Tigers farm teams last week, from Sunday through Saturday, were a combined 5-19 in 24 games.
It is another rugged season in Detroit’s bushes, surprisingly so, when it was thought heading into 2023 that an emerging band of hitters — and pitchers — were about to revive a big-league team in Detroit.
Here and there — the early-season grades are good. Too many others are counting on second-half rallies.
A look at individual stocks, from Triple-A Toledo, to Double-A Erie, to the Single-A teams at West Michigan and Lakeland, as the halfway point for 2023 minor-leaguers approaches.
▶ Colt Keith, Erie, infielder — stock way up: He has crashed Baseball America’s Top 30 minor-league prospects list, which is what happens when you’re 21, and as of Sunday were batting .332, with a knockout .404 on-base percentage, and 12 homers as part of your 1.001 OPS. He will be headed to Triple-A Toledo any day this month, but likely won’t see Detroit until 2024. Finding a position where he can perform comfortably — second base for now, with outfield as a future option — and maintaining maximum time ahead of free agency are Tigers tasks aimed at a potential All-Star hitter.
▶ Jace Jung, West Michigan, second baseman — stock up: He was batting .432 in June heading into Sunday’s game and looked like a probable replacement when Keith moves to Toledo. The Tigers won’t be in any hurry with Jung, who was their first-round pick a year ago. He had a relatively cool spring before his bat turned into a lava-stick the last day of May and ignited June. He is not a great defender, but he can work there more easily than Keith. The Tigers will figure out deployments, soon, given that Keith could easily make the big-league club out of spring camp, and Jung figures to be at Double A and on-deck in 2024.
▶ Dillon Dingler, Erie, catcher — stock unchanged: After he returned from March knee surgery and began pounding the ball, it was thought Dingler had moved closer to being a two-way dynamo and the Tigers’ everyday man as soon as 2024. But he has not had a reassuring past month at Erie, with strikeouts again a serious peril, and that delivers doubts about Dingler’s capacity to ever be more than a back-up catcher. A big second half, with fewer whiffs, would soothe Tigers developmental staffers aching to make Dingler an inevitable add to manager AJ Hinch’s corps.
▶ Wilmer Flores, Erie, starting pitcher — stock down: Bad spring for Flores, who came into 2023 as the hottest pitcher on the Tigers farm. He had all that 97-98 velocity last season to go with a trademark slider. He needed only, it appeared, to get his change-up going and Flores, 22, could be bound for Comerica Park. It instead has been a deflating year as his fastball velocity has tumbled and his pitches have lacked the fury he showed a year ago. A mystifying plunge for Flores, as his 4.53 ERA and 1.39 WHIP attest.
▶ Ty Madden, Erie, starting pitcher — stock down: Almost the same story for Madden, who was a tail-end, first-round pick in 2021: He gives up too many hits (a factor in his 1.50 WHIP) and too many runs (4.35 ERA) and hasn’t shown the multi-pitch mastery he was supposed to have flashed in 2023. Pitchers can break through at any point, and Madden’s a good bet to do so (11.1 strikeouts per nine innings). But that looks more like a 2024 event the way he has been slogging through his 2023 spring.
▶ Parker Meadows, Toledo, outfielder — stock up, slightly: He has survived Triple-A life, which isn’t to be discounted when Meadows is 23. The batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.321) are low, and 64 strikeouts in 59 games isn’t ideal, nor is 28 walks. But he has seven home runs, 13 doubles, and a .724 OPS. Meadows’ speed on the basepaths and in center field (or left field) makes those offensive numbers play up a bit. He has an obvious shot at Detroit in 2024.
▶ Izaac Pacheco, West Michigan, infielder — stock unchanged: Good hitter here, even if the numbers don’t say it (.201/.273/.327/.599). The qualifier is Pacheco is two years out of high school and high-Single A was always going to be a battle for a player so green. Better to study him during the season’s second half when those numbers should tick up. He is handling third base acceptably. For now, he needs to endure this misery, benefit from a nasty stretch of baseball sadism, and look forward to what likely will be a happier summer.
▶ Roberto Campos, West Michigan, outfielder — stock up, slightly: Again, it’s all about age. He turns 20 this week and as a teenager still has a .715 OPS at high-A. He is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, and soon should be burrowing into power that’s bound to evolve. Wait this gent out.
▶ Cristian Santana, Lakeland, shortstop — stock way down: Probably the most dispiriting first two months of any player on the farm. Yes, he’s only 19, but a year ago his skill set was considered among the best of any young infielder the Tigers had brought to America. He is batting .098 at Lakeland.
▶ Wenceel Perez, Erie, outfielder — stock up: Notice the position designation: outfield. And that’s why Perez’s portfolio is rising. He has been moved to center field and is playing handily there after having a frightful time with throws at second base. It would be more helpful to his Detroit roster aspirations if he were still playing second base. But his switch-hitting bat and .365 on-base percentage with Erie (.727 OPS) give him a great shot at helping on a Detroit team managed by AJ Hinch that loves match-up advantages.
▶ Josh Crouch, West Michigan, catcher — stock down: Ouch, Crouch. He had a big 2022 at West Michigan and Erie and looked as if he were about to supplant Dingler as a guy who could steady the Tigers’ catcher-to-be terrain. Then came 2023 and a miserable start at Erie (.173 in 13 games). He’s been fine since being deported to West Michigan (.294), but Crouch is 24 and needed to show at Double A that he was ready for prime time. That hasn’t happened — yet.
▶ Brant Hurter, Erie, starting pitcher — stock up: Good stuff happening with Hurter, especially when the Tigers are screaming for starting-pitcher depth. Hurter also happens to be a left-hander, which is nice when his work in 12 starts at Double A has been sterling: 2.65 ERA, 1.09 WHIP. He was a seventh-round grab in 2021 from Georgia Tech and could find himself in Detroit sooner than just about anyone might forecast in June, 2023.
▶ Danny Serretti, West Michigan, shortstop — stock up: Most folks figured Peyton Graham would be the best of the 2022 draft-crop shortstops the Tigers would advertise in 2023. But it seems Graham has had a rugged spring at Lakeland, while Serretti has been a prize for the Whitecaps, where he’s batting .288/.366/.452/.818. He can play anywhere in the infield, switch-hits, and bears Hinch’s specifications for helping, at some point, in Detroit.
▶ Trei Cruz, Erie, center field — stock up: He’s cooled down in June, but Cruz has slammed nine home runs and has an .822 OPS after a surprising move to center field. This wasn’t anything punitive, or a transfer made out of desperation. Cruz already had shown he could play anywhere in the infield. But adding outfield defense makes him even handier, especially after his right-handed bat took off this spring, making him, suddenly, a factor on the Tigers farm after it appeared a third-round pick (2020) was flaming out.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.