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Inbox: Which prospects are ready to step up?

Beat reporter Jason Beck answers Tigers fans' questions
@beckjason
October 7, 2019

While baseball’s postseason heats up, the Tigers’ offseason is already underway. And with that, the questions of how the Tigers can begin to climb out from their 114 losses in 2019 begin to take on more urgency. The Tigers’ front office, manager and most of the coaching staff are set.

While baseball’s postseason heats up, the Tigers’ offseason is already underway. And with that, the questions of how the Tigers can begin to climb out from their 114 losses in 2019 begin to take on more urgency. The Tigers’ front office, manager and most of the coaching staff are set. Now it’s about the players -- current ones developing, new ones coming in.

On to the questions:

Willi Castro has the switch-hitting bat and hitting potential to stick in the middle infield; the question is whether he does so at shortstop or second base. The Tigers strongly believe Jake Rogers has the receiving skills to be the catcher for the next great Tigers pitching staff, and the rapport he established with fellow top 10 prospects Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Casey Mize at Double-A Erie backed it up. The question with Rogers, of course, comes down to whether he’ll hit enough to hold down a regular spot in the Tigers’ lineup for the long haul. His 14-for-112 batting line, with seven extra-base hits, shows the battle he has been fighting at the plate for the last two years. Dawel Lugo’s drastic late-season improvement at third base in a regular role has rekindled some of his prospect standing, though his walk and power rates need to improve in turn.

The Tigers have tried to put an emphasis on plate discipline in the farm system, with mixed results. Isaac Parades was one of the better hitters in the Minor Leagues at not chasing outside the strike zone, as well as connecting when swinging at pitches inside the zone. Daz Cameron’s offensive struggles at Triple-A Toledo came with the best walk rate of any full season in his pro career, drawing a .330 on-base percentage despite a .214 batting average. Bryant Packard walked 21 times in 39 games in his late-season stint in the system. Still, there were plenty of low rates that hindered other Tigers prospects, including Derek Hill and Jose Azocar at Erie.

Though general manager Al Avila hasn’t talked about the offseason yet, manager Ron Gardenhire has acknowledged they’ve discussed adding a veteran run producer. Gardenhire has also acknowledged they’re not likely to stray above budget to do so. While adding a top-level free agent is unlikely, bringing in someone from the next tier or a non-tendered player is a more likely route. A first base/DH type would make the most sense given the projected lineup, but a corner outfielder could also be a fit.

Not this offseason, by all indications. Will see what happens with the Tigers’ payroll going forward once Jordan Zimmermann’s contract is off the books next winter.

Not so long ago, the 2020 season looked like the year Miguel Cabrera would be on milestone watch, both for 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Now, while it’s not out of the realm of possibility, it’s looking like a stretch unless he has a really impressive bounce-back season in terms of health and production. He’s 185 hits away from 3,000 and 23 home runs from 500. MLive.com did an interesting study on this, and projected both milestones being reached in the summer of ‘21; I think both could be earlier in that season.

Current members of 3,000-hit club

Cabrera put up his most at-bats and games played in a season since 2016, many of those games came on a balky right knee that required a change to his swing to put weight on his healthier left knee. That right knee is never going to be what it was, but Cabrera hopes to get it strong enough to get closer to his normal swing, if not play first base a little bit again. He’s also looking to lose weight to take pressure off his legs. How successful he is at both of those this winter should have a major determination in how close to he gets to milestone territory next year. The irony is that while a lighter frame could help him accumulate more hits next year, it could cost him in home runs.

For all the comparisons between the hitter Cabrera is now and the hitter he used to be, Cabrera was the Tigers’ best hitter for a good stretch of this season, including after the Nicholas Castellanos trade. Unless the Tigers make a big move, Cabrera will go into next season as their best hitter as well. He would not carry that same standing for most other clubs, given his age and predominant DH role going forward. Even if the Tigers could trade him, they’d likely have to eat a large portion of his remaining contract to do so, which would mitigate any potential payroll savings. So that payroll space, for practical purposes, is taken.

They did tie for the Major League lead in triples with 41, their most since 2015. They tied for fifth among American League clubs in doubles with 292, their most since ‘14. So there’s that.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.