While some in the mainstream media attempt to peddle a story that paints the Tigers farm system as having a glutton of future Major League regulars, and even a few stars, the reality is in stark contrast to that storyline. The Tigers system is sorely lacking in impact talent and even lacks marginal depth at many positions.
At the top of the Tigers list rests a first-round pick, Derek Hill, and while he is talented, he comes with the questions of any non-premium high school bat. Backing Hill up on the list are a couple of pitchers with considerable question marks and #3/#4 ceilings on a good day, and an outfielder with tremendous raw power and enormous holes in the rest of his offensive game. None of those top four prospects approach the national scene as potential Top 100 prospects in the game, and there is a sound argument to be made that none of them would make the next fifty either.
In fairness, a team can have a quality minor league system without impact talent. Teams don’t need to have players like Javier Baez, Byron Buxton, Noah Syndergaard, and other premium level talents to be viewed as having a decent system. I may prefer organizations that offer such high-end talent, but it is not an absolute necessity, and that is important to admit at this juncture.
That said, without impact talent, a team must boast quality depth of players that should reach and perform at the Major League level, and that depth should extend across multiple positions. I would contend that the Tigers farm system does not offer this quality either.
"With an absence of impact talent and no significant depth, the Tigers farm system lacks the qualities necessary to be ranