Three “Facts” Concerning The Tigers Farm System

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Most baseball blogs like to publish prospect rankings during the offseason because baseball nerds like rankings, hate the offseason, and love prognosticating about the future. New English D has never really been about the farm system or prospecting, and will continue that tradition, but the farm system in general deserves a little attention from time to time.

TigsTown is currently rolling out their rankings (I participated in those) and other prospect sites are doing the same this winter. Rankings will be right on average but almost always wrong on individual players. It’s the nature of the beast. Trying to order the future contributions of teenagers who are trying to hit a tiny little sphere is challenging.

To that end, I wanted to cover the farm in a slightly different way. I’m going to present the “facts” I think are most worth knowing about the Tigers farm system. I don’t really have a strong opinion about the 9th best prospect versus the 10th best and it doesn’t really matter. You can think of players in tiers, conditioned on their potential and their floor.

These views are the aggregation of things I’ve picked from speaking with other writers, material I’ve picked up second hand from lots of places, some discussions with people working in baseball, and my own observations. I’m going to kind of blend those things together so as to 1) avoid identifying anyone who may not have been able to go on the record and 2) protect content that is behind someone else’s paywall. It’s either “people I’ve talked to who I trust” or me, depending.

The Tigers System Is Very Bad

The consensus among people I spoke with agree with the conventional wisdom, the talent in the Tigers’ farm system is among the bottom 3-5 in all of baseball. I don’t really think there’s any way to argue with that belief. Sure, you could probably say that they might be the 6th worst instead of 3rd worst, but their best prospects are nowhere near elite status and the depth in pretty absent in the lower tiers.

This is not to say that the Tigers front office is bad at handling the farm, it just means that they utilize the pieces that they have in other ways. They frequently trade prospects and are pretty aggressive when it comes to promotions. It’s also a reflection of their success over the last decade and their efforts to sign top level free agents. They simply don’t get a lot of high draft picks and when they do, it’s not uncommon for them to trade them for more urgent upgrades.

The system is relatively empty, but that’s not really a story about bad drafting and development (that’s for someone with more inside knowledge to discuss). I didn’t speak with anyone who thought the team has a ton of minor league talent, but players are assets and the Tigers have generally found a way to get a lot of value from their farm system via trades.

Derek Hill Is The Team’s Best Prospect, And He’s Not A Great Prospect

While Baseball America’s rankings don’t agree, there was pretty clear consensus among the people I spoke with (myself included) that Derek Hill is the Tigers #1 prospect. There wasn’t really a question. No one made a case for anyone else. He can run and has the ability to be a quality defender in center field. Will he hit? That’s the question, of course, but there’s a sense that he should hit well enough to let the defense and wheels do the heavy lifting. Might he develop some power and become a force at the plate? Don’t rule it out, but the hitting ability he needs to be a regular seems entirely within the realm of possibilities, as far as prospect analysis goes.

But that doesn’t mean Hill is any kind of star like Kris Bryant or Addison Russell or Mookie Betts. There was a touch of disagreement on this point, but overall, the feeling was that Hill was right around fringes of a Top 100 prospects list. Some said Moya wasn’t far behind and some put a good amount of space between Hill and the second best guy (150-200 range). No one I talked to said Hill was certainly a Top 100 guy. Everyone sort of said, “he’s in that range but doesn’t have to be on a list.”

There are 30 MLB teams and the Tigers might not have a single prospect among the 100 best in the game. Not a death sentence, but a clear articulation of the situation. It’s not like the Tigers have a couple solid prospects and then nothing. Even their best guys aren’t very attractive.

Steven Moya Is A Controversial Figure

There will be prospect rankings that put Moya right behind Hill and ones that have him in the back half of the top 10. That doesn’t seem like a huge gulf, but remember that the Tigers farm system starts in the 100 overall range and falls off quickly. The difference between 2 and 8 in the Tigers system is probably like 140 and 340 (?). That’s pretty meaningful.

The question with Moya is going to be he ability to either cut down on strikeouts or maintain his ability to do damage with them as part of his game. For some, the potential is enough to push him to the top of the list. Frankly, there just isn’t enough competition in the system to beat a guy who has the ability to swat 35 bombs while playing a capable corner. Alternatively, there are a lot of people who don’t think he can actually get the power to show up in games at the MLB level.

It’s a critical question, but one we’re just not going to be able to answer until he’s tested there. Guys with this kind of strikeout problem don’t tend to survive, but those who do are able to do so because they destroy those pitches they touch. It’s just a question about which side of the distribution you think he’ll fall.

I’d personally vote him near the top because there’s really no one else in the system who has any real probability of being an impact player. Sure, Moya might flame out, but there’s some chance he turns into a really good player and a little more chance that he can be a really solid platoon player. He might bust, but almost everyone in the system is going to top out as org guys or role players.

***

This isn’t an encouraging piece, but it’s also not worth crying over. The Tigers system is rough but it’s been rough for a long time and they keep making it work. When you can afford to spend the way they can spend, you don’t need to churn out as many top flight prospects. It’s better to have a good system than not, but it’s not a death sentence, it’s just an expensive way to live. And it can change very quickly if you’re willing to commit to a rebuild.

In other words, the system’s probably not going to get a ton better for a few years.

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