A Closer Look: Detroit Tigers

After checking out the high end of the AL Central last time out, we turn our attention a little lower to the rebuilding Tigers who are still expected to be in the bottom two of the division but will start showing some fruits of their laborious rebuild.



Will Matt Manning and Casey Mize debut in 2020?

Assuming a measure of health, it looks like both young arms will make their MLB debuts in 2020. They aren’t going to break camp with the club, but they should be up in the summer sometime. Manning has usurped Mize, the former #1 overall pick, on our Tigers prospect list, though both are given 60 Future Value grades. A tremendous effort at Double-A saw Manning refine his three-pitch mix and once again shave down his walk rate, yielding a healthy 28% K rate and 7% BB rate in 133.7 innings. He’ll start the season at Triple-A and be at the ready for a call up as long as he continues to pitch like this.

Mize certainly hasn’t done anything to fall behind Manning, toting an even deeper arsenal with four pitches (fastball, slider, cutter, splitter) and incredible command and control of the full repertoire. He was tracking toward a massive season, including a no-hitter, but was slowed down the stretch with a shoulder injury which adds to a lengthening injury history as Eric and Kiley highlighted in their write up of the 23-year old righty. I feel like he could go to Triple-A to start 2019 even after just 78.7 innings at Double-A, but even if he goes back there, it shouldn’t be long before he joins Manning in Toledo.

I’d need a sizable reserve roster (at least 5 spots) and separate injury list spots (NFBC, for example, just has seven reserves, including hurt players) to draft either of them in March and I’d probably only do so in 15+ team mixers and of course AL-Only leagues. The pair is definitely in play for Draft Champions 50-round leagues. I wrote more about the dynamic duo in my Re-Draft Prospects piece.

Is Miguel Cabrera done?

Miggy is a shell of himself which isn’t exactly a surprise for someone in their mid-30s built like him, but it has been tough to watch. The first sign of a falloff was 2017 when he hit just 16 HR in 529 PA, but it was just after an excellent 38 HR season the year before, so it didn’t feel like the beginning of the end. Then in 2018 he hit just 3 HR but played only 38 games so there was the injury excuse. “Oh when Miggy is healthy in 2019, he’ll rake again, we’re not that far removed from 38 bombs!”

He hit 12 in 549 PA.

Groin, hamstring, and knee injuries over the last three years have robbed Cabrera of his power base. The lower half generates power and once it goes, it may never come back.

So back to our original question, is he done?

The optimist would point to the fact that he has some read in Baseball Savant profile with an 82nd percentile Hard Hit rate, 72nd percentile Exit Velo, and a nice 69th percentile expected Batting Average. The pessimist would counter by pointing out that those are all significantly lower than where he was in 2016 when he clubbed the 38 homers and finished in the 99th-100th percentile of each category.

The Hard Hit rate is 6 points lower at 45%, the Exit Velo is down 4 ticks to 90 mph, and the xBA is 65 points below his ’16 rate at .273! His Barrel Rate dipped 10 points to 6%. His profile was blood red and the Barrel Rate was 4 points higher in 2017 when he first started to slip and he hasn’t rebounded from that so how can we really be excited about this subdued version of 2017?

Miguel Cabrera is done as a starting fantasy baseball 1B and really shouldn’t be more than deep league corner infielder at best. Aging sucks.

Who is the most draftable hitter on this team?

There can be pockets of fantasy upside swimming in the bogs of baseball’s worst offenses, especially among the solid-average guys who are locks for 600+ PA of time in the top half of their order (like fantasy stud of 2020 Brian Anderson!), but this Tigers offense scored a league-worst 582 runs last year, one of just three teams to sit under 600 in the last five years (’18 Marlins, ’15 Braves for those who care). The biggest issue when drafting from the dregs is R/RBI production.

You’re generally looking to generate 75-80 R/RBI from each of your 14 hitter spots and while you will no doubt roster guys exceeding those thresholds early on, you can cut into your surplus with a rabbit for SBs and a AVG-only asset to cover a Joey Gallo type before you even consider your good-player-on-a-bad-team guys.

The Tigers had one guy notch even 60 runs (Niko Goodrum, 61) and absolutely no one reach that mark for RBIs (Cabrera, 59). In fairness, they also didn’t have anyone reach even 550 PA let alone 600 (Goodrum, 549) so if you extrapolate their 12 guys to log at least 275 PA, they would’ve had two with 75+ R and two with 70+ RBI, paced by Ronny Rodriguez’s 88 as he somehow drove in 43 in 294 PA with a 72 wRC+.

But that was 2019.

Despite being in the throes of a lengthy rebuild, the Tigers stepped into the market to strengthen their dreadful offense by lifting the right side of the Twins infield for themselves after inking C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop to identical 1-year, $6 million-dollar deals. The pair instantly inject a much-needed power boost into the lineup and stand as the two best players to draft from this offense.

Their presence should also enhance Goodrum as he’ll have a real chance at 80+ runs if he does indeed bat 2nd as we have him listed and can stay healthy enough to log his first 600+ PA season. They could also be primed to drive in this next guy if he finds his way in the top half of the lineup…


Cameron Maybin

We currently have him penciled in for 8th, but I can’t fathom a single reason why JaCoby Jones and his career .276 OBP should bat 1st over Maybin and his .324 mark. Plus, he’s been at a .340 clip over 2049 PA since 2015, including a 2016 stint in Detroit when he primarily batted 1st or 2nd. Maybin quietly dropped a 127 wRC+ with the Yankees last year in 269 PA including 11 HR and 9 SB.

A calf injury ate a month of his season adding to a long list of IL stints and he was relegated to a fill-in role upon his return. When playing he enjoyed the fruits of the bouncy ball with a career-best .209 ISO and those aforementioned 11 HR. It took 13 seasons and eight teams (including the Tigers twice) for a team to finally encourage the remarkably well built Maybin to use that size at the dish:

“It’s a different mindset for me. I’m trying to drive the ball now,” he said. “That was one thing I did appreciate about the Yankees. They’re like, ‘You’re 6-4, 210 pounds. We want to see drive the ball out of the park and the drive the ball in the gap.’ And I was like, ‘OK. (Teams) told me to hit the ball on the ground before, so that’s what I tried to do, you know? I like to be coachable. You tell me what you want me to do, I’ll give my best effort.’”

He added 11 points to his flyball rate, up to a career-high 39%, along with legitimate upticks in his Exit Velo, Launch Angle, Hard Hit rate, and Barrel Rate. In short, the power surge was steeped in legitimate change that makes it valid should he continue those changes in 2020.

Health remains remarkably elusive which both makes him a deep league consideration at best right now and keeps his price incredibly cheap. There is a full season 20-20 waiting to happen here, but there’s no world where I can pretend to expect a full season so take in your 50-round Draft Champions leagues or with your last pick in an AL-Only league and see how Spring Training goes. If he is installed in the top half of the order, he becomes 15-team viable and then we just ride it out as long as his health allows.


Lol… how could someone be worse than 2019?!


This new category is replacing “A Move to Make”. I asked for suggestions on what this could be and got this idea from commenter jdelaney. It’s broad and offers a nice avenue to highlight someone or something that might not fit in the other categories. I’m still open to suggestions if you think you’ve got a winner, but I wanted to try this one out!

Draft Joe Jiménez

One of the most busted myths of fantasy baseball is that closers on bad teams will get tons of saves because all of the team’s wins will be close games. There’s no need to overly complicate things: more wins equal more save opportunities. That said, I’m still interested in Jiménez.

Once he took over the ninth for Shane Greene on July 31st, he was tied for the 9th-most saves with 9 and fanned 30% of the batters he faced. It wasn’t all rainbows and cupcakes as he also had a 1.45 WHIP and 1.9 HR/9. There’s something here with this 25-year old flamethrower and I’ll take his strong bat-missing ability and stranglehold on the job to supplement my saves count even if the ratios are mediocre. I’d gladly take a high-3.00s ERA and mid-1.20s WHIP as long as I get 30 saves and a 30% K rate.


Hitter: Willi Castro

The Tigers are light on hitting prospects in general right now and Castro only ranked 14th on the Tigers list, but he has a chance at some real playing time, especially with the flexibility of Goodrum. Tabbed as a young Freddy Galvis in his write up, his glove carries the profile. He did hit 11 HR with 17 SB in 525 PA at Triple-A last year and with a full season of time (500+ PA), he could post a double-double in the majors.

Pitcher: Tarik Skubal

A pop-up prospect last year, Skubal posted a 37% K rate across High- and Double-A. He hasn’t quite joined the ranks of Manning and Mize, but the 23-year old lefty has a plus fastball and supplements it with a host average offerings, the slider showing the most promise of the three (also has a curve and changeup). He’ll open the year in Triple-A with the two superstuds creating quite a rotation in Toledo and from there he’s just a call away. Be ready to take a shot on him in all formats when he’s called up because the strikeout upside could make him an all-formats asset.

UP NEXT: Arizona Diamondbacks

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

65 wins, you think, Paul?

J. T.
2 years ago
Reply to  dcholcomb

That sounds fair. I would be fine if they could just get under 100 losses. Then next season you see a significant jump when Mize and Manning earn a permanent spot in the rotation.

David Kleinmember
2 years ago
Reply to  dcholcomb

With that offense? The pitching staff will def be better as the season goes along but there’s little help in the minors offensively coming soon

2 years ago
Reply to  David Klein

Worst offense in MLB last year but the additions of Jonathan Schoop, CJ Cron, Austin Romine, and Cameron Maybin may bring them up to 28th.