FOX Sports MLB Analyst
FOX Sports’ 26-and-under power rankings are a new twist on classic prospect ratings. Yes, prospects are important, but with all the game-changing young talent already available, farming systems alone cannot tell the whole story. So let’s take a deep dive into each one MLB club, ranking them all by players in an organization who start their season 26 or younger, from the bigs to the farm. Every weekday until March 24th, we’ll be counting down from last to first.
number 19 Detroit Tigers
Total score for 26 and under: 15 (out of 30)
Tied with the Angels for MLB’s longest postseason drought, the Tigers have been desperately trying to get back on track for several years. After plummeting to embarrassing depths with 114 losses in 2019, a 77-win campaign in 2021 seemed to at least suggest progress toward contention. With a new wave of talent slated for 2022, Detroit opted to flex its once-substantial financial muscle last winter and sign two big-money free agents in Javier Baez and Eduardo Rodríguez in an effort to bolster an apparent promising listed The rebuilding days seemed to be behind them.
Instead, almost everything that could have gone wrong did. A rash of injuries on the mound and some brutal performance at the plate combined to send Detroit crashing back into the American League basement. That harsh reality check led in part to the hiring in September of new CEO Scott Harris. Harris and his group are now tasked with refreshing an organization that was once a powerhouse, but has since fallen behind in many facets of what makes an MLB team successful, from the player acquisition to player development to effective analytics implementation and much, much more. .
Many of the young players we were all excited about a year or so ago are still in place, just with a lot more uncertainty around them. That leaves Detroit roughly in the middle of the pack in terms of under-26 talent. Let’s take a closer look.
Major League Position Players: 5 (of 10)
In addition to the Báez and Rodriguez signings, much of Detroit’s promise heading into 2022 rested on having two consensus top-10 prospects in all of baseball seemingly ready to step in and contribute: Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene.
Torkelson, a scoring prodigy who torched Arizona State’s college ranks to historic degrees en route to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, seemed unable to miss what was coming his way. looks to the prospect of success and has broken camp with the team since spring training. For the first time in years, Tork suddenly stopped tracking, and a .577 OPS in July sent him back to Triple-A for a hard reset. He eventually returned to Detroit for the home stretch, but it was too late to salvage a dismal rookie year. There’s still hope for Tork, but right-handed first basemen need to mash right away to stick in the big leagues — the production better start showing up in Detroit sooner rather than later.
Greene’s Major League debut was delayed by an injury in spring training, but he found more success than Tork as a rookie. No demotion was necessary following his mid-June call-up, as Greene averaged roughly a league-high 99 OPS+ in 418 plate appearances. Most importantly, and possibly surprisingly, he played stellar defense in center field, providing more value beyond the bat he’s been known for since his high school days. While his play didn’t generate Rookie of the Year talk, it was still a promising performance for someone who was only 21 years old for much of the season. It’s not hard to imagine a big jump for Greene in 2023.
The Tigers’ best hope for a homegrown star position player in the near future may still be Tork or Greene, but they’ve quietly assembled a solid under-26 depth at the big league level. One of Harris’ first big moves as GM was to trade All-Star closer Gregory Soto for Matt Vierling and Nick Maton, two key supporting pieces during the Phillies’ run to the World Series, each of whom could realistically unlock greater offensive production with more consistency. game time
Watch for outfielder Kerry Carpenter, who zoomed through the minors since being drafted in the 19th round in 2019: His 128 OPS+ was first among 16 Tigers hitters to receive more than 100 plate appearances in 2022. Akil Baddoo may have fallen flat after a sensational start to his career in 2021, but he’s still only 24 and has the physical tools to carve out a bench or section role.
Major League Pitchers: 5 (of 10)
As they ascended through the minors together, the triumvirate of Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal was hailed by Tigers fans and neutral observers alike as a Big Three of sorts. In theory, having three highly talented arms at the same time would at least give you an excellent chance to produce a certified top-line starter. Unfortunately, developing established big league pitching prospects is never as simple as it seems, and the Tigers have learned that the hard way.
