Detroit Tigers: Beyond the Top 20 – Starting Pitchers to Know

Feb 22, 2020; Lakeland, Florida, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Logan Shore throws a pitch during the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 22, 2020; Lakeland, Florida, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Logan Shore throws a pitch during the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

In February, we released our top 20 Detroit Tigers prospects which included detailed breakdowns of the 20 best prospects in the system.

Now, it’s time for us to explore the remainder of the Detroit Tigers farm system and highlight some of the interesting names from beyond the top 20 (see what I did there). The “Beyond the Top 20” series will breakdown some of the prospects who missed our list but deserve some further discussion.

In this article, we are going to dive into some of the notable arms in the system that didn’t make our Top 20 list. For a system known for the quality of its pitching prospects, the pitching depth has thinned out a bit over the past couple of years. Star caliber talent still sits atop of the organization but back-to-back drafts focused on adding positional player depth have impacted the talent in the lower levels of the minors. Arms with the talent and upside to potentially make the big league club still exist and below we discuss some of those names.

Keider Montero (RHP) – Montero doesn’t have the build generally associated with a right-handed starting pitcher prospect (likely around 6 foot) but he has two pretty important things going for him. A low-90s fastball that shows solid movement and a potential above-average to plus curveball. His performance so far in the low minors has been encouraging as he has struck out more than a batter per inning and kept the baserunners to a minimum. He should get a shot in a full-season league this year which will provide some real insight into his future. Long term there is a fair amount of reliever risk given his build and lack of a third pitch.

Elvin Rodriguez (RHP) – It seems fans have been waiting on a breakout from Rodriguez since he was acquired in the Justin Upton deal (Angels). The opposite of Montero, Rodriguez has a very projectable frame which has led scouts to believe adding velocity could be in his future however to this point, that hasn’t materialized. Rodriguez sits in the low 90s with his fastball but it lacks movement. His curveball is the better of his two secondary pitches (the other being a changeup) but neither is better than average. Control hasn’t been a concern to this point in his career and he is likely to have an average command/control profile at his peak. His performance at both West Michigan in 2018 and Lakeland in 2019 were solid but nothing spectacular. No longer a young prospect, he will be 23 in March, if the velocity gains do not show up this summer they likely won’t and that will limit his ceiling and downgrade his prospect status.

Wilkel Hernandez (RHP) – Another projectable pitcher the Detroit Tigers were able to acquire as part of the teardown (Ian Kinsler deal, also the Angels), Hernandez has a three-pitch mix. He has more present fastball (up to 95 but sits 92-94) than Rodriguez despite being a year younger. At West Michigan in 2019, he showed an athletic, fairly repeatable delivery and generally controlled his arsenal quite well. As with most projectable young pitchers, he lacks even average secondary offerings. His curveball is his best secondary pitch and shows some depth but lacks consistency. The changeup has struggled and there was talk in 2019 that he was even experimenting with different grips. Hernandez still has some upside and should be an interesting prospect to follow when he returns to action. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to be in 2021 as he underwent Tommy John surgery in October.

Paul Richan (RHP) – Paul Richan is a strike-throwing machine. Full Stop. He pounds the zone with a deep arsenal of fringe-average to average pitches. In 2019, he only walked 20 hitters in just over 123 innings illustrating his penchant for controlling his stuff. Richan works with an average fastball which sits in the low 90s. The pitch has played up in the low minors given his ability to locate the pitch to all four quadrants of the zone. His off-speed stuff includes a curve, slider, and change all of which are fringy pitches. A small step forward in the quality of at least one of those pitches is important as he likely ascends to Double-A in 2021 since he won’t be able to get by being more advanced than his competition. In an ideal world, he would follow the development path of Tyler Alexander. A pitcher with fringe-average overall stuff whose command of his arsenal allows him to compete against major league hitters.

Carlos Guzman (RHP) – A converted positional prospect Guzman is a pretty intriguing pitcher.  Guzman is a good athlete, who has the ability to easily generate above-average to plus velocity and the potential for a really good changeup. Guzman’s fastball has sat in the 92-94 range as a starter and has reached 97 at times. Like many pitchers, it is far more lively in the lower half of the strike zone than when it is elevated. His changeup has a chance to be a real weapon. Guzman does a solid job of maintaining his arm speed and when right, the pitch has outstanding fading action. The issues with Guzman are his size and lack of a breaking ball. Guzman is shorter than typical starting pitching prospects (6’0″) and hasn’t shown a feel for anything that resembles a usable breaking pitch. Given the year off and some injury concerns in the past projecting where he starts 2021 is difficult but either Lakeland or West Michigan are the most likely destinations.

Hugh Smith (RHP) – Giant human. A sixth-round pick out of a division III college in 2018, Smith is listed at 6’10”. Leading up to the draft, reports indicated he was topping out in the mid to upper 90s and his change-up was trending towards a useful secondary pitch. Unfortunately, injuries have stalled Smith’s development since joining the Detroit Tigers as he has only thrown 44 innings as a pro. Our brief glimpse at him in 2019 indicates the stuff has solid potential but his delivery leaves a lot to be desired especially considering his size. Smith is one of the most intriguing prospects in the organization heading into 2021. Has he cleaned up his delivery? Has he added any velocity with maturity and improved mechanics? Has the breaking ball taken a step forward? All questions that may be answered if Smith is healthy this year.

Logan Shore (RHP) – Shore is somewhat similar to Richan in that his profile is that of a control and command righty but he does have one thing Richan doesn’t have a plus pitch. Shore’s changeup is an excellent offering. He maintains his arm speed extremely well and the pitch has strong fading action. It also offers a nice velocity drop-off of his fastball which is important since the fastball is fringy sitting in the low 90s. Shore’s breaking ball is a below-average pitch without a consistent shape. His arsenal does play up due to his outstanding control and the effectiveness of the changeup. Shore can fill a rotation spot anywhere in the upper minors given he was already thrown over 150 innings at Double-A. He even has an outside shot of pitching in the majors this year if the need arises.