Detroit Tigers' second-tier prospects could tilt rebuild toward success
The Detroit Tigers can't rely solely on third baseman Spencer Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, and outfielder Riley Greene, the No. 5 overall pick in 2019, to save them from their offensive woes.
Those two players seem destined to be part of the Tigers' future, but they won't solve all of the problems alone. The Tigers need more prospects to emerge, either as contributors in the majors within the next three years or as trade chips to land All-Star talent.
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Which means there's work to be done.
The development of some of the most notable second-tier prospects in the organization is a work in progress. The group includes second baseman Kody Clemens, who is still searching for his swing, now three years into his professional career; outfielder Parker Meadows is masterful on defense but his offense lacks consistency; and Bryant Packard, transitioning to first base, is expected to be a slugger, yet his power dissolved in 2019.
These are problems that could someday hinder the Tigers. But if solved, it could give the Tigers the flexibility to speed up their return to contention.
"Guys advance at a different timeline," Avila told the Free Press on Friday. "Some guys will advance faster than others, so that's why you can't put everybody in the same bucket."
Indeed, the Tigers have had a few prospects arrive already. Shortstop Willi Castro, infielder Isaac Paredes and outfielder Daz Cameron — who made their big-league debuts this season — should have important roles in the future, as should infielder Jeimer Candelario and outfielder Victor Reyes. Members of the 2020 draft class, namely catcher Dillon Dingler and outfielder Daniel Cabrera, aren't far behind.
Still, it's the current second-tier prospects such as Clemens, Meadows and Packard who should be pressed to increase their productivity.
The three of them are in Lakeland for instructional league games and intrasquad scrimmages through Nov. 8.
Clemens hit .288 across 52 games in 2018 after being selected in the third round of the 2018 draft. He had a .231 batting average in 2019, including a .170 mark in 13 games for Double-A Erie. He salvaged some of his development in 2020 — because the minor leagues were canceled — by playing 28 games in the Constellation Energy League.
He only hit .233, with four homers and 12 RBIs.
"I got to see those experienced guys," Clemens said Monday, explaining the average player age was close to 28 years old. "And see what I would need to handle in the future — Double-A, Triple-A, the big leagues. They know how to pitch up in the zone, down in the zone. Now I know exactly what I can handle."
Meadows started his career with a .290 batting average in 2018, after being picked in the second round, for the Rookie Gulf Coast League Tigers and Low-A Connecticut. Upon his advancement to Single-A West Michigan for 126 games in 2019, he didn't adjust to improved pitching and hit .221 with seven homers and 40 RBIs. He struck out 113 times, drawing 47 walks.
Because Meadows was drafted out of high school, Avila believes he needs more time before a long-term evaluation is made.
"He's got every tool that you can imagine," Avila said. "He runs like a gazelle, really smooth in the outfield. He's got a really good arm. We know he's got power. Now, what's the separator between a prospect and a guy who gets (to the majors)? It's the bat. You've got to hit.
"But some guys figure it out earlier than others. That's why the timeframe is different. Just because one guy (Riley Greene) looks really advanced and, 'Oh, man, this guy looks like he's gonna get there really quick. This guy? Not so much.' But you can't just say the other guy is no good. Some guys just take a little bit longer."
And then there's Packard, who smashed records at East Carolina as a sophomore in 2018 with a .406 average, 14 home runs and 50 RBIs. He had a 1.113 OPS. As a junior, he hit .358, with seven homers.
A fifth-round pick in 2019, Packard's power didn't translate in his first season. Through 39 games, he had three home runs — all for Single-A West Michigan. Six of his eight doubles came in Grand Rapids, too. He played five games for High-A Lakeland but was 2-for-17 (.118).
"Overall, I would say the season is where I wanted to be at average and quality at-bat wise," Packard told the Free Press on Tuesday. "I wanted to hit for a little bit more power. That's why in the offseason I tried to get more in shape. So far, so good."
Avila remains confident in the talent of his second- and third-tier prospects. So, if the Tigers are going to make it out of the rebuild alive and well, they will need to materialize with help from the organization's player development staff.
"The main thing here is to have enough quality prospects to play it out, and we feel, obviously, that we have a lot of quality prospects in here," Avila said. "They don't all make it, but at the end of the day, if you have just a couple of guys here or there, you're in trouble.
"When you have multiple guys, there should be a crop of guys in here that can get to the big leagues and make a difference for us. We feel that each and every one of these guys has the talent to do it."