Detroit Tigers: Prospects Hurt the Most by no games in 2020

Detroit Tigers' Riley Greene, left, Derek Hill, center, and Kody Clemens in the dugout during Grapefruit League action against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.Spring Training
Detroit Tigers' Riley Greene, left, Derek Hill, center, and Kody Clemens in the dugout during Grapefruit League action against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.Spring Training /

The team at MCB has created a ton of Detroit Tigers prospect content over the past month. As part of that process, we have all spent a significant amount of time thinking about the Tiger’s farm system and the players in it. For me personally, one thought kept entering my mind, geez, 2020 really created a ton of question marks for prospects (which leads to questions for evaluators).

The lack of a minor league season created a significant amount of uncertainty for all prospects. Individual prospects, however, each had a unique experience last season and this led to differing impacts on their development.  Just playing in live games (Remember those? How great were those?) is the greatest developmental tool players have. Games allow players to accumulate at-bats and innings pitched, these allow them to make adjustments and gain the experience necessary to progress their careers. In 2020, the pandemic took some, if not all, of that away.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only person thinking about this as Kevin Goldstein, from Fangraphs, wrote a piece breaking down the types of prospects most impacted by the disruption of the 2020 season. After reading the article, I started thinking about how each category impacted Detroit and which players fit in each category. (Keep in mind, some players could be considered in multiple categories but are only discussed once.)

“Teenagers with Zero Plate appearances”

This category is pretty obvious. These players are just beginning their careers and need time and at-bats to develop. Many players from the recent international cycles fit into this category along with the 2019 high school draftees.

Luckily for the Tigers, they went very college-heavy in the 2019 draft which means they were less impacted than other teams. The obvious exception is, Riley Greene, but like some other prospects in the organization, he was able to work with the organization in Toledo which offsets some of the impact.

Impacted Prospects: Roberto Campos, Raudy De Los Santos, Abelado Lopez, Dany Martinez

More information about the above prospects

“2020 Draft Picks”

The 2020 draft picks missed the opportunity to play in the summer after they were drafted. The missed developmental time and, really, just the exposure to the developmental staff will certainly slow their timelines. Goldstein provides several reasons why this category was included but this is one that seemed particularly interesting since it seems very impactful, yet perhaps less obvious.

“These players have spent years taking instruction that is often in direct conflict to what their new employers are trying to instill in them”.

The Tigers appear to have ended up being slightly better off from a development standpoint than other clubs when it comes to the recent draftees. Since Detroit was not in a position to compete, they had more roster spots available to give to draftees last summer. Given the importance of these two prospects to the rebuild, it was highly beneficial both Torkelson and Dingler were able to spend time at the alternate site (alongside Riley Greene). Hopefully, this time practicing/scrimmaging with more advanced players allows them to make up for a portion of the missed games. This isn’t to say Detroit was impacted however as some players weren’t able to get their pro careers off the ground.

Impacted Prospects: Daniel Cabrera, Trei Cruz, Gage Workman, and Colt Keith

“Pitchers Ready for a Workload Increase”

For young starters, slowing building their workload over multiple seasons is believed to reduce the potential for injury. Allowing the developing muscular-skeletal systems of these prospects to slowly absorb the additional wear and tear has generally been considered the best approach by most organizations. This is going to force teams to change the normal development path for many of their prospects and Goldstein summed it up best.

“A big question teams face this spring is not only how to make up for lost time but also how to ramp up arms, and many are adopting a make-it-up-as-you-go approach to begin the year.”

On the surface, it seems the lack of starting pitching depth beyond the upper minors benefits Detroit from a development standpoint (relative to some clubs anyway, clearly missing time is still a net negative). However, the lack of workload likely has such a broad-ranging impact I have a feeling this will be an issue once the minor league season begins. As Goldstein said, teams are going to be using a “make-it-up-as-you-go approach”, which screams issues to me.

Impacted Prospects: Wilkel Hernandez, Elvin Rodriguez, Garrett Hill, Paul Richan

“Tools Dudes who Need Reps”

The title of the category sums up why this group is included quite nicely. For prospects with big tools, “reps” are particularly important. Goldstein again described it well (unsurprisingly).

“The most valuable development tool for players looking to refine their skills is taking in-game reps, and several players got none of those last year.”

The Tigers are going to need some positional players to break through to help supplement the pitching they have collected in the upper minors. For this reason, this category seems to have hit Detroit slightly harder than other teams. The Tigers becoming more aggressive in the international market, as well as adding some higher upside draftees, means they have collected some guys who need to get as many reps as possible.

Impacted Prospects: Parker Meadows, Jose De La Cruz, Adinso Reyes, Nick Quintana, Ulrich Bojarski, Alvaro Gonzalez, Wenceel Perez, Kingston Liniak, Akil Baddoo

“Players who are Almost Ready”

Players who are ready (or almost ready) to ascend to the big league roster are at a pivotal point in their careers. We have all heard the old adage, the biggest jump in a player’s career is from Triple-A to the big leagues. If this is true (and I have no reason to suspect it isn’t) then not playing for a year and potentially having your skills stagnate (or worse, regress) does seem like an issue. Two lines from Goldstein’s article seem particularly relevant to Detroit.

“would the Angels have acted differently in regards to Jo Adell if he had been able to start the year in Salt Lake? Does Joey Bart’s season look different after 250–300 plate appearances in Triple-A?”

Obviously, Adell and Bart are not Tiger’s prospects (however I would happily take them) but the point made here is, would we act differently in regards to elite prospects if they had a full season in 2020. It is possible Mize, Skubal, and Manning would be rotation locks had last season been more traditional and they had success. As it stands now, we question what impact the reduced workloads will have on their futures.

“And what of the potential role players who need work at a new position to enhance their versatility, or potential bullpen arms on the verge of a callup if the command gets more consistent.”

This category seems to have a pretty broad-reaching impact on many franchises including the Tigers. Every team has a collection of prospects, approaching the big leagues and those players need time to polish their skillsets. Detroit specifically has a number of bullpen arms who are in discussion for big-league roles and it sure would have been nice to see them in-game situations last year. The outfield was impacted as well. Derek Hill and Daz Cameron both had brief appearances with Detroit however they both also could have used a full season of at-bats at Triple-A. Short and Clemens fit in this group as potentially versatile players who would increase their chances at prolonged big league careers by playing multiple positions. The other pitchers listed below would have benefitted greatly from a full season in 2020 as with some small improvements they could be big-league ready.

Impacted Prospects: Derek Hill, Daz Cameron, Zack Short, Kody Clemens, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo, Franklin Perez, Beau Burrows, Jason Foley