Detroit Tigers' minor league teams placed in new leagues; 2 RHPs signed to minors deals
New leagues for a fewer number of minor league teams have been set in place by MLB for the 2021 season.
All 120 minor league teams — including the Detroit Tigers affiliated Triple-A Toledo, Double-A Erie, High-A West Michigan and Low-A Lakeland — officially accepted invitations Friday to become professional development league license holders.
The invitations were given in December, cutting the number of minor league squads from 162 to 120 under the new structure. The minors were canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of MLB's realignment, major league teams are now closer to their higher-level affiliates. That's why West Michigan and Lakeland switched levels. (Previously, Lakeland was High-A and West Michigan — in Grand Rapids — was Low-A.)
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"We are excited to unveil this new model, which not only provides a pipeline to the Majors, but continues the Minor Leagues’ tradition of entertaining millions of families in hundreds of communities," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a released statement. "In modernizing our Minor League system, we prioritized the qualities that make the Minor Leagues such an integral part of our game while strengthening how we develop professional athletes on and off the field.
"We look forward to demonstrating the best of our game throughout local communities, supporting all those who are working hard to grow the sport, and sharing unrivaled technology and resources with minor league teams and players."
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This realignment comes with new leagues for the Tigers' affiliates:
Toledo Mud Hens: Triple-A East, Midwest Division.
Erie SeaWolves: Double-A Northeast, Southwest Division.
West Michigan Whitecaps: High-A Central, East Division.
Lakeland Flying Tigers: Low-A Southeast, West Division.
The Tigers still control two rookie-level squads in Lakeland and two teams in the Dominican Summer League, but those leagues weren't restructured. Detroit's organization has been affiliated with Toledo since 1987, Erie since 2001, West Michigan since 1997 and Lakeland since 1963.
MLB's new structure for the minors will "create many improvements to the experience and lifestyle" of minor league players. The salary increases will range from 38-72% for the 2021 season. The facility standards are modernized and better suited for the athletes — to be included in the realignment, minor league clubs had to meet ballpark standards.
The working conditions are expected to improve, along with reduced in-season travel for players and coaches because of the geographical alignment.
Expect third baseman Spencer Torkelson — the No. 1 overall pick in 2020 — to make his professional debut in West Michigan, while top outfield prospect Riley Greene should start in Erie. If right-hander Matt Manning is unable to make the big-league roster out of spring training, he will head to Toledo.
Torkelson is the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.
Two new righties
On Friday, the Tigers signed two right-handed pitchers to minor-league contracts, the team announced: 28-year-old Brad Markey and 26-year-old Pedro Payano. Neither received invitations to big-league spring training.
Payano reached the majors with the Texas Rangers in 2019, registering a 5.73 ERA in 22 innings across six games (four starts), but he had 17 strikeouts compared to 15 walks, leading to a rough 1.864 WHIP. Most of his 2019 campaign was spent at the Double-A and Triple-A levels.
He latched onto the New York Mets in January 2020 as a non-roster invite to spring training but was released in September.
This offseason, Payano made improvements in the Dominican Winter League for Toros del Este, playing alongside Tigers infielder Jeimer Candelario. He made 11 relief appearances and posted a 3.48 ERA, 1.065 WHIP, nine strikeouts and six walks across 10⅓ innings.
Markey was picked in the 14th round of the 2014 draft by the Chicago Cubs and has spent six years in the minors. He was released by the Cubs in June 2019 but quickly joined the Cincinnati Reds. He elected free agency in November 2019.
During the 2019 season, Markey pitched 91 innings across 27 games (14 starts) between Double-A Tennessee (Cubs), Triple-A Iowa (Cubs), Double-A Chattanooga (Reds) and Triple-A Louisville (Reds). He combined for a 6.33 ERA, 62 strikeouts and 27 walks.
Between Chicago's Double-A and Triple-A squads in 2018, he registered a 4.45 ERA in 56⅔ innings. He struck out 47 batters and walked 14 that year through 33 games (two starts).