The Detroit Tigers have done a fantastic job of exceeding expectations as the month of May wanes, leading into the dog days of summer. As of Monday afternoon, the Motor City Kitties were just two games under the .500 mark and a pair behind the American League Central-leading Minnesota Twins, who sit perched atop the worst division in Major League Baseball.
Sure, the AL Central smells like a turd covered in burnt hair but that has not kept this Detroit team from being a fun one to follow so far. While there is an absolute dearth of star power on the roster, new general manager Scott Harris and manager AJ Hinch have managed to piece together a serviceable roster out of basically replacement parts.
Not all of the blame for the piecemeal squad that has taken the field this spring belongs on them, as the injury bug continues to ravage the pitching staff as well as outfielder Austin Meadows — who has struggled to stay on the field for the Olde English D due to ongoing medical issues.
Nonetheless, the reality of the situation is that the Tigers are walking a fine tight-rope act in maximizing results from their roster — which has worked fairly well for the most part. However, there is still an immense amount of headroom for improvement, and as players travel back and forth on the Toledo Express, more and more will get an opportunity to break out under the big lights.
With all of this in mind, I asked the Bless You Boys staff this week, “Which minor league prospect do you want to see in Detroit the soonest?” A plurality chimed in with the most popular answer floating around the comments sections and social media apps but there are a few other names to consider as well.
Frisbee Pilot: I’ll say what I’m betting a good majority of you are thinking: Justyn-Henry Malloy. He’s 23, he’s lookin’ mighty fine at Triple-A, and there’s certainly room for him in this lineup — looking at you, Andy Ibáñez — so why not get him up amongst the tall buildings for a bit?
Preliminary reports suggest he’s not the finest with the glove, so maybe sprinkle him between DH and third base. Atlanta tried to make a left fielder out of him, so if he takes a few reps out there in practice that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. But, let’s see what that bat can do, even if it’s only for a couple of weeks.
Zane Harding: Justyn-Henry Malloy has the most wacky baseball name in the system (I for one have never met a Justyn-Henry before), a 130 wRC+, a 17.5% walk rate, and 7 home runs in AAA — two more than any other Tiger. It’s him. His glove could be a 20-grade and I’d call him up to DH right now. Very curious to see how he does in his first major league stint because he has walked like he is Mike Trout all through the minors.
Frisbee: I’ve taught thousands of students over my career, and never had any that had a name within a country mile of “Justyn-Henry.”
Adam Dubbin: It’s an Albany nomenclature.
Frisbee: Oh, right. I’m from Utica.
Zane: Steamed Hams but it’s a BYB roundtable.
Adam: Roundtable?! At this time of year, at this time of day, in this part of the country, localized entirely within our baseball blog?!
Adam: Can I see it?
Zane: … No.
Brady McAtamney: JHM is the likely candidate. But Reese Olson could have a cup of coffee if he continues to pitch well after his awful start. God knows the Tigers need starters.
Peter Kwasniak: So, a person in Toledo I really want to be called up next? Can I say Kerry Carpenter?
Because the lineup has become painfully out of balance since he got hurt. Maton and a host of other bats have been plugged into the No. 5 hole and it’s rally-killing out after rally-killing out. You can see the Hinch wants to line up LLRRLLRR in the 1-8. So of ALL the guys currently in AAA (and because the actual prospect I want is JHM but he’s been covered already) I’ll play the cop-out card and say Carpenter.
David Rosenberg: I’m not sure I buy into the JHM craze that the rest of the BYB staff seems to be on board with. A 131 wRC+ is strong, but he’s striking out once every four plate appearances and his .173 ISO is a bit lower than you might expect from a guy with seven home runs in 173 at-bats. I can see him coming up and being a boom-or-bust hitter for Detroit, which doesn’t really do much for me.
Of course, I can’t say no to a suggestion without providing an alternative, so I’ll nominate… uh…. boy, this organization is thin… let’s say Tyler Nevin? I know he went 2-for-22 through the first month of the season with Detroit, but he’s slashing .331/.387/.477 in Toledo. His 120 wRC+ is down from JHM’s 131, but so is his strikeout rate (14.8%). Nevin also hits a ton of ground balls and rarely flies out to the infield, which is one of JHM’s biggest flaws at the plate.
