Detroit News 2020 Top 50 Detroit Tigers prospects

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Click through the gallery above to view The Detroit News’ top 20 Tigers prospects heading into the 2020 season, compiled by Lynn Henning. (Go here if you have trouble viewing the gallery.)

Supposedly, in baseball, it all begins with pitching. Or at least that once was the view: Good pitching beats good hitting, you never have enough arms, etc.

Tigers pitching prospect Matt Manning turned in an impressive season at Double-A Erie in 2019: 2.56 ERA, 0.98 WHIP in 133.2 innings, with a .192 opposing batting average, as well as 148 strikeouts and 37 unintentional walks.

The Tigers apparently agree, because their farm system is a pitching-heavy conglomerate stocked with enough quality starters to suggest a brawny rotation is headed Detroit’s way, and perhaps soon.

What isn’t clear is how the Tigers expect to pull from their minor-league hatchery enough bats to keep those same pitchers from requiring shutouts to win.

There is the rub when a rebuild rests on arms more than everyday lineup stars. Aware of issues there, the Tigers hope to add position muscle in June when they gorge on four of the first 75 picks (subject to slight change due to free-agent signings).

At the top, anyway, it’s an impressive group, the 2020 Detroit News Tigers top 50 prospects. And while depth is something to sweat about, those top-tier arms are the Tigers’ farm fortune.

1. Matt Manning, 22, 6-6, 215, RH starter

That old storm warning about drafting prep pitchers, particularly in the first round? True. Peril lurks. Exceptions come when an extraordinary athlete, who hasn’t yet pitched so many innings that his arm doubles as sawdust, proves to be a steady riser, with premier stuff, which is Manning’s profile in 2020. He’ll be in Detroit soon, health holding up, after last year’s noteworthy work at Double-A Erie: 2.56 ERA, 0.98 WHIP in 133.2 innings, with a .192 opposing batting average, as well as 148 strikeouts and 37 unintentional walks. Could be a rotation ace. Could be a No. 2 or No. 3 warhorse. Regardless, a fine pitcher emerging.

2. Tarik Skubal, 23, 6-3, 215, LH starter

Casey Mize would make most lists at No. 2, or even No. 1. And that’s fair. The difference with Skubal is a slight edge in age and innings pitched, which could factor in 2020 as he brings his big left arm to, eventually, Toledo, or even Detroit. Skubal jumped from Single A Lakeland to Double A Erie in 2019 and pitched even better at Erie, thanks to his fiery fastball (up to 97, and even 98) and sharp slider, which makes Skubal’s change-up no fun, either. The Tigers stole him in the ninth round in 2018 and now have a potential left-handed gunslinger incubating.

3. Casey Mize, 22, 6-3, 220, RH starter

In another year Mize could be back on top of any Top 50 Tigers Prospects rankings. He could be readying for a 2021 rotation spot because of a 2020 season that was steadily strong and might have brought him a hurry-up ticket to Detroit. Mize, though, needs innings this year after throwing 109.1 in 2019 (2.55 ERA, .094 WHIP) and dealing with some shoulder inflammation. The soreness wasn’t judged to be serious. It simply cost him starts and innings during the second half. He should be in premier shape, and status, as 2020 evolves.

Riley Greene played 24 games for the Connecticut Tigers in 2019 before getting promoted to West Michigan.

4. Riley Greene, 19, 6-3, 200, OF

Not much chance the Tigers missed here with last year’s fifth-overall draft grab. Greene is a sublime athlete and left-handed hitter who did just fine during stops at three minor-league posts, all before he turned 19. He’ll get a full taste of Class A baseball in 2020. He should confirm that his skills are long-term talents likely to grow more lustrous as he approaches 20 and beyond. He needs to stay in the lineup, minus mishaps that are always an athlete’s demon-in-waiting. But with typical health the Tigers are grooming in Greene your typical star hitter and outfielder.

5. Isaac Paredes, 20, 5-11, 225, 3B

Not that Vegas offers odds on a specific 20-year-old (21 on Feb. 18) reaching the majors in 2020, but if there were such a betting parlor, it would be wise to drop a wad on Paredes. He has a big-league bat that’s steadily been busting loose. And at some point, perhaps this year, the Tigers will want to audition him for regular work in Detroit. It remains to be seen where he’ll play – infield, or even outfield – but he stings the ball (.784 OPS at Double A Erie in 2019) and knows the strike zone (.368 on-base percentage). And based on his farm-system ascent, he’s on his way to Comerica Park.

6. Alex Faedo, 24, 6-5, 230, RH starter

Faedo has a handle on pitching’s intricacies, even if he is only 24. Knowing how to pitch is helped immeasurably when you throw, for example, the brand of slider in which Faedo specializes. The swerving slider is Faedo’s hallmark and a heavy reason why the Tigers in 2017 drafted him as a first-rounder out of the University of Florida. He is not the kind of pitcher who incinerates batters. Nor is he a finesse prodigy. He throws good pitches, at generally good locations, with that venomous slider his big-league billboard baby (134 strikeouts last year in 115.2 innings at Erie). Faedo needs to bamboozle big-league batters with something other than a slider, even his slider, but understand he has a repertoire and it’s being polished. Progressively.

7. Joey Wentz, 22, 6-5, 210, LH starter

And most thought the Tigers last July traded Shane Greene to the Braves for, well, they can’t quite remember, but it didn’t seem to be anyone special. In fact, the deal was done by the Tigers primarily for Wentz, who in 2016 had been a Kansas prep star on his way to the University of Virginia until the Braves took him with the 40th overall pick. He has averaged better than a strikeout per inning during four farm seasons, with a 3.22 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. In five games last season at Erie, he struck out 37 in 25.2 innings and walked four. He has a fastball that runs at 93, a deep curveball, and a change-up that also helps. The Tigers have a nice rotation prospect in Wentz, who could get a look as early as this year.

8. Bryant Packard, 22, 6-3, 200, OF

The Tigers might have gotten a rough, draft-day, position-player equivalent to Tarik Skubal in Packard, who was snagged in the fifth round last June from East Carolina. He has one enduring quality: Packard can hit. And that left-handed bat means the Tigers will overlook defense and speed that aren’t by any means plus skills and happily make room for him somewhere in their lineup, should the bat and his considerable power develop as they surely could. Packard last summer tore it up at Connecticut and West Michigan and even had a five-game stint at Lakeland. His box-score data will be worth following, regularly, in 2020.

9. Parker Meadows, 20, 6-5, 205, OF

Much is riding on Meadows, which means 2020 would be a handy time to show he can hit Single-A pitching. He had, well, a rugged baptism during his first full season of professional baseball in 2019, with a .607 OPS at West Michigan. Rough stuff. In his defense, he was 19 years old. Meadows should grow more into his competition in 2020 and perhaps confirm why Tigers scouts liked him as a second-round pick in 2018. He can run, he has a left-handed bat, and if he hits along the lines scouts projected, he could be a desperately needed vitamin-shot for a farm system crying for his brand of tools.

10. Kody Clemens, 23, 6-1, 170, 2B

Kody Clemens

Another chap who needs a big 2020, and could get it. Clemens had more power than was evident at the Florida State League’s big parks, beginning with Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. Clemens lost a bunch of warning-track homers there ahead of a brief and bruising move to Erie. Should he flower this year at Erie, Clemens will move delectably close to Comerica Park. The Tigers all along believed they had their next everyday second basemen in Clemens when in 2018 they plucked him, in the third round, from the University of Texas. They might indeed have gotten a sweet everyday lineup cog. But he needs to prove in 2020 that he’s big-league-grade.

11. Franklin Perez, 22, 6-3, 197, RH starter

A couple of years ago, Perez was numero uno on Tigers prospects report cards. The top prize from Detroit’s deal that sent Justin Verlander to Houston in 2017, he already had shown during time on the Astros farm that Perez was headed for big-league glitter – a solid, mid-rotation (at least) plowhorse who could work innings and torment hitters. And then a man who hadn’t had any serious ills with the Astros ran into bad times with the Tigers, capped by last year’s LAT issues that knocked out most of 2019 and haven’t yet eased fully. The Tigers won’t concede. Not yet. And while it is getting late, even at 22, should Perez bump into his old form and power, the Tigers will reclaim a man talented enough to be that rotation big boy everyone thought they had snagged in 2017.

