Bob Wojnowski and Chris McCosky review the Tigers' 114-loss season and project the starting lineup for the 2020 season. The Detroit News
Detroit – Of the six prospects the Tigers added to their 40-man roster Wednesday, thus protecting them from the Rule 5 draft next month, the only one that would qualify as a surprise was outfielder Derek Hill.
The others – third baseman Isaac Paredes (the No. 5-ranked prospect in the Tigers’ organization by MLB Pipeline), outfielder Daz Cameron (8), pitchers Beau Burrows (14), Anthony Castro (20) and Kyle Funkhouser (18) – were expected to be put on the roster.
Hill, though, is going into his age-24 season and was unprotected and unclaimed in last year’s Rule 5 draft.
A first-round pick in 2014, he had battled through injuries his first four season before breaking out last season at Double-A Erie. He posted a .705 OPS and played exceptionally in center field in a career-high 120 games for the SeaWolves.
His showing in the Arizona Fall League last month (.798 OPS, three home runs, six steals) may have clinched it.
The Tigers now have 12 of their top 30 prospects on the roster and, for the first time in recent memory, they’ve had to leave several top young players unprotected. Among those are pitchers Wilkel Hernandez, Wladamir Pinto and Elvin Rodriguez (28) – none of whom have advanced past High-A.
Also unprotected were outfielders Jake Robson (27), Jose Azocar and Danny Woodrow and pitcher Logan Shore.
But this is what general manager Al Avila has been pointing toward, the day when the farm system was deep enough to force these kinds of tough roster decisions.
“Eventually, we hoped to get to that point where we’ll start putting guys on waivers because we just don’t have enough room,” Avila said in an interview before last season. “You can only have 40 guys, and that 41st guy, you’re going to go, ‘Damn, I didn’t want to lose that guy.’
“That’s what’s going to happen.”
And it has. The Tigers cleared eight players off their 40-man roster after the season, including veterans Blaine Hardy, John Hicks, Victor Alcantara and Daniel Stumpf, to protect these six prospects. There is one open spot remaining. That, presumably, is for a potential Rule 5 pick.
The Tigers, for the second time in three years, have the first pick of that draft, which will take place on Dec. 12.
Both Burrows and Funkhouser are coming off disappointing seasons at Triple-A Toledo. Both were expected to join the Tigers rotation at some point, but they battled shoulder injuries and never got on track.
Besides the shoulder inflammation, Burrows was also stalled by an oblique strain. The Tigers’ first-round pick (22nd overall) in 2015, he ended up making 15 starts, posting a 5.51 ERA, walking four per nine innings.
There is continuing debate within the organization whether he projects as a starting pitcher or reliever at the big-league level.
Funkhouser came to spring training last year with an outside shot at making the Tigers’ rotation, especially after Michael Fulmer was lost for the season. But nothing much went right for him after that. He ended up making 18 starts at Toledo with a 8.53 ERA and averaging 7.7 walks per nine innings.
He will be 26 in March and is probably down to his last chance with the Tigers.
Castro, 24, was overshadowed by the big four at Double-A Erie last year (Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal and Alex Faedo), but he was dominant at times. He posted 116 strikeouts over 102.1 innings.
He has a mid-90s fastball, topping out at 98 mph. He has battled control over his seven minor-league seasons, but he opened some eyes during his six-start stint in the Arizona Fall League, striking out 20 and walking eight.
It was highly unlikely that he would go unpicked in the Rule 5 draft.
There was little chance of the Tigers leaving Paredes or Cameron unprotected. Both could break into the big leagues next season.
Paredes is one of the few legitimate hitting prospects in the Tigers’ system. At 20, he was one of the youngest players in Double-A last season and he hit .282 with 13 home runs and 66 RBIs. He also struck out just 61 times in 552 plate appearances.
The Tigers seem to have settled on playing him at third base, at least that’s where he is expected to start next season at Triple-A Toledo. He has played shortstop and second base some this winter, first in the Arizona Fall League (shortstop) and at Mexican Winter League (second base).
Cameron, after an impressive spring, took a step back last season. He struck out 152 times in 528 plate appearances at Toledo and hit just .214. He’s just 22 (23 in January) and the Tigers fully expect him to bounce back and put himself in a position to make his big-league debut in 2020.