If you’re going to gamble on an obvious AAA talent, I’d give Nevin another shot over JHM. Both have average to below-average gloves, and Nevin’s contact tool has more upside than JHM’s raw power does.
Brady: I wouldn’t say we (or I, at least) are crazy for JHM. He’s just a more attractive alternative to Ibanez and Schoop.
Zane: Yeah, we don’t have other great answers. But I’m also buying JHM stock.
Mr. Sunshine: Andrew Knapp because I’m not a prospect guy and did no research for this answer other than a cursory look at AAA stats.
Cam Kaiser: Is Quintin Berry still in the system?
Brandon Day: I wish I had an obvious answer, but even my choice of Olson is just sort of an “Eh, let’s try it” sort of a pick. No one is screaming for a call-up exactly. I actually tend to think Colt Keith is the one most likely to come up and really do a lot, at least initially. But that’s not happening yet. Malloy is the obvious answer, but they’re pitching around him more with a lot more offspeed over the last few weeks and he hasn’t quite figured it out yet. Still very confident in his bat, I just think that waiting until he’s actually really hot again makes good sense.
Kerry Carpenter will be up shortly if there are no setbacks with his shoulder. That should help the offense some, but they really could use someone swinging a right-handed stick. Ibáñez went cold. Vierling has been cold and now maybe hurt. Rogers is cold, Haase has only been marginally better lately, and Schoop has been better but still nothing like the guy we watched in 2021.
So, I’ll be interested to see if they try to swap in Tyler Nevin, Andre Lipcius, or Kreidler for that matter, soon. Any of them on a good run could give the Tigers solid production against left-handed pitching, but likely only on a very limited and temporary basis.
I’m totally ok with getting Kerry Carpenter back and calling Malloy up fairly soon, and I think those things can be pretty impactful, particularly considering the way the Tigers are aggressively substituting on offense. We still likely don’t want to see Malloy playing a whole lot of defense for the Detroit Tigers, but part-time, and DH-ing a lot, his ability to get on base alone could make him an interesting weapon for A.J. Hinch even if Malloy doesn’t exactly rake from the jump.
Anyway, it’s a huge topic. I wish there was a reliever I could use to bail out on the question. I wouldn’t be stunned if Zach Logue took Tyler Alexander’s spot at some point soon. But really my answer is Reese Olson.
Olson is almost 24, and he reached Double-A in August of 2021, so he’s spent quite a bit of time in the upper minors already. Like Wentz, a mediocre fastball and still unrefined command continue to hold him back from being a top-100 prospect. I expect him to get hit hard if he isn’t having a good day, but he’s put together two really nice starts in a row, spotted his fastball better, and he does have three good secondary pitches. Ultimately, I think he’s a reliever, and admittedly I just want to see him against a major league lineup after watching him the past few years.
It feels like it’s time to give him a look, because if he’s going to work out as a starter, something is going to have to improve a good bit, and maybe it’ll be good for him to see what he’s up against. I’m not sure there’s a better time to give him a short start or two and let Wentz try to get sorted out in Toledo.
Patrick O’Kennedy: Disclaimer: I don’t get a chance to see any minor leaguers other than what’s on the internet, so any opinion is limited accordingly.
Colt Keith is the one that has me most interested, although he’s still at Double-A Erie. The Tigers have a need at the hot corner and this kid is just flat-out raking. Now, I’m ignoring the fact that he very well could need another year in the minors, but I’m just over the revolving door of AAAA-type players that the Tigers have been putting out there.
Adam: I’m with Brady and Brandon here — with the caveat that pitching is my professional forte and I’m still not convinced this franchise has turned things around at the plate with its prospects — with Olson being the player I want to see most in the D. Both of my colleagues covered the topic exhaustively, leaving just the fact that we’re just now nearing the one-third mark of the season with a plethora of innings remaining — as we have noted in prior roundtables.
And yes, Jefe, I do know what “plethora” means.
With uncertainty still surrounding several starters on the injured list plus the prospect of possibly trading E-Rod ahead of the deadline (in addition to his recent injury), it’s high time to see what the burgeoning 23-year-old right-hander has to offer.
So that is our take here at Bless You Boys. Judging by the comments section at the site this past month there is no shortage of takes from the audience either! So chime in below with who you think has earned the next ticket to the bright lights of Comerica Park.