Rogers, Castro Pacing Tigers' Resurgence
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Double-A Erie finished 77-61 in the Eastern League in 2019, making the SeaWolves the shining stars of the Tigers farm system. None of the franchise's other eight Minor League teams finished above .500. In the midst of a rebuild, the parent club will be looking for contributions from young players during the next several seasons.
The good news for Tigers fans is that the system has up-and-comers who will be everyday players. Jake Rogers and Willi Castro were plucked from Triple-A Toledo for their Major League debuts in 2019. It is safe to assume there soon will be a few more following in their footsteps. On the horizon are three from MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list -- right-handed hurlers Casey Mize (No. 7) and Matt Manning (No. 27) as well as lefty Tarik Skubal (No. 74).
"We know it's a rough road right now," Tigers director of player development Dave Owen said. "We are young, but guys are coming. Being patient is a hard thing for people. These kids will develop. It may not be in 2020, but we've got to keep focus. It's hard when that pendulum swings and you've got to get some younger guys. We've been aggressive with our analytic team getting built, and good days are in front of us."
Tigers Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Jake Rogers, Toledo (48 games), Erie (28 games), Detroit (35 games): With his mesmerizing power potential and ability to throw out runners, Rogers was one of the best backstops to spend significant time in the Minors this year. In 76 games over the upper levels, Detroit's seventh-ranked prospect batted .250/.361/.484 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs, earning an invitation to the All-Star Futures Game. He erased 25 of 47 would-be basestealers in the Minor Leagues before being called to The Show on July 30.
"Jake is a premier catch-and-throw guy," Owen said. "He has advanced skills behind the plate, calls a good game and works well with the pitchers. He has to gain consistency at the plate. He has some power, but he still has a ways to go to be consistent with the bat."
First baseman -- Josh Lester, Erie (106 games), Toledo (18 games): The fifth-year pro began the season with the SeaWolves, but by the end of April got his first taste of Triple-A, where he drove in 14 runs in 72 at-bats. Across the two levels, he cranked 19 long balls with 68 RBIs (both second in the system) and 59 runs while posting a slash line of .225/.297/.410. Selected in the 13th round in 2015, he tallied 47 extra-base hits, including 27 doubles and a .707 OPS.
Second baseman -- Kody Eaves, Erie (112 games), Toledo (11 games): This marked the fourth straight season in which Eaves has spent considerable time at Double-A. Selected in the 16th round of the 2012 Draft by the Angels, the left-handed hitter showed some pop, clubbing a career-best 16 homers with a system-high 70 RBIs and scoring 60 times while batting .242/.306/.437.
Third baseman -- Isaac Paredes, Erie (127 games): The 20-year-old continues to improve at the plate -- he had a career-high 135 hits with 13 homers among 37 extra-base hits -- and he committed only eight errors in 160 chances (for a .952 fielding percentage) at the hot corner. The Futures Game selection was even better over 32 games at shortstop, with four errors in 122 chances (.967). The fifth-ranked Tigers prospect struck out just 61 times in 478 at-bats and walked a career-best 57 times while earning EL midseason and end-of-season All-Star nods.
"This kid ... when he gets in the box, he just looks like a hitter," Owen noted. "He has a great feel, puts the bat to the ball; he has barrel skills. Defensively, he has a good internal clock. He looks forward to playing every day. I think he's going to be a good big leaguer. Look at a guy like Miguel Cabrera. He wants to play every day. Isaac is like that."
Shortstop -- Willi Castro, Toledo (119 games), Detroit (30 games): The No. 11 Tigers prospect tied his single-season high with 11 dingers and drove in a career-high 62 runs with the Mud Hens before being promoted to the Major Leagues on Aug. 24. The International League All-Star boasted a system-best 217 total bases and was one of only two Tigers players to eclipse the plateau (Jose Azocar, 201). Castro and Paredes shared the organization's Players of the Year honor.
Video: Castro hits inside-the-park homer
"He's a great kid," Owen said. "Willi is athletic, can play shortstop, switch-hitter, good hands, arm. He can impact a game. He's another who was called up this year, and I feel like his best days are in front of him."
Mikie Mahtook, Toledo (98 games), Detroit (nine games): A first-round pick of the Rays in 2011, the 29-year-old clubbed a system-best 21 homers (tied for 12th-most in the IL) and drove in 56 runs with 14 stolen bases. Mahtook began the season with Detroit before being outrighted to Toledo, where he had a base knock in 12 of the first 15 games, including a trio of three-hit efforts. He ended the season batting .260/.357/.492.
Video: Mahtook's jumping grab for Toledo
Jose Azocar, Erie (129 games): In a system dotted with highly touted outfielders, Azocar made a case for being one to watch. The midseason All-Star led the EL circuit with 144 hits, including 21 doubles, three triples and a career-high 10 homers while scoring 65 runs and driving in 58. For good measure, he also swiped 10 bags while batting .286/.317/.399 and garnered the league's Rookie of the Year accolades.
