The Detroit Tigers may have an MLB regular coming up soon.
It’s prospect ranking season. Over the last few days MLB Pipeline has begun dropping their Top 10 lists at each position. The Detroit Tigers had two prospects on the list at second base. Jace Jung came in at number three on the list. Detroit drafted Jung 12th overall in the 2022 MLB Draft and played in 30 games for the West Michigan Whitecaps. Wenceel Perez, who the Tigers added to their 40-man roster this off-season, came in at number 10.
There was one representative at 3rd base, and that was Colt Keith, who comes in at number eight. Over at Tigers Minor League Report we have him listed as our number one prospect because of what he is doing at such a young age with his bat. But more on him later.
For prospects lists like this, or the recent Top 100 released by Baseball America, it’s a collaborative process based on the collected thoughts of evaluators, writers, and others in the industry. Sometimes fans get frustrated when their team lacks players on these lists. For example, Jackson Jobe was the lone Tigers prospect on the Baseball America list, coming in at number 83. It’s nice he made the top 100, but two players who the Tigers could have selected, in Marcelo Mayer (No.10) and Jordan Lawlar (No.13), are ranked considerably higher.
It’s easy to see why, in some fans’ eyes, that could provoke anger. But Al Avila, David Chadd, and Scott Pleis, who was the director of scouting for the Tigers, are now gone. Ryan Garko, the Vice President of Player Personnel, along with his staff, has been responsible for new techniques and training. Players like Garrett Hill (26th round) and Beau Brieske (27th round) came up and contributed last year, which is uncommon with Detroit. And this season Tigers fans may see contributions from, at last, a few position prospects.
INF Wenceel Perez
The switch-hitting Perez started his season at West Michigan with a vengeance. He put himself back on the prospect map, producing a slash line of .286/.364/.529 and a wRC+ of 143. He displayed some power with 9 home runs, 13 doubles, and 5 triples. Prior to 2022, Perez’s power would show in flashes, but in 2022, his isolated power went over .200. His production continued at Double-A Erie.
Perez, who just turned 23, change his approach at the plate. I wrote how he joined the launch angle revolution back in June. In 2022 Perez had the 8th highest fly ball rate in the system (40.8%), and his ground ball rate has dropped to 36.3%, which was the 7th lowest in the system among batters with at least 140 plate appearances. In 2021, he hit 1.94 ground balls for every fly ball. Last year, that number dropped to 0.81 with West Michigan.
That trend kept going at Erie as he dropped his ground ball another three percent. He raised his line drive and fly ball rates while maintaining his solid plate discipline, which is huge. If he can make changes like that, it bodes well for Detroit at the major league level. The two areas of concern is his defense at second and his back. He missed half of August and September with back issues. He had 12 errors in 516 innings last season, with throwing being an issue.
Depending on how the Tigers want to position their infield, Perez may earn a call-up by July.
RHP Brendan White
Another late round draft pick (26th round) out of Siena College in New York, White was added to the 40-man roster in December. The Tigers have been developing relievers well lately, and White seems ready to be their next arm. He was clutch down the stretch, posting an ERA of 0.74 in August and 1.74 in September, helping Erie clinch a post-season birth and a ticket to the championship series.
White features a fastball with good riding action and a slider, which has been called the second best in the organization (behind Jobe). His ability to generate spin on the pitch and locate it effectively will be a big benefit for the bullpen. The fastball may need some fine tuning, but Scott Harris is a fan of his already.
INF Colt Keith
Wilmer Flores, the Detroit Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2022, could be the player mentioned here. But I chose Colt Keith because he, along with Izaac Pacheco, give the Tigers two young high-upside hitters who were drafted out of high school. Keith in the 5th round in 2020, and Pacheco in the 2nd round in 2021. Outside of Nick Castellanos and Riley Greene, Detroit hasn’t had many high school hitters work out in the higher rounds.
Keith, in his first season at High-A, was one of just three Tigers in the entire system to hit over .300 with a slash line of .301/.370/.544 in 193 at-bats. He hit with power and showed a good eye at the plate, walking at a 10% clip. Oh, and in the Arizona Fall League, after missing a majority of the season with a shoulder injury, he batted .344/.463/.541. He turned some heads with his ability to hit the ball to any part of the ballpark.
The development of Wilmer Flores is worth noting. But for anyone who pays attention to the Detroit Tigers minor league system, seeing multiple young infielders with the ability to be big-league regulars is like spotting a shooting star. Rare and exciting.