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TOP 10 PROSPECTS
|1. Matt Manning, rhp|
|2. Christin Stewart, of|
|3. Beau Burrows, rhp|
|4. Tyler Alexander, lhp|
|5. Kyle Funkhouser, rhp|
|6. JaCoby Jones, of/3b|
|7. Mike Gerber, of|
|8. Adam Ravenelle, rhp|
|9. Steven Moya, of|
|10. Derek Hill, of|
Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has never been shy about going all out to bring a title to Detroit. He authorized his general managers, first Dave Dombrowski and now Al Avila, to hand out nine-figure contracts to Prince Fielder, Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton in recent years, and he allowed Dombrowski to spin a passel of prospects, including Andrew Miller, to the Marlins for franchise cornerstone Miguel Cabrera back in December 2007.
The Tigers’ 2016 payroll checked in at a shade less than $195 million, behind only the Yankees and Dodgers as baseball’s most expensive roster. Detroit has ranked among the top five every year since 2013, but after four straight playoff appearances, including two berths in the American League Championship Series, the Tigers missed the postseason for the second straight season in 2016. They missed out on a wild-card berth after losing the final two games of the season at lowly Atlanta.
The Tigers appear headed toward a crossroads. Avila announced in October his intention to move the team toward a younger, less costly roster, telling reporters, “We want to run the organization without having to go over the means of the organization.”
The Tigers moved into the offseason with $176 million already committed for 2017, including $28 million each for Cabrera and ace Justin Verlander, who bounced back at age 33 with a Cy Young Award-caliber season. Those players performed, but the previous offseason’s big-ticket acquisitions, Upton (six years, $132.75 million) and Zimmermann (five years, $110 million), both proved streaky, and will have to perform better to live up to those deals.
If Avila is to expedite his team’s transformation, he and his front office lieutenants will have to get creative in the trade market to supplement a relatively barren farm system. As a blueprint, the team might look to its own deal of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes at the 2015 trade deadline. That trade netted the Tigers righthander Michael Fulmer from the Mets, who put in a strong rookie season in 2016. The team also flipped ace lefthander David Price to the Blue Jays for a pair of promising lefthanders in Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, who combined for 31 starts in 2016.
Boyd, Fulmer and Norris should join Verlander and Zimmernann to provide a strong rotation. Nick Castellanos broke out offensively as a 24-year-old, and provides balance behind lineup linchpins Ian Kinsler, Cabrera and Upton.
So the Tigers have a nucleus to retool around.
Help from the farm system, however, is a long way off. Righthander Matt Manning, the 2016 first-round pick, is far and away the top prospect but is years away from the big leagues. Avila will have to be aggressive to find complements to the Tigers’ current core.
After years of ruling the roost in the AL Central, the Tigers have seen the Royals and Indians surge ahead of them. They’ll have to act fast to return to consistent contention.
1. Matt Manning, rhp |
Born: Jan. 28, 1998. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS—Sacramento, 2016 (1st round). Signed by: Scott Cerny.
|Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.|
Background: For the No. 9 overall pick in the 2016 draft, Manning is still relatively green when it comes to baseball. He was a two-sport star at Sheldon High in Sacramento and has basketball in his blood. His father Rich spent parts of two seasons in the NBA and his brother Ryan plays collegiately with Air Force. Matt averaged 19.4 points during his senior season and was committed to play two sports at Loyola Marymount. The Tigers, however, swayed him from that commitment by handing him a bonus of $3,505,800. That number ranks as the fourth-highest in franchise history behind Jacob Turner, Rick Porcello and Andrew Miller. He was hit a little bit in his first taste of pro ball, but also ranked second in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League with 14.1 strikeouts per nine innings; 46 of his 88 outs came via strikeouts. He ranked as the circuit’s No. 2 prospect, behind only Mickey Moniak, whom the Phillies chose as the No. 1 overall pick.
Scouting Report: As a basketball standout, Manning comes equipped with long levers and an athletic frame. Those traits help him on the mound, too, where he shows more coordination in his delivery than other pitchers with long arms and legs. His delivery can get a touch across his body at times, but he also creates deception and gets enough extension to the point that one evaluator said it looked like the 6-foot-6 righthander was shaking hands with his catcher. And although the Tigers believe Manning has plenty of projection left in his frame, there are evaluators outside the organization who think his body is nearly maxed out in its present state. Manning’s fastball sat at 96-97 mph during the summer but was clocked at 93-94 with hints of the upper 90s and life through the zone during instructional league. He’s backs up his fastball with a spike curveball and a changeup that both have potential but also need refinement. Tigers coaches have seen rotation and sharpness from Manning’s breaking ball as well as the ability to land it in the zone or bury it for a chase pitch. He will cast his curveball at times and needs to develop overall consistency with it. He had his changeup in high school but, as is the case with a lot of big-time high school arms, didn’t need to use it very often because his fastball and curveball were enough to overpower prep hitters. He throws his changeup with the same arm speed and slot as his fastball, but it can get too firm at times and lose effectiveness. The Tigers believe that once Manning learns to harness his changeup and impart consistent separation from his fastball, it has the potential to be an average to above-average pitch, and Tigers coaches were pleased with its progress toward the end of the instructional league. Team officials also have spoken highly about how teachable Manning is and how well he takes to coaching.
The Future: Like 2015 first-rounder Beau Burrows, another high-end prep righthander, Manning probably will begin his first full season at low Class A West Michigan. With the Whitecaps, Manning will continue to gain innings and work on overall refinement. He has a ceiling of a No. 2 starter.
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