Former No. 1 Mize went down with Tommy John last June after making just two starts, while lefty Skubal succumbed to flexor surgery in August after a promising first half. Neither will be available to start 2023, with the hope, but not guaranteed, of returning sometime in the second half.
Manning was reasonably effective in the 12 starts he managed to make in 2022, but he also dealt with intermittent shoulder issues throughout the year and struggled mightily to replicate the swing-and-miss stuff he showed in the minors. This does not mean that these three arms are doomed to irrelevance; it’s unclear what to expect moving forward, especially in the near future due to injury issues. The talent is still there for all three to make an impact, but enthusiasm needs to be tempered.
Beyond the oft-discussed trio, Beau Brieske and Joey Wentz experienced varying degrees of success in starting roles in 2022; the lefty Wentz offers more upside while Brieske projects as a useful depth arm. Mason Englert, a Rule 5 pick from Texas after a solid minor league season, is another under-26 arm to watch. He’ll look to stick in the Tigers’ bullpen all season as the type of swingman who relies more on deception and the depth of his repertoire than any overpowering pitching.
Potential position players: 2 (of 5)
It wasn’t quite Tork levels of epic collegiate production, but second baseman Jace Jung’s .328/.468/.647 career line at Texas Tech was too much for the Tigers to pass up on the No. 12 in 2022. draft. He got off to a slow start in high A last year, but still offers exciting upside with the bat, especially if he can hold center defensively.
Outfielder Colt Keith, Detroit’s fifth-round pick out of high school in 2020, has jumped up several industry top 100 prospect lists after a 2022 breakout, though he missed a large part of the season with a shoulder injury. He’s grown considerably since his rookie days, but the bat appears to be the real deal, a rather surprising development considering many teams were debating whether to take him as a pitcher or hitter coming out of high school. Keith, along with 2021 second-rounder Izaac Pacheco, offer serious offensive upside, though they’re likely still several years away from playing for Comerica.
As for those who could help the Tigers a little sooner, look out for Justyn-Henry Malloy, who was acquired from Atlanta last winter after posting an .862 OPS in 133 MiLB games in 2022 amid hitting Triple-A and followed it up with a strong stint in the Arizona Fall League. He has played third base and outfield in his professional career and could certainly make his debut in 2023.
Potential pitchers: 3 (of 5)
The trajectories of Mize/Manning/Skubal may serve as cautionary tales, but there are some real arms he’ll like in this system, from A ball to triple-A pitchers knocking on the big league door. Righty Wilmer Flores, the younger brother of Giants outfielder Wilmer Flores, has bounced around the minors since signing as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona college after the 2020 draft. Combine a heater mid-90s with one of the best curveballs in the minors, striking out 130 batters in 103.1 minor league innings in 2022, mostly in Double-A. He just turned 22 and could be an impact contributor in no time, albeit in a multi-inning relief role. Reese Olson, acquired in a smart trade from Milwaukee for reliever Daniel Norris, also spent 2022 humiliating Double-A hitters with a whopping 168 strikeouts in 119.2 innings for the Erie SeaWolves.
While Olson and Flores seem like big developmental wins from relative obscurity, the real upside in 2023 belongs to Detroit’s top two picks in the 2021 draft: right-handers Jackson Jobe and Ty Madden. Madden performed better in 2022, but had less of a jump on the competition coming out of the University of Texas compared to the Oklahoma high school ranks where Jobe entered pro ball. Still, it was a promising debut for the Texan, who fell to the 32nd overall pick after being a top-10 pick. Fellow high school prospect and first-round pick Andrew Painter did, but his athletic delivery and electric arsenal are still a lot to dream about as he enters his age-20 season in 2023.
Jordan Shusterman is half of it @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has covered baseball throughout his adult life, mostly for MLB.com, DAZN and The Ringer. He’s a Mariners fan who lives in the Eastern time zone, which means he loves a good 10pm first pitch. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.
More baseball from FOX Sports:
FOX Sports Top Stories:
Get more from Major League Baseball Follow your favorites for information on games, news and more