Detroit — There is a reason Tigers general manager Al Avila has been reluctant to publicly commit to naming the organization’s top prospects to the 60-man player pool.
While his desire is certainly to provide an environment for the likes of Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal and Isaac Paredes, and even younger prospects like Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson, to develop, sticking them on the taxi squad isn’t that cut and dried.
“You have to have enough guys on the roster that can get you through a season,” Avila said. “From an injury standpoint, our history over the last five years of how many players we used to get through a season — last year we used the most (53) — and that was 162 games.
“But that was just basic injuries, there was no COVID-19 virus. This is a whole different situation. You need more players because it’s shorter preparation and because of a possible breakout (of the virus).”
What he’s saying is, it may not be prudent to load up the taxi squad with prospects who aren’t fully MLB-ready, especially with the rules that govern the taxi squad. Namely, players who are not on the Tigers’ 40-man roster cannot be removed from the taxi squad unless they are released, traded or placed on the COVID-19 sick list.
Prospects such as Mize, Manning, Skubal, Alex Faedo, Greene and Torkelson are not on the Tigers’ 40-man roster. Nor are pitchers Dario Agrazal, Hector Santiago, Nick Ramirez and Shao-Ching Chiang, or position players Jordy Mercer, Brandon Dixon and Jorge Bonifacio — all of whom are expected to play a role in the Tigers’ season.
The taxi squad, in effect, becomes the Tigers’ Triple-A team, only there’s no flexibility, no lower rungs of the farm system from which to bring players up or to dump under-performing players to. So, Avila has to maintain a balance, making sure there are enough seasoned players who can contribute when called to the big leagues, as well as providing a development center for the top prospects.
“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. We are still contemplating adding some younger guys to the list.
"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.”
Service time is not an issue. Players will not accrue service time on the taxi squad — even the three players that teams are permitted to carry on the road. Service time is accrued only by players on the active big-league roster.
“Service time, at this point, it’s not about that,” Avila said. “It’s about how to get them better, how to get them more experience. And 60 games, short and fast, development time is not going to be as good as we want it to be. We are going to try to get them as much work as we can and take advantage of the off-season, too.”
Avila’s deadline for submitting the 60-man player pool is Sunday. Before that, he also has to make a decision on the 40-man roster to accommodate the return of Michael Fulmer from the 60-day injured list.
Prior to the shutdown, nine 40-man players had already been cut and either sent back to minor-league camp or reassigned: pitchers Kyle Funkhouser, Beau Burrows, John Schreiber, Anthony Castro, Franklin Perez, infielders Parades and Sergio Alcantara and outfielders Daz Cameron and Derek Hill.
Rule 5 draftee Rony Garcia, a right-handed pitcher, could also be in a vulnerable spot given the shortness of the season.
Major League Baseball’s freeze on player transactions will be lifted at noon Friday. Until then, here is one man’s guess at what the Tigers’ 60-man player pool might look like (NR: not on the 40-man roster):
►Starters (12): Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, Ivan Nova, Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Norris, Michael Fulmer, Tyler Alexander, Dario Agrazal (NR), Casey Mize (NR), Matt Manning (NR), Tarik Skubal (NR), Alex Faedo (NR).
►Relievers (15): Joe Jimenez, Buck Farmer, Bryan Garcia, Rony Garcia, Gregory Soto, Jose Cisnero, David McKay, John Schreiber, Anthony Castro, Franklin Perez, Shao-Ching Chiang (NR), Nick Ramirez (NR), Hector Santiago (NR), Kyle Funkhouser (NR), Beau Burrows (NR).
►Austin Romine, Grayson Greiner, Eric Haase, Jake Rogers, Kade Scivicque (NR).
►Miguel Cabrera (DH), C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Niko Goodrum, Jeimer Candelario, Harold Castro, Jordy Mercer (NR), Brandon Dixon (NR), Willi Castro, Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, Isaac Paredes, Spencer Torkleson (NR), Kody Clemens (NR), Daniel Pinero (NR), Frank Schwindel (NR).
►JaCoby Jones, Christin Stewart, Victor Reyes, Cameron Maybin, Travis Demeritte, Derek Hill, Troy Stokes, Jr., Jacob Robson (NR), Danny Woodrow (NR), Jorge Bonifacio (NR), Jose Azocar (NR), Riley Greene (NR).