12. Beau Burrows, 23, 6-2, 215, RH starter

Just as Burrows seemed on his way to pushing for a rotation spot during 2020 spring camp, he had a slight mishap. It was known as 2019. Last season saw his earlier rising prospect graph nosedive, just as it had done during a late-summer trip to Double-A Erie in 2018. His numbers at Triple-A Toledo (5.51 ERA, 1.53 WHIP in 15 starts) last year were as ugly as some body ills that pounded him: biceps tendinitis, shoulder inflammation, as well as issues with an oblique muscle. It’s always best to wait out pitchers with size and youth and talent that could find its old groove. There has been some talk of Burrows shifting to the bullpen. The Tigers don’t care where he helps. They only want him to help. Preferably, soon.

13. Wladimir Pinto, 21, 5-11, 170, RH reliever

Chomp onto those strikeout numbers from 2019 (87 in 61.2 innings between Lakeland and Erie) and you get a sense for Pinto’s high-voltage arm and fastball. Needs to throw more strikes, for sure (31 unintentional walks in 2019), which will hint at how rapidly this Venezuelan can ponder a ticket to Detroit.

14. Angel De Jesus, 22, 6-4, 200, RH reliever

Another of those fireballers who can make late innings no fun for batters who don’t appreciate hard stuff that moves as De Jesus’ pitches tend to bore. De Jesus turns 23 on Feb. 13, so it’s time to do at Erie this season what he did a year ago at West Michigan and Lakeland, combined: 1.61 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .168 enemy batting average, 37 hits in 61.1 innings, with 85 strikeouts and 29 walks. 

15. Anthony Castro, 24, 6-2, 190, RH starter

Getting a hit against Castro is not easy shopping. He throws bullets. And those bullets tend to soar in any particular direction, which gets to the heart of Castro’s soft spot: He walks too many batters: 65 in 2019 at Erie, which is nearly as many hits (75) as he allowed in 102.1 innings. He also struck out 116, which, of course, speaks to the difficulty in centering his lightning bolts. How much progress can a man make in corralling the strike zone two months before he turns 25? It’s a longshot. But with Castro’s size and hot pitches, the Tigers will grant him extended time. 

16. Eliezer Alfonzo, 20, 5-10, 155, C

He’s a switch-hitter and perhaps not stout enough to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues. But a guy named Pudge Rodriguez – no, this is not a comparison – was an inch shorter than Alfonzo and had no serious issues while filling out. Alfonzo is a native Venezuelan who has hit just about everywhere, including during a 48-game stint last summer at Single-A Connecticut: .318 batting average, with a .342 on-base percentage. This, it should be noted, was while he was still 19. The Tigers will back-slap any young catching prospect who appears a good bet to someday see Comerica Park. Alfonzo might qualify.

17. Carlos Guzman, 21, 6-1, 185, RH starter

If the strained elbow that knocked him out in May of last season has slipped into medical history, Guzman should be back gunning down hitters in 2020 and perhaps distinguishing himself as one of the team’s farm-system pitching thoroughbreds. But, ah, elbows. They can be stubborn to heal and stay healed, which is the main concern as a talented Venezuelan approaches 2020. He was on his way, for sure, last spring at West Michigan, with a power repertoire that needs refining and more intimacy with the strike zone. But his pitches are no fun. Not when that elbow’s cooperating.

18. Wilkel Hernandez, 20, 6-3, 195, RH starter

Hernandez was part of the ransom paid to Detroit in 2017 when the Tigers sent Ian Kinsler to the Angels. They might yet get a dividend check. Hernandez turns 21 in April and will reveal at some point during this year’s Florida State League if a man with his physique and overall pitching package is in fact a serious farm-to-Comerica candidate. He has a good overall pitching parcel, with secondary pitches that compensate for a fastball that doesn’t overpower. He also had a fielding-independent ERA in 2019 of 3.26, which is why, particularly at his age, this season looms large.

