Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris met with reporters last week to review Detroit’s season. He spent as much or more time talking about the farm system.
As the Tigers attempt to build off this year’s 78-win season and take the next step, the two are intertwined.
“One of the most important things that we did this year to change the conversation in this organization is we got more out of our players up and down the organization,” Harris said. “The players got more out of themselves up and down the organization. When I was here a year ago, I was talking to all of you about trying to create this culture of development here, to try to create environments in which players at all phases of their career can come to this organization and get better. … We’re off to a great start on that.”
The Tigers got contributions from callups Reese Olson, Parker Meadows and Sawyer Gipson-Long, but they also built depth in the farm system. Colt Keith, Justyn-Henry Malloy, Max Clark and Jackson Jobe headline the next wave, but many others stepped up.
3 players who jumped on the radar
Keider Montero, RHP: The lanky Venezuelan right-hander has been a long play, having spent two-plus seasons at High-A West Michigan before advancing to Double-A Erie in May. The No. 26 prospect‘s stay in Erie lasted just 15 starts, during which he went 10-2 with a 4.93 ERA and 91 strikeouts over 69 1/3 innings. He was just as impressive in eight appearances at Triple-A Toledo. His high-spin curveball is a buckler with the potential to flummox hitters like Olson’s slider did in Detroit.
Justice Bigbie, OF: Bigbie’s rise drew comparisons to fellow 19th-round Draft pick Kerry Carpenter’s ascension a year ago. The No. 21 prospect is a different hitter, a right-handed batter who loves to use the opposite field and has proven a tough strikeout, two skills that fit the Tigers’ offensive philosophy. With a .343 average, .405 on-base rate, 78 RBIs and a .942 OPS across three levels, he has played his way into Detroit’s picture.
Tyler Mattison, RHP: A fourth-round pick out of Bryant University, Mattison was on the Tigers’ prospect rankings before Tommy John surgery delayed his pro debut by a year. The No. 28 prospect‘s first full pro season this year was impressive, including 91 strikeouts over 59 2/3 innings between West Michigan and Erie. If the hard-throwing reliever can temper his walk rate, he could work his way into Detroit’s bullpen as soon as next summer.
2 breakout players to watch
Tanner Kohlhepp, RHP: Like Mattison, Kohlhepp had his pro debut delayed by Tommy John surgery. The side-armer returned this summer and showed raw talent, striking out 39 batters over 23 2/3 innings at Single-A Lakeland but also walking 25. Like Mattison a year ago, the Tigers hope an Arizona Fall League stint will give Kohlhepp experience and momentum to climb the system next year. His funky delivery and high velocity make him a fascinating watch.
Josue Briceno, C: Signed as a teenager in 2022 out of Maracay, Venezuela — Miguel Cabrera’s hometown — Briceno batted .319 with a .931 OPS in 55 games between the Florida Complex League and Lakeland at age 18. He’s a 6-foot-4 catcher and a left-handed hitter with power, and if he can show enough defensive skills to stay behind the plate, he could be an intriguing prospect heading into full-season ball.
Can the Tigers bolster their offense from within?
The free-agent market is thin on hitters, and the trade market is unpredictable. The easiest way to boost Detroit’s offense is through the farm system. That’s a lot of pressure on youngsters such as Keith and Malloy, but if they can settle in as well as Meadows did this summer, it’s possible.