It’s really tough.”

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The Rule 5 draft is scheduled for Dec. 7 as part of baseball’s annual winter meetings in San Diego. Any team that makes a selection pays $100,000 to the organization losing the player. A player chosen in the draft must spend the entire 2023 season on their new team’s active MLB roster (or injured list) or be offered back to their former team for $50,000.

In the 2020 Rule 5 draft, the Tigers selected outfielder Akil Baddoo after the Minnesota Twins left him unprotected. He survived — and thrived — in his first season and has played 197 games in MLB over the past two seasons, batting .241 with 15 home runs, 69 walks and 186 strikeouts.

The 2021 Rule 5 draft was canceled because of MLB’s lockout.

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Right-handed reliever Elvis Alvarado, who turns 24 in February, is the most likely unprotected player to be selected by a different team. He joined the Tigers last offseason in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft, which wasn’t canceled.

He climbed from Low-A Lakeland to Double-A Erie, posting a 2.25 ERA in six games for Lakeland, a 1.86 ERA in 23 games for West Michigan and a 3.97 ERA in 20 games for Erie. In total, Alvarado had a 2.72 ERA with 18 walks and 63 strikeouts in 59⅔ innings out of the bullpen. His fastball reaches 100 mph, complementing his slider and changeup.

After the season, the Tigers re-signed Alvarado to a minor-league contract to keep him from becoming a minor-league free agent, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. The new deal included an invitation to MLB spring training.

Right-hander Austin Bergner — the Tigers’ No. 15 prospect — is another candidate to be selected by a new club in the Rule 5 draft. The 25-year-old, a former ninth-round pick, had a 3.47 ERA with 47 walks and 121 strikeouts in 119⅓ innings over 27 games (26 starts) between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. For the Mud Hens, though, Bergner registered a 6.91 ERA in eight games and struggled to throw strikes.

Left-hander Adam Wolf, who turns 26 in December, could also be added in the draft. Wolf, a former fifth-round pick, logged a 2.72 ERA with 37 walks and 92 strikeouts in 89⅓ innings over 35 games (11 starts) for Double-A Erie in 2022.

The 40-man additions

Olson, 23, spent the entire 2022 season in Double-A Erie and set the SeaWolves’ franchise record with 168 strikeouts — with just 38 walks — in 119⅔ innings, averaging 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He had a 4.14 ERA in 26 games (25 starts).

The Tigers acquired Olson at the 2021 trade deadline from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for left-handed reliever Daniel Norris. His changeup and his slider are above-average pitches, but fastball command plagued him at times. He allowed too many hits, including 15 home runs, primarily due to missing with his fastball when behind in counts.

A trip to the bullpen could be in his future if he can’t unlock a better fastball.

Perez, a 23-year-old switch-hitter, put together the best season of his career and reclaimed top prospect status in 2022. He spent time with High-A West Michigan (55 games) and Double-A Erie (39 games), batting a combined .295 with 14 home runs and a .902 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

With the SeaWolves, Perez batted .307 with a .914 OPS, 8.8% walk rate and 13.5% strikeout rate before a back injury ended his season in mid-August. He showed contact skills, plate discipline and power that could continue to develop.

Defensively, he fits best at second base.

Like Perez, Meadows salvaged his prospect status with a breakthrough 2022 season. The 23-year-old, a left-handed hitter, changed his mechanics last offseason and implemented a shorter swing. The brother of current Tigers outfielder Austin Meadows, he posted a .270 batting average, 20 home runs and an .819 OPS in 127 games with High-A West Michigan (14 games) and Double-A Erie (113 games), stealing 17 bases in 19 attempts.

Meadows crushed 16 of those 20 homers for the SeaWolves, tossing in a 10.6% walk rate and an impressive 18.4% strikeout rate. He finished strong, too, with his best power month coming in August and his best all-around month in September.

The Tigers sent Meadows to the Arizona Fall League after the regular season. The former second-round pick, easily the most athletic prospect in the farm system, played 24 games and hit .224 with three homers, seven walks and 16 strikeouts.

Lipcius, 24, displayed improved contact and plate discipline last season, batting a combined .277 with 12 home runs, 86 walks and 89 strikeouts in 134 games. The 2019 third-rounder jumped from Double-A Erie (88 games) to Triple-A Toledo (46 games).

For the Mud Hens, Lipcius batted .302 and maintained control of the strike zone. His lack of power is the biggest concern offensively, but he profiles as a right-handed utility player at worst. He can play second base and third base on defense.

White, who turns 24 this week, was the most underrated addition to the 40-man roster. The former 26th-round draft pick posted a 2.67 ERA with 17 walks and 73 strikeouts in 67⅓ innings over 48 games for Double-A Erie last season.

The Tigers drafted White as a starting pitcher but converted him to a full-time reliever last season, enhancing his above-average slider. He logged a 4.17 ERA with 27 walks and 107 strikeouts in 26 games (18 starts) for High-A West Michigan in 2021.

He has averaged 2.5 walks per nine innings in his professional career.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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