The Tigers’ season will end Sunday in Chicago.
Their future looks bright. These are 5 reasons why:
1. Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning - It’s one thing to be highly-touted prospects, another facing the reality of MLB hitters. The Tigers’ prized trio of young starting pitchers definitely made progress in 2021. After a rough beginning, Mize was the Tigers’ most effective player regardless of position. Skubal’s 4-seam fastball ranks in the top third of MLB pitchers in velocity. He struck out considerably more than a hitter per inning. Both Skubal and Mize are prone to home run balls, but each has the ability to correct their flaws. Manning is younger than Mize and Skubal, and arrived later to MLB. His development subsequently is behind, yet similar to where Mize and Skubal were after 2020. Manning’s upside is obvious.
2. A.J. Hinch and Chris Fetter - Hinch’s impact has been stunning.
The Tigers’ game preparation was outstanding on every level. There is a much better meshing of fundamentals with analytics. The Tigers have fully taken advantage of their athleticism. They have been more aggressive, but it’s properly calculated. The Tigers’ team ERA is down nearly a run-and-a-half per game with much of the same personnel and significant injuries. Yet, the Tigers’ pitch sequencing and design is markedly improved under Fetter. Mize is a primary example. What works in college and the minor leagues is much different compared to MLB. Mize needed to quit using his splitter like it’s a magic bean, and tighten up and locate his slider much better. He did, and it’s made a remarkable difference.
3. Organizational depth - In recent years, the Tigers have had little trouble making decisions regarding their 40-man roster. It’s different now. The upside is means general manager Al Avila has more pieces to make trades, real deals, not just the sell-off type. Isaac Perades is blocked at third base by Jamier Candelario. The outfield is getting crowded with Riley Greene ready to make his MLB debut. Derek Hill is a weapon because of his defense and raw speed. Daz Cameron is still relatively young and has plenty of tools. He made progress at Toledo this season, but has struggled in a growing MLB sample size. Hill and Cameron are injury prone. Willi Castro and Victor Reyes might interest clubs. This trade would be more promising were it not for injuries to pitchers Spencer Turnbull and Matthew Boyd. The Tigers’ most valuable advanced prospects are now position players, not pitchers. Michael Fulmer is entering his last season before free agency, but his value as a leverage reliever is immeasurable. He is more likely to receive a multi-year contract extension than be traded at this point.
4. Elite talent is on the way - Greene and Spencer Torkelson are capable of being among MLB’s genuine stars. Greene is a 5-tool player, whose power developed rapidly this season to plus-plus. He routinely makes highlight-reel catches and is a left-handed hitter who destroys lefty pitching.
Torkelson, although a little behind Greene on the developmental curve, has tremendous power. And he will be a plus defender at first. Greene, in particular, has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues.
5. This will be the most significant off season in many years - The Tigers aren’t a complete puzzle. Far from it. Assuming the off season isn’t stymied because of labor strife (the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires Dec.1), this could be a very active off season. The Tigers are 67-59 since beginning 9-24. Time to start spending, albeit wisely.