19. Elvin Rodriguez, 21, 6-3, 160, RH starter

He had a constructive year at Lakeland in 2019 and now will be asked to repeat acts in 2020 at Erie and the more hitter-friendly Eastern League. Rodriguez arrived in Detroit in 2017 as partial payment for the Tigers shipping Justin Upton to the Angels. He has potential, for sure, with his body and age helping keep him in bounds as he gets ready for work at Double A. As with Hernandez, his fastball is not a laser, but his breaking pitch and overall three-pitch inventory keep him on plane.

20. Andre Lipcius, 21, 6-1, 190, 3B

Third-round pick from Tennessee in 2019 who, in the Tigers’ vision, might have helped seed a future lineup. Defensive range is as much a question as his bat, but Lipcius has power and could evolve into the kind of everyday surprise the draft’s earlier rounds often donate. Most likely, this is a prospect story that will hinge on how Lipcius handles some anticipated time in 2020 in the Florida State League. 

21. Kyle Funkhouser, 25, 6-2, 230, RH starter: He had a miserable stint at Toledo in 2019. He turns 26 in March. Time for Funkhouser to retrieve his big-league hopes.

22. Jose De La Cruz, 18, 6-1, 195, OF: Tigers paid handsomely for this Dominican Republic teen’s signature two years ago. Serious right-handed potential and power.

23. Cooper Johnson, 21, 6-foot, 215, C: He’s from the University of Mississippi and another position-player pick (sixth round) from 2019 who could help turn around the Tigers farm.

24. Adinso Reyes, 18, 6-1, 195, IF: One of those teens the Tigers two years ago made wealthy (Dominican Republic standards). Promising bat.

25. Alex Lange, 24, 6-3, 197, RH starter: First-round pick by the Cubs from Louisiana State who was part of last summer’s trade for Nick Castellanos. Might be eventual spot starter, long reliever.

26. Nolan Blackwood: 24, 6-5, 185, RH reliever: Decent chance Tigers followers will see Blackwood in Detroit in 2020. Came by way of Oakland and the Mike Fiers trade.

Outfielder Derek Hill was the Tigers' first-round draft pick in 2014.

27. Derek Hill: 24, 6-2, 195, OF: Could find his way to Comerica Park this year as a defensive whiz, especially with rosters expanding to 26 players. Hill is all glove and little bat.

28. Sergio Alcantara: 23, 5-9, 170, SS: Still a shot at making the big leagues as a back-up infielder. His arm is so powerful it‘s protected by the Second Amendment.

Outfielder Daz Cameron hit .214 in 120 games last season at Triple-A Toledo.

29. Daz Cameron: 23, 6-2, 197, CF: The problem here is self-evident: .214 batting average in 120 games last season at Toledo, with 152 strikeouts. That brand of offense simply will not play in the big leagues. 

30. Nick Quintana: 22, 5-10, 187, IF: Had a miserable time at West Michigan after the Tigers nabbed him in the second round last June, from the University of Arizona. Better times in 2020 are something of a mandate.

31. Hugh Smith: 22, 6-10, 214, RH starter: A potentially shrewd “project” pick (sixth round, 2018, Whitworth) was Smith, who keeps throttling up his fastball while essentially learning how to pitch. Worth watching.

32. Keider Montero: 19, 6-1 145, RH starter: Much to admire about Montero, who could rise to top 20 altitude in 2020. He’s a Venezuelan teen who, minus body setbacks, has a chance to flourish.

33. Roberto Campos: 16, 6-3, 200, OF: What is known about Campos is the Tigers paid a teenager from the Dominican Republic, via Cuba, a bundle ($2.8 million) to sign. What isn’t known is whether Campos has the talent befitting Detroit’s gamble. Answers yet to come.

34. Zack Hess: 22, 6-6, 219, RH reliever: He turns 23 on Feb. 25, was a seventh-round pick last June (Louisiana State) and ranks as one of those bullpen bad boys who could make it to Detroit, rapidly. Strikeout pitcher who needs to sharpen the strike zone.

Tigers pitching prospect Jason Foley is trying to recover his velocity following Tommy John surgery.

35. Jason Foley, 24, 6-4, 215, RH reliever:  The Tigers saw a 100-mph sandlot fastball in 2016 and brought him to their farm corps after Foley was ignored on Draft Day. Later blindsided by Tommy John surgery, but is back and hoping to reclaim some old heat.

36. Troy Stokes, Jr.: 23, 5-8, 182, OF: Tigers got him on waivers last September from the Brewers. He is known as “depth.” And depth has a way of showing up at Comerica Park. 

37. Jose Azocar, 23, 6-0, 185, RF: Made relative progress in 2019, and has the tools to play a strong right field. But still a longshot because of his light bat and generous thoughts on the strike zone.

38.  Martin Herrera: 19, 6-foot, 175, LH starter: He’s from Mexico and data is still raw. But left-handers get extra time, and Herrera’s one to study in 2020.

39. Wenceel Perez: 20, 5-11, 195, SS: Tigers wrote him a nice check four years ago and aren’t sure if Perez will hit with enough punch to help in Detroit. But he’s a switch-hitter who finished strong at West Michigan and would do well to keep the good stuff going.

40. Ryan Kreidler: 22, 6-4, 208, 3B: Fourth-round pick last June (UCLA) who had a modest start last summer at Connecticut. As we’ve heard before, it’s all about the bat.

41. Jack Kenley: 22, 6-foot, 185, SS: Interesting eighth-round pick last June after he played at the University of Arkansas. Offense, of course, will determine whether he’s more than a utility-infield contestant.

42. Jacob Robson: 25, 5-10, 180, CF: It helps to play center field, and to have legs. Robson’s one of those prospects who, at 25, and with a left-handed stick, could yet get a crack at Comerica.

43. Max Green: 23, 6-1, 175, LH reliever: Green is an example of how unpredictable bullpen prospects can be. He’s grown into his potential, is throwing harder, and with his pedigree (Pepperdine, eighth round, 2017), could soar.

44. Paul Richan: 22, 6-2, 200, RH reliever: Richan is one-half of last summer’s trade return on Nick Castellanos and just as easily could be Top 25 material. He’ll be at Erie in 2020, and do not rule him out for promotion.

45. Ethan DeCaster: 25, 6-3, 190, RH reliever: If looking for a strikeout, this 18th-round pick from Duke in 2018 isn’t a first choice. If seeking an out, his drop-down stuff is a nice option.

46. Danny Woodrow: 25, 5-10, 170, OF: Can lay down a bunt, has wheels, swings left-handed. Plenty of guys with his specs have had at least a taste of the big leagues.

47. Garrett Hill: 24, 6-foot, 185, RH starter: A bit advanced for his minor-league internships (Florida State League last year) and it would behoove him to show the same pitching traits this year at Erie. But good stuff from a 26th-round ticket who pitched at San Diego State. 

48. Logan Shore: 25, 6-2, 215, RH starter: Shore became Tigers property by way of the 2018 deal that sent Mike Fiers to the A’s. Probably a long reliever.

49. Will Vest: 24, 6-foot, 180, RH reliever: Made it to Toledo last season and could be in the picture there again in 2020 if some incremental progress continues. His draft background: 12th round, Stephen F. Austin, 2017.

 50. Jared Tobey: 23, 6-4, 225, LH reliever: Local lad (St. Clair) who pitched at Wayne State and who had some nice numbers (41 strikeouts, 28.2 innings) last season at West Michigan.

Best of the rest (and any of these gents, with slightly different past fortunes, could just as easily have been Top 30-50 material): Austin Bergner, RHP; Ulrich Bojarski, OF; Drew Carlton, RHP; Kerry Carpenter, OF; Brock Deatherage, OF; Cam Gibson, OF; Billy Lescher, RHP; Kingston Liniak, OF; Sam McMillan, C; Jack O’Loughlin, LHP; Daniel Pinero, 3B; Spenser Watkins, RHP

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.