When the Tigers took a nose dive in 2015, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Trading away assets mid-season ultimately allowed them to reel in some notable prospects. And just about all of them, led by 2016 American League Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer, are already making an impact in some capacity on the big league club.
The last-place finish also earned them a top 10 protected draft pick for the 2016 MLB Draft, which they used to select right-hander Matt Manning out of Sheldon High School in Sacramento. And already, Manning is proving to be a high-profile prospect in the organization.
MLB.com is currently releasing preseason lists of the top prospects for all 30 major league clubs. These are a way of showing what players in the system fans should be paying more attention to than others, some of which could be making an impact perhaps this season.
For the Tigers, Manning is heading the list this year. The 19-year-old son of former professional basketball player Rich Manning enters the 2017 campaign as the No. 1 prospect in the Detroit farm system.
After being drafted and signing his professional contract, Manning suited up and made 10 starts for Detroit’s Rookie League team down in the Gulf Coast League. In those two handfuls of starts, the hard-throwing teenager registered a 3.99 ERA while posting a K:BB ratio of nearly 7:1 in just over 29 innings of work (46 K, 7 BB).
Manning will likely debut the 2017 season at the short-season A Level of the minors up in Connecticut, but could make the extra jump and start at Class-A West Michigan.
It’s important to note that while collective crop of players in the bushes for Detroit is gradually improving each season, it is still regarded as a relatively weak minor league system. After Manning, this is how the list looks:
- Matt Manning, RHP
- Christin Stewart, OF
- Beau Burrows, RHP
- Tyler Alexander, LHP
- Joe Jimenez, RHP
- Kyle Funkhouser, RHP
- Michael Gerber, OF
- Derek Hill, OF
- JaCoby Jones, OF
- Dixon Machado, SS
This list is intriguing for a number of reasons. Christin Stewart in particular is one who continues to slowly climb through the system. Stewart finished the 2016 season last year at Double-A in just his second professional season. He saw a huge spike in home runs, hitting 10 in 2015 and tripling that last year. Overall in his 199 minor league games played, he’s hitting .261 with an OPS approaching .900.
It’s a good bet Stewart will begin this year at Double-A. He played in just 24 games for Erie and hit only .218, but did club six of his 24 homers at that level. Depending on how things shake out, he could end up starting in Toledo.
Also on this list is highly-regarded and hard-throwing reliever Joe Jimenez, who has been virtually lights out in his professional career thus far. He posted a sparkling 1.51 ERA combined at three levels last season, right on par with his career 1.59 ERA in 141.1 IP. He’s likely the next true prospect to debut for the Tigers in 2017, whether it be for a brief stint or for good.
It’s interesting to see JaCoby Jones and Dixon Machado round out the top 10. The former is competing for the starting job in center field, while the latter is fighting for a spot on the 25-man roster, or his tenure with the Tigers could be jeopardy, as Machado is out of options.
For a complete look at the list of top Tigers prospects entering 2017, click here.
**Player stats and information courtesy of Baseball-Reference