77ºF

Ranking the 10 current Detroit Tigers players most likely to be part of team’s long-term future

5 of team’s top 8 prospects have played in 2020

Casey Mize #12 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the Minnesota Twins on September 6, 2020 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Casey Mize #12 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the Minnesota Twins on September 6, 2020 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (2020 Getty Images)

DETROIT – Let’s face it: The Detroit Tigers' slim playoff hopes died over the weekend when they lost all three games to the Chicago White Sox.

After pulling within one game of a wild card spot, the Tigers collapsed last week, losing five of six games, including three by scores of 19-0, 12-2 and 14-0 -- all against different opponents.

It was fun to see the Tigers play meaningful baseball in September, but now, as they sit 5.5 games out of the race, our attention turns back toward the future.

Even though the Tigers won’t be playing in the postseason, 2020 will be remembered as the year the rebuild started turning into the next phase of competitive baseball in Detroit. Five of the team’s top eight preseason prospects have gotten major playing time, and several pieces for the future have emerged along the way.

Which of these players are in it for the long haul? Here’s a look at the top 10 players on the current roster, ranked based on how likely they are to be part of the team’s long-term future.

10. Daz Cameron

  • 2020 stats: 1-20, 8 K, 1 BB, 2 RBI
  • Contract status: Under team control through at least 2026 season

It’s not a surprise to see Daz Cameron struggling at the plate to begin his MLB career. He’s only 23 years old and hasn’t yet mastered Triple-A pitching, so some growing pains are expected.

He’s already showing off his elite speed and defense in the outfield, though, and his first MLB hit was a two-out, two-run knock off of Cy Young candidate Lucas Giolito. It’s easy to see why Cameron is considered one of the team’s top 10 prospects.

While he’s playing right field this season, Cameron’s future is likely in center, where he can utilize his speed. If he can cut down on the strikeouts and tap into his power, he has a chance to be a leadoff hitter someday. If not, he’ll be a bottom-of-the-order bat with some speed and power to compliment his defensive abilities.

9. Bryan Garcia

  • 2020 stats: 17.1 innings, 7 K, 6 BB, 1.56 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 1.096 WHIP
  • Contract status: Under team control through 2025 season

The Tigers have had a lot of relievers go through hot stretches this season, but none have been as consistent as Bryan Garcia.

None have been as lucky, either.

Garcia, who carried an 11.5 K/9 throughout his minor league career, is striking out less than a batter every two innings. The sample size is small, but a 7% swinging strike rate simply isn’t going to cut it. He has to get back to missing bats.

One of the team’s top 30 prospects before coming to the majors, Garcia has always been considered a potential future closer. Right now, he’s flourishing without a concrete role, but the Tigers would love to see him miss a few more bats if he’s going to stick around in this bullpen for the next half decade.

8. Spencer Turnbull

  • 2020 stats: 45.2 innings, 39 K, 27 BB, 3.94 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 1.380 WHIP
  • Contract status: Under team control through 2024 season

Spencer Turnbull was one of the most impressive pitchers in baseball during spring training and summer camp, but that hasn’t really carried over into the regular season.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Spencer Turnbull throws against the Chicago Cubs in the second inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Detroit Tigers pitcher Spencer Turnbull throws against the Chicago Cubs in the second inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

There have been flashes of greatness from Turnbull, but for the most part, his electric stuff hasn’t translated to strikeouts, or even strikes. Turnbull leads the league with 27 walks, and that has derailed both his WHIP and his ability to pitch deep into games.

The Tigers believe Turnbull is the caliber of pitcher who can stick in the rotation even as the top prospects make their way to Detroit, but to do so, he needs to throw strikes and miss bats. He can’t cut it at the MLB level with 7.7 strikeouts and 5.3 walks per nine innings.

7. Isaac Paredes

  • 2020 stats: .175/.235/.254, 17 K, 5 BB, 1 HR, 2 2B, 3 R, 6 RBI
  • Contract status: Under team control through 2026 season

When Isaac Paredes first joined the Tigers, he looked every bit the prospect who was lauded for his plate discipline and contact skills. He had the most impressive at-bats on the team, and for about a week, that translated into great numbers.

Since then, it’s been a difficult rookie season for the 21-year-old. He’s not hitting for power or drawing many walks. His defense has been passable at third base, but overall, he hasn’t been the difference-maker the Tigers hoped at the bottom of the lineup.

But as a borderline top 100 prospect who has consistently showed elite plate discipline in the minors, Paredes will remain a part of the team’s plans going forward. He should have a more regular job in 2021, and then fans might get a better idea of what he can do.

6. Gregory Soto

  • 2020 stats: 20.1 innings, 28 K, 8 BB, 3.10 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 1.033 WHIP
  • Contract status: Under team control through 2025 season

There was a time a few weeks ago when Gregory Soto would have been near the top of this list, but he’s run into his share of struggles after striking out nearly every batter he faced early in the season.

Still, Soto has been strong overall, striking out 12.4 batters per nine with a low WHIP. His underlying numbers back up the success, as does the eye test. Soto can get up to 100 mph with his fastball, and his slider is devastating when he keeps it down.

He doesn’t look quite as comfortable in the ninth inning, but Soto is more valuable to the Tigers outside the closer’s role, anyway. Ron Gardenhire should continue to put him in high-leverage situations and let him get the Tigers out of jams.

Right now, Soto looks like the best bet to remain a member of the Tigers' late inning relief corps for years to come.

5. Victor Reyes

  • 2020 stats: .301/.335/.449, 35 K, 7 BB, 4 HR, 7 2B, 2 3B, 26 R, 13 RBI, 6/7 SB
  • Contract status: Under team control through 2024 season

The Tigers deserve credit for identifying and developing Victor Reyes into an above-average MLB player, and he looks like he could stick around in the outfield for a long time.