"Jose is an exciting player. He's got some flair," Owen said. "He can do a lot -- run, throw, play all three outfield positions. He had a very good year, and I think he'll get traction off that. He's still a young kid, but I'm excited about his progress in 2019 and to see how he builds off that in 2020."
Jacob Robson, Toledo (112 games): The club's 27th-ranked prospect paced the IL with 25 stolen bases, tied for third-most in the system, while scoring 61 times and driving in a career-best 52 runs. He also stroked nine dingers and batted .267, fifth among Detroit Minor Leaguers with at least 400 plate appearances.
MiLB.com Organization All-Stars: Team by Team
"He is one of those that when you say 'ballplayer,' you think of Jake," Owen said. "He's a gamer. He wants to win. He has plus speed, can play all three outfield positions, can show some pop with the bat. I think Jake is hitting a good part of his career. He understands where he is. I see good things for Jake."
Honorable mention: Riley Greene, West Michigan (24 games), Connecticut (24 games), GSL Tigers West (nine games): The No. 5 overall pick in this year's Draft, Greene got off to an as-advertised start by batting .271/.347/.403 with five homers, 34 runs, 28 RBIs and 13 multiple-hit efforts in 57 games across three levels.
"Wow, this kid has a bright future," Owens said. "He came in as a young high school kid and did really well. He is mature for an 18-year-old. He has a special gift. He's a baseball guy. He's been improving in the outfield and he knows what to do with a piece of wood in his hand. Riley has the opportunity to do some special things in this game."
Utility player -- Adinso Reyes, DSL Tigers (62 games): Reyes' bat speed, even more so than his 50-grade power, will be crucial to the success of MLB.com's No. 23 international prospect in 2018. In his first professional season, the 17-year-old infielder batted .331/.379/.508 with 28 extra-base hits -- including seven big flies, 48 RBIs and 44 runs.
"He's an athletic kid, and obviously, as we've seen over the recent time in the big leagues, there are some physical shortstops," Tigers international operations director Tom Moore told MLB.com. "For us, the athleticism is what makes us think he's going to play at short. And we're really excited about the bat speed. He hits to all fields and with power to all fields."
Offseason MiLB include
Honorable mention: Brady Policelli, Lakeland (123 games): Policelli continued to improve two years removed from missing most of the 2017 season with two broken bones and a dislocated thumb, hitting .249/.331/.408 with a career-high 11 homers, 18 stolen bases, 61 runs and 54 RBIs.
Right-handed starter -- Matt Manning, Erie (24 games): It's easy to get excited about the potential exhibited by several of the big arms in the Tigers system. Manning, the second-ranked Tigers prospect, managed to raise already lofty expectations this season. The Futures Game selection and EL midseason All-Star matched Toledo's Tim Adleman and Lakeland's Elvin Rodriguez for the system lead with a career-high 11 wins and posted a 2.56 ERA and 0.980 WHIP, tied for tops in the circuit with Harrisburg's Mario Sanchez. The 2106 first-rounder allowed seven homers in 133 2/3 innings while whiffing 148, the second highest total on the circuit, en route to being named the league's Pitcher of the Year and the organization's top hurler.
"Matt is another that came out of high school as a raw talent," Owens noted. "The last couple years have been nice development years. This guy has the potential to be a dominant force. He's growing into his body. He's such a professional, knows where he wants to go and has a plan. He has three plus pitches -- fastball, curve and change -- and the kid has a really bright future."
Left-handed starter -- Tarik Skubal, Lakeland (15 games), Erie (nine games): The No. 4 Tigers prospect paced the system with 178 strikeouts -- due in large part to nine double-digit outings in 122 2/3 frames, averaging a gaudy 13.1 whiffs per nine. Chosen as a Florida State League midseason All-Star, the 22-year-old southpaw went 4-5 with a 2.58 ERA across 15 Class A Advanced starts. After his July 5 promotion to Double-A, he finished up 2-3 with a 2.13 ERA in nine appearances.
"What a great year this kid had," Owen said. "He's poised. He's a left-handed pitcher, and again, just another man with a great demeanor. He's really poised for his age. If you give him time and experience, we'll have fun watching him."
Relief pitcher -- Drew Carlton, Erie (45 games): The 32nd-round selection in 2017 was 4-3 with a system-high 19 saves and a 1.46 ERA, tops among Tigers hurlers with at least 25 innings. Across 68 frames, he allowed 11 earned runs -- and five of those came on April 20. The EL midseason All-Star posted a 3-1 record with a 1.29 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP after the break as batters hit .165 against the 24-year-old right-hander in the second half. Carlton walked only 18 batters in 68 innings while punching out 65.
"This dude fills up the strike zone -- attack, attack, attack," Owen said. "He doesn't have stuff that will blow you away. He doesn't have the velo of Mize, or Manning, or Skubal. People like velo. What Drew's done, he's got the job done. There's just something about this guy. He just gets batters out, so you keep throwing him out there."
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