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Tigers' top prospects may end up at Toledo after all, on the taxi squad

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Tigers general manager Al Avila has until 3 p.m. Sunday to submit a 60-man roster to the league — a roster that will eventually comprise both the active roster (30 players to start the season) and a taxi squad.

The question, of course, was whether the Tigers’ quartet of high-end pitching prospects — Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal and Alex Faedo — will be on that 60-man roster. The answer is yes.

Tigers pitching prospect Casey Mize.

“They are part of our 60,” manager Ron Gardenhire said during a Zoom video conference Wednesday that included general manager Al Avila and Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd. “We want them working. As we go along, they might end up on the taxi squad. We have a lot of plans and they go in a lot of different ways. But the organization hasn’t drafted these guys and brought them to this point to all of a sudden say, ‘OK, go home.’

“They are going to be part of this.”

How big a part is a story that will play out over the next three months. Had this season not been interrupted by the pandemic and shortened further by two and a half months of labor negotiations, all four would have spent the bulk of the season pitching at Triple-A Toledo.

At least two of them, possibly more, would likely have made their big-league debuts in August or September.

“There are some young guys we planned to bring up and get exposure this season,” Avila said. “That possibility still remains the same as we move forward. ... But now with just 60 games, it might be more difficult to get them that experience.

More: As 'spring' training shifts to Comerica Park, Tigers' enthusiasm tempered by positive COVID-19 tests

“We will just play it a day, a week, a month at a time and see where it takes us. But the best answer is, we’re going to play it safe and try to get them as much experience as we can.”

The pitching prospects aren’t the only ones impacted here. Shortstop Willi Castro, third baseman Isaac Paredes, catcher Jake Rogers and center fielder Daz Cameron all are expected to be on the taxi squad. Potentially, too, are younger prospects like second baseman Kody Clemens and the newest Tiger, first overall draft pick, third baseman Spencer Torkelson.

“We are still contemplating adding some younger guys to the list,” Avila said. “But I can’t fathom bringing up a guy who played A-ball and have him play at the Major League level in a 60-game season. For me, that wouldn’t work.”

Spencer Torkelson

Where will they play?

So what happens to those players assigned to the taxi squad once the regular season gets under way? How will they stay ready and how will the younger players develop?

The short answer: Intersquad games. Lot of them. At Fifth Third Field in Toledo.

“The good thing about it, it’s a high level of talent,” Avila said. “Playing against each other like that, it’s good competition. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to build up innings or build up at-bats like they would in a regular minor league season.

“Across the board, every club is going to have a big challenge. There’s nothing we can do about that.”

The taxi squad will essentially serve two purposes. One is to provide game-ready players to supplement the active roster in the case of injury or poor performance. Three taxi squad players, one being a catcher, will be allowed to travel with the big-league club.

Secondly, though, the taxi squad will serve as a lay-over development center for the prospects.

“We’re hoping they can get something done so we can prepare them and then in the fall we can expand that development,” Avila said.

More: Even in shortened season, Vegas sees the Tigers being terrible again

There's been discussion about two possible fall leagues where younger players can play actual games — an enhanced version the Instructional League and a modified Arizona Fall League.

“In conversations I’ve had with other GMs and Major League Baseball, every club would send a full team to the Arizona Fall League,” Avila said. “The GMs I talked to would really like that. It allows you to send a full team, not just a handful of players.

“Also, an enlarged Instructional League where they would play more games. In the past, the emphasis was on reps and instruction. Now, with the lack of games, we want more games.”

Avila said if he had his preference, the upper-tiered prospects (Double-A, High-A) would play in Arizona while those still in A-ball or lower would play in the Instructional League.

“But that’s all talk and concept right now,” he said. “It’s not set in stone.”

Daniel Cabrera

Tigers sign draft pick Cabrera

Avila announced Wednesday that LSU outfielder Daniel Cabrera, the 62nd overall pick in the MLB Draft, had signed. According to MLB Network’s Jim Callis, Cabrera signed for $1.2 million, slightly above the $1.1 million slot value.

The only remaining draftee unsigned is Torkelson, but it’s clear the Tigers are close on him. If the Tigers sign him at slot value ($8.416 million), they will exceed the bonus pool but not incur the loss of a draft pick.

cmccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky