Detroit Tigers: The minor league system is building towards a rare feat

Erie Seawolves pitcher Reese Olson (18) throws a pitch against the Akron Rubberducks, on April 8, 2022, during the season opening game at UPMC Park in Erie. The Seawolves won the game 2-0.P23seawolves040922
Erie Seawolves pitcher Reese Olson (18) throws a pitch against the Akron Rubberducks, on April 8, 2022, during the season opening game at UPMC Park in Erie. The Seawolves won the game 2-0.P23seawolves040922 /

The Detroit Tigers have graduated some high-end prospects recently, but despite that, they finally have some depth in their minor league system

After the Detroit Tigers had the fourth-highest payroll in 2016 but held last place in the AL Central, the organization decided it was time for a full reset. It involved trading high-end talent with large contracts in exchange for prospects and lasted over the two seasons that would follow; trading players like Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, JD Martinez, Justin Wilson, Alex Avila, Shane Greene, and Nick Castellanos.

The results have been mixed, but in addition to the trades they made to bring back talent, they were also allowed to add through high draft picks. 2018 and 2020, particularly, offered the first overall selections and ultimately yielded consensus top talents both years in Casey Mize and Spencer Torkelson.

If the Javier Baez signing wasn’t a signal of the changing of the tides for the Detroit Tigers and their effort to start competing at the big league level again, the trade for Austin Meadows in response to Riley Greene’s foot injury certainly sent that message.

It comes largely because of their performance in 2021–a season in which most would argue the club overachieved what many had felt they’d accomplish on paper. It also comes, though, because many of their top prospects; those players who graced various prospect rankings are now a part of the MLB fold.

One would think the recent graduations of Mize, Manning, Paredes, and Skubal coupled with the inevitable graduations of Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene would leave the system barren of talent. Interestingly, though, that is not the case.

Most publications consider Jackson Jobe to be a top 100 guy. FanGraphs has him ranked 33rd on their top 100 and MLB Pipeline rates him their 39th-best. Outside of Jobe, though, the organization wouldn’t have anyone in the top 100 across the game. While this fact wouldn’t cause anyone to shutter that recalls their contention years and how bare those farms were, it’s a big change during the rebuild years.

In 2021 and 2022, the Tigers had two prospects in the top 10 in the game. In 2019, they had Mize in the top 25 and three prospects overall in the top 100. 2018 saw three top-100 members as well, according to the MLB Pipeline. The system is approaching a place they haven’t been in some time; lacking multiple prospects among the best in the game. I’d argue, though, that the system overall might be better than any of those years for one reason: depth.

Analysts and scouts over the last few years have described the system as very ‘top-heavy,’ which, while it offended Tigers fans, was an accurate assessment. But while the Tigers may not have as many heavy-hitters at the top on paper, they have this newfound combination of players that still have a ton of upside that could land on these lists in the future, steady help that still has MLB aspirations, and some depth pieces to fill-in as necessary.

Jobe is no slouch and will gain steam once he faces pro hitters. But while he is the class of the system ignoring Torkelson and Greene, Cristian Santana, Ty Madden, Dylan Smith, Izaac Pacheco, and Roberto Campos all have enough upside to end up landing on top prospect lists in the future (and this ignores the talent they’ll add in the draft this year, especially at 12 overall).

Pitchers Beau Breiske and Reese Olson still have mid-rotation upside, lefty Joey Wentz is a conceivable back-end arm, shortstop Ryan Kreidler will weasel his way into the lineup somehow if he continues to hit at Triple-A, Colt Keith has gained some traction in High-A as a 20-year-old, and catcher Dillon Dingler is just outside of most top prospect lists himself. All those guys have Role 50/MLB regular upside.

Parker Meadows, Daniel Cabrera, Kody Clemens, and Andre Lipcius are also valuable depth pieces to an organization that may have future bench needs, too.

If one of the lottery ticket scenarios works out (say, Franklin Perez or Alex Faedo bouncing back from surgery), it could either provide direct help to the parent club or maybe offer some trade value if the club is looking to add this summer.

There is still work to be done as it pertains to player development–Al Avila himself would likely argue the same. But that sustainable approach we kept hearing about from Detroit Tigers brass is on the precipice of coming together and the organization overall is at its strongest point since at least 2015.