The lack of baseball hurts every team and touches every player, but some Tigers prospects are hurt worse than others by the lack of a minor league season.
Nobody wanted this. Thanks to the fact that a pandemic is raging globally, everything else took a backseat, and sports have been hurt, too. Most stories about the impact COVID-19 has had on baseball are focused on whether there will be an MLB season, but minor league baseball is still awaiting a verdict. There were reports that it would be cancelled (reports that turned out to be erroneous) but the indication is that prospects will not be able to take the field in 2020. For some, this comes as a blessing in disguise. For most, it’s going to be a detriment. Let’s take a look at five Tigers prospects who could fall into that latter category.
2B Kody Clemens
After being drafted in the third round two years ago, Clemens quickly became a fan favorite as he demolished the Midwest League. He’s become well-known among Detroit prospect gurus for more than his famous name and has instead gained a reputation as a gritty, hard-nosed grinder who hustles, plays with heart, and leaves it all on the field. Did I miss any of the clichés? Things were not quite so rosy for Clemens in the Florida State League as in his pro debut, but his .238/.314/.411 is better than it looks on the surface.
He’s old for his level, though, and has been at every step of the way. With only 13 games of high minors experience at 24 years old, a full season against stiff competition was going to be a great chance for Clemens to prove his potential worth to the organization. Instead, at best, he’ll be fighting to showcase his skills in a shortened season. The more than likely outcome is being sidelined for the year and forced to wait until he’s nearly 25 years old to play in live games again. That’s far from ideal for a player whose upside has been questioned from day one.
RHP Alex Faedo
A bit of a polarizing prospect, Faedo did not show up in pro ball as advertised after an outrageously dominant perfomance in the College World Series and landing with the Tigers as a first-round draftee. He came back to form in 2019, though, and was quietly one of the best players in the organization from a statistical standpoint. He was outshone to some degree by Casey Mize throwing a no-hitter in his Double-A debut and Tarik Skubal striking out a jaw-dropping number of hitters, but Faedo was a big part of the squad in Erie least season. His hearty strikeout numbers weren’t undermined by an abundance of free passes and he finished the year with a sub-3 xFIP.
Provided with an opportunity to keep the momentum rolling in Triple-A, Faedo was in a great spot to become the first Tigers top pitching prospect to earn a call to the majors. That may still be the case, but he too is a bit older than most top prospects. He’ll be 25 years old on opening day next year, which is quite long in the tooth for well-regarded players in an increasingly youth-obsessed league. If he doesn’t run with the opportunity when baseball opens up to play again, he could be unseated by someone younger and sent to the bullpen.
OF Derek Hill
The Tigers’ first round pick in 2014 has struggled to gain traction in pro ball and shown just enough talent amd promise to tay on the radar every year without actually delivering a big season. Tigers fans had become completely fed up with the cycle, and by 2018, the very mention of Hill’s name had become a euphemism for the Tigers’ inability to develop position player to reach their potential. He had a bit of a breakout in 2019, finally getting out of the offense-stifling FSL and showing power that he’d never tapped into before.
Like Faedo, 2020 was going to be a crucial year for Hill to prove he can keep the momentum going. He’s already holding onto prospect status by a thread. His physical abilities and instincts in the field will keep him in organized baseball for a long time but he’s starting to age out of prospect status. His best shot at becoming a contributor on a major league team is to come out of the gate roaring and completely outclass Triple-A pitching. Otherwise, he will probably be pushed aside – you guessed it – by someone younger.
RHP Alex Lange
One of two pitchers brought back from the Cubs in exchange for a half-season of Nick Castellanos, Lange was instantly sent to the bullpen. There, he can get away with feeding hitters a steadier diet of his offspeed stuff and use his uninspiring fastball less often. Slated to start his age-24 season in Triple-A, Lange has obviously been unable to play this year. Time stops for no man, though, and he’s already almost 25 years old.
Without much track record as a relief pitcher, Lange needed to seize the opportunity to prove himself as an able reliever. No pitcher is safe in the higher levels of the Tigers’ minor leagues. There’s a tsunami of skilled pitchers who will soon be needing jobs in Triple-A and not all of them will be able to find innings in the rotation. That reality prompted to push Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser, both of whom were once priorities in the organization, to the bullpen during Spring Training. It’s also what threatens to turn Lange into organizational fodder if he doesn’t perform well when baseball opens up.
OF Jake Robson
Robson found tremendous success over his first few years as a professional as he wreaked havoc on unsuspecting pitchers and unrefined defenses using a slash-and-dash approach to hitting. He quickly earned a place in the high minors, and demolished Triple-A in 2018 as well. Things were’s as rosy in 2019, though, and as offense in the International League became a hotbed of offense, Robson’s production drooped. It was bound to happen sooner or later, his swing really isn’t geared for run production. But the dropoff happened at a terrible time and his mediocre numbers stuck out in contrast to the league’s impressive production.
On the date of publication, Robson is 25 years, 5 months, and 27 days old, but as far as front offices are concerned, he’s nigh unto thirty. There is perhaps no player in the organization who stood to lose more of baseball isn’t to be played in 2020. With good results and some luck, he had a chance to find himself on a major league bench as a pinch runner and fourth/fifth outfielder. Instead, he’ll probably be unable to play baseball on a regular basis and looking into a grim future. There aren’t many teams out there looking to give a legitimate opportunity to a guy on the wrong side of 25 without substantive offensive ability.