Reyes isn’t an ideal candidate for the leadoff spot because he doesn’t draw many walks, but he’s been solid there because he racks up plenty of hits and almost always puts the ball in play.

Victor Reyes #22 of the Detroit Tigers is congratulated by Jonathan Schoop #8 and Grayson Greiner #17 following a home run against the Milwaukee Brewers during the sixth inning at Miller Park on September 01, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Victor Reyes #22 of the Detroit Tigers is congratulated by Jonathan Schoop #8 and Grayson Greiner #17 following a home run against the Milwaukee Brewers during the sixth inning at Miller Park on September 01, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (2020 Getty Images)

Power isn’t a strength for Reyes, but he has four home runs and 13 extra-base hits in 156 at-bats, good enough to push his slugging percentage up to .449. He’s a plus runner and has been successful on six of seven stolen base attempts so far.

If some of the Tigers' highly ranked outfield prospects pan out, Reyes seems like a good candidate to move to a corner outfield spot and bat in the bottom third of a really good lineup. That’s an excellent return for someone the Tigers picked up at no cost.

4. Jeimer Candelario

  • 2020 stats: .325/.385/.571, 38 K, 14 BB, 7 HR, 11 2B, 3 3B, 27 R, 28 RBI
  • Contract status: Under team control through 2023 season

There are two reasons Candelario isn’t No. 3 on this list: He’s only under team control for three more years and he needs to show this shortened season isn’t a fluke.

Even though Candelario was awful at the plate last season -- to the point he was demoted to Triple-A -- this year’s resurgence isn’t exactly out of the blue. Candelario has a top 100 prospect pedigree and plenty of minor league success to back up what he’s doing at age 26.

Candelario isn’t flourishing because of the masterful plate discipline he had as a prospect, but he’s gotten his strikeouts under control and is hitting enough to make up for a lower walk rate. The power -- seven home runs and 21 extra-base hits in 154 at-bats -- has been a nice bonus.

Thanks to a hot stretch that earned him American League Player of the Week honors, Candelario carries a .956 OPS into the final two weeks of the season. He’ll have to validate these results in a 162-game season next year, but all the numbers point to him being a middle-of-the-order bat for the Tigers.

3. Willi Castro

  • 2020 stats: .337/.370/.512, 25 K, 4 BB, 3 HR, 2 2B, 2 3B, 11 R, 13 RBI
  • Contract status: Under team control through 2025 season

It’s not a surprise that the guy who did nothing but hit in the minor leagues has done the same since he finally got an opportunity on the MLB roster.

Willi Castro has found success with the Tigers the same way he did in the minors: Racking up singles with the occasional extra-base hit. Castro has hit some home runs in big moments, but for the most part, he’s been getting on base and scoring runs.

Defense looks like it could be the biggest problem for Castro, and the Tigers might have to move him away from shortstop to keep his bat in the lineup. Once Jonathan Schoop has hit free agency this offseason, Castro should be able to take over at second base or move to third base if Paredes goes to second.

No matter where he plays, the Tigers need to have Castro’s combination of line-drive contact, speed and sneaky power in the lineup.

2. Tarik Skubal

  • 2020 stats: 17.1 innings, 17 K, 8 BB, 7.27 ERA, 5.80 FIP, 1.500 WHIP
  • Contract status: Under team control through 2026 season

So far, 2020 hasn’t been a flattering debut for Tarik Skubal, who rose into the sport’s top 50 prospects after striking out 82 batters in 42.1 innings with Double-A Erie last season.

Skubal has been hittable -- 18 hits and 14 earned runs in 17.1 innings -- and struggled with his walk-to-strikeout rate -- eight free passes and just 17 strikeouts -- in five starts. His swinging strike rate is solid at 11%, but he hasn’t been attacking the zone like he did in the minors.

Tarik Skubal #87 of the Detroit Tigers in action against the Houston Astros during a spring training baseball game at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on March 9, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Astros defeated the Tigers 2-1.
Tarik Skubal #87 of the Detroit Tigers in action against the Houston Astros during a spring training baseball game at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on March 9, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Astros defeated the Tigers 2-1. (2020 Getty Images)

Perhaps it’s the strange buildup to the 2020 season, the fact that he’s facing MLB hitters or both, but Skubal is still trying to find the groove that made him such an enticing prospect. He’s in the rotation for the long haul now, and the Tigers are counting on that rotation to be the strength of the franchise.

Skubal showed promise with a five-inning, two-run effort and a six-inning, six-strikeout, one-run effort against the Minnesota Twins in back-to-back starts, but he’s still searching for consistency. It’s worth noting that all five of his starts have come against playoff teams, including three against the daunting Twins and Chicago White Sox lineups.

1. Casey Mize

  • 2020 stats: 20 innings, 21 K, 8 BB, 5.85 ERA, 4.85 FIP, 1.400 WHIP
  • Contract status: Under team control through 2026 season

The top two names on this list are pretty much interchangeable. Both Casey Mize and Skubal were top prospects when they got promoted, and both have shown flashes of brilliance while struggling overall.

The strikeout rate has been stronger for Mize, but his walks are slightly elevated from the elite levels he showed in college and the minor leagues. Mize is averaging only four innings per start, which is unusual because efficiency was his calling card as a prospect.

In his last start against the dangerous White Sox lineup, Mize carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before finishing with five strikeouts, one hit and two walks in 5.1 innings.

There’s a reason Mize is the No. 1 right-handed pitching prospect in baseball, and many of those high-profile pitchers have struggled in their first taste of big league action. This year should serve as a springboard for Mize to improve during the offseason and take steps forward heading into 2021.


About the Author: