What the lack of consensus means on the Detroit Tigers farm
Experts have recently released their respective Top 100 prospect rankings, with several Detroit Tigers farmhands making the list
In past seasons, it was fairly predictable who would make the prospect lists for the Detroit Tigers. Matt Manning, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Riley Greene, and Spencer Torkelson could all be found on each list and usually within 25 spots or so of any other major publication's ranking. There's always variance, but this year's Detroit Tigers farm system seems to be perplexing the masses.
MLB Pipeline opened the Top 100 floodgates--they had Jackson Jobe at 63, Jace Jung at 83, and Wilmer Flores at 95. Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis are traditionally very slow to react to performance in the minor leagues--a good attribute to have as an evaluator. However, this steadfast nature will ultimately cause some wrinkles compared to other lists.
The Athletic's Keith Law dropped his own version of the same rank ($)--Jackson Jobe checking in at 83, Jace Jung at 88. Law is traditionally low on pitching and many fans accuse him of being anti-Tigers, although the other 29 teams would probably echo the sentiment. The omission of Flores speaks to this to some degree, but it also appears Law is further down on Jobe and Jung than MLB.com--a factor that undoubtedly led to Law's dead-last farm system rank for the Tigers.
Finally, ESPN ($) dropped their own Top 100 and Kiley McDaniel boasted two Detroit Tigers prospects: Colt Keith at 75 and Wilmer Flores at 90. Interestingly enough, though McDaniel also had a nice addition to his piece where he listed the remaining FV 50 prospects (Future Value, 50 being a big league average player), where he listed both Jackson Jobe and shortstop prospect Cristian Santana.
At some capacity, Jobe, Jung, Keith, and Flores made the rankings, but Jobe and Jung did not make McDaniel's ranking, Keith did not make Pipeline or The Athletic's ranking, and Flores did not make The Athletic's ranking. Where this lack of consensus stems from lies in the nature of these lists, whose opinion takes weight, and how much being drafted or signed high matters.
First, it's essential to recognize the margin between the 100th-best prospect in baseball and the 150th-best prospect in baseball is a razor-thin margin; it's essentially the same type of player, but 100 is a nice round number that is sure to generate clicks, buzz, and, because of these omissions, some negative attention. The feather-ruffling from 30 fanbases is by design--and has the potential to breed a whole new line of content (explaining specific rankings, writing 'just missed' pieces, etc).
Big draft bonuses and high-round selections also hold more weight to the MLB.com's of the world and not so much with someone like Kiley. In many ways, playing the high draft pick game can be a smart way to go when crafting these lists. After all, these organizations thought so much of these players to hand over a seven-figure signing bonus. Consequently, they're more likely to get every chance to make things work opposed to a later round selection. However, sometimes a player's game just doesn't translate; making the line to back off on a player more blurred.
Being reactionary in scouting is generally not a smart way to go--sticking to one's opinion generally works out in the end regardless of a single performance in the minors. But realizing why something is or is not working for a player is key in adjusting expectations. In evaluation, that can mean swallowing some pride.
Last, remember that watching 30 systems under a microscope is impossible. While Colt Keith has done nothing but hit upon his pro debut, he was still a fifth-round selection in a shortened COVID season and just finished his first full season of professional baseball--one that was still shortened by a shoulder issue. Likewise, Wilmer Flores was an undrafted free-agent signing who many still feel carries significant reliever risk.
Not being able to get eyes on all of these players is one reason publications lean on draft position or bonus to influence their selections, but they also need to lean on scouts from other organization who have actually seen these players. In the scouting community, opinions can vary greatly from player-to-player, even on the highly-thought-of guys. I spoke with a Giants scout in 2021 who turned in a 50 OFP on Spencer Torkelson after his viewings in West Michigan, following Torkelson's first overall selection and being at least a consensus 60 by the industry.
Who these writers and analysts talk to, and the convictions with which those people speak, can lead to a skewed opinion when trying to put together a century-long list of players from all across the league. Add to that these players are all finding the back-end of these rankings and it becomes fairly clear why there is a wider range on opinions for these players compared to year's past.
Still, it's important to remember that just because a certain player doesn't make the list, it doesn't mean they're rendered useless to a big league team with winning aspirations. The above quartet could very well play integral roles in the next Detroit Tigers contender.