Checking in on the Tigers’ Complex level prospects

Bless You Boys

One of the most obvious first efforts of Scott Harris’ tenure as Tigers’ president of baseball operations was the effort to overhaul the scouting department. The club has gotten precious little from their international signings over the years, and a lot of mediocre first round selections undermined Al Avila’s attempt to build a new era of winning baseball.

The overwhelming majority of the Tigers’ farm system is still comprised of Al Avila picks and signings even as we close in on two years since his ouster as GM. However, down at the lowest level of the minor leagues in the U.S., the Complex Leagues, the first wave of Scott Harris drafts picks and the most recent Avila international signings are combined into an interesting brew of young talent.

Let’s check in on a few key names after the first month of play for FCL Tigers.

C Brady Cerkownyk

As a JUCO freshman who had gotten little draft buzz the year before, the Cerkownyk felt like a bit of an odd pull by the Tigers in the 15th round of last year’s draft. He was awarded a $397,500 signing bonus, most of which had to come from underslot savings on day two of the draft. He wrecked shop at Connors State, nearly winning the NJCAA hitting triple crown, was immediately identified by draftnicks as a potential sleeper to watch in his first pro season. Unfortunately, he blew out his elbow in the preseason and the Tigers decided to shelve him for the year instead of rehabbing his arm while playing him at DH.

RHP Jatnk Diaz

Detroit got a good old-fashioned scouting find with Diaz, who came on the scene too late for other teams to be comfortable with drafting him. He’s got a fun story that we’ve indulged ourselves in writing a number of times, but the long and short of it is that he was largely self taught prior to being drafted and has immense feel for spin and velocity without any kind of polish to go along with it. We ranked him as the team’s 21st prospect prior to the season despite his unassuming eight round draft status. There’s nothing we can say about his upside without prefacing it with “if,” but the foundation is there for him to be just about anything. He’s struggled to throw strikes so far this year, but in an extremely limited sample.

LHP Blake Dickerson

San Diego drafted Dickerson, but he never pitched an inning in their system. He was shut down after signing a half million bonus and then swapped to the Tigers for half a million in international money this February. He’s a teenage lefty without present velocity, but he gets a starter’s projection because his huge frame looks like it could carry a boatload of muscle and he gets plenty of extension to boot. Pitch metrics are friendly to him, as he has plenty of ride on his fastball and he throws a curveball with notable spin. Of the four pitchers on this list with similar characteristics, he came into the season with the most work to do to become a major leaguer, but he’s throwing the best among them right now. I’d imagine the team sees him as an eventual candidate for Gabe Ribas’ school of cutters.

C Enrique Jimenez

The Tigers put $1.25 million on the table for Jimenez, who profiles as a bat first catcher with feel for contact and a chance to stick behind the plate. Last summer in the DSL, FanGraphs reported, he had a 91% in-zone contact rate and he’s continuing to hit well in the first part of the shortened FCL season. Slashing .265/.407/.397, he’s taken walks and strikeouts in equal measure. There isn’t a lot of present pop here, he’s hit one home run so far in 18 games, and with a filled out 5’9” build, there isn’t likely to be much more than doubles power for Jimenez.

INF Franyerber Montilla

Another under the radar international free agent who made waves in the DSL last season, Montilla entered the organization under the former leadership group. He’s making minced meat out of FCL pitching this season, hitting .344/.482/.516 and striking out just 17 percent of the time, which is less than he’s walking. He’s a switch hitter and FanGraphs described his swing as an explosive one.

At this rate, the 19-year-old will be in High-A Lakeland before long, where his understanding of the zone will be put to the test more than it has before. His batting line is being propped up by an outrageous BABIP, which is, in turn, fueled by his relentless line drive hitting. He’ll cool off sooner or later, and how well he adjusts to pitching who has adjusted to him will be a key in learning how good he really is. I wouldn’t be surprised to find him on our next top prospects list if he doesn’t crash and burn.

SS Reylin Perez

Once upon a time, Perez was a top international free agent signing based on his athletic projection and the possibility of sticking at a premium position. He was horrific at the complex level last year and has been somewhat better this year but the bat-to-ball issues are still pretty severe. Although he’s still just a teenager, things need to change fast for him to stay relevant because a strikeout rate near 33% against completely raw pitching competition just won’t play.

RHP Andrew Dunford

Based on his $367,500 bonus, it seems safe to assume Detroit had Dunford internally graded as a sixth round talent but were unsure of whether he would put pen to paper on a contract. Privately, I think of Dunford as “Blake Dickerson, only more so.” He stands 6’7” and has lots of room on his frame for added bulk, with a fastball that reportedly already averaged 95 mph in his four pro innings last year. He doesn’t have a consistent breaking ball shape, a third pitch, or repeatable mechanics, but his physicality and youth make him a fun project. He’s on the season-long injured list, which is probably bad news for his right elbow, but there’s been no official report.

3B Carson Rucker

There’s not much to report about the Rucker, who played in just four games before undergoing season-ending surgery on his shoulder. We ranked him as the 28th player in the system before the season began, intrigued by his power potential and the high investment the Tigers made in him to keep him off the campus at Tennessee. He played shortstop in high school, but he’s likely a third baseman, where his bat should be just fine. He’s a long way from the big leagues for now and the injury doesn’t help.

OF Anibal Salas

Salas was a roman candle in DSL play last season, and has completely failed to replicate that in a limited sample this year. He’s a bit small but reportedly as athletic as they come and has demonstrated far more willingness to work the count and take walks than most of his peers. The FCL hasn’t been going for long and he missed the first week of the year, so it’s doubly unfair to judge him harshly for the way he’s stumbled out of the gate. He’s a right fielder primarily, but has seen playing time in all three outfield positions.

RHP Paul Wilson

Wilson slipped on draft day and the Tigers stopped his fall in the third round. He has shown the velocity and a deep pitch mix at times, and with a 6’3” that’s expected to be able to handle a full workload, he gets a starter’s projection. He was the 18th-ranked player in our preseason list, and he has a long time to develop the consistency he needs to bring all the ingredients together. He’s been wild in his five brief outings so far, but as with everyone else here, there’s no reason to react too strongly yet. However, while he entered the year looking like the best of the Tigers’ complex league starting prospects, he hasn’t looked the part. No doubt he and the Tigers are working on plenty of adjustments, so we’ll see if things start to gel for him this summer.

INF Juan Hernandez

Hernandez was a low-level signing of the Tigers in 2023, but he grabbed a little attention with his play as a 17 year old in the Dominican Summer League, demonstrating a good feel for the strike zone and hitting .292/.410/.375. FanGraphs gave him a shot at the back end of their Tigers top prospects list for this season, calling him a sweet-swinging lefty with the chance for average hit and power. He hits too many ground balls and his BABIP dropped this year as he’s performed poorly in the handful of games the FCL team has played so far. He’s split time between short and third base, but he’s not seen as a shortstop in the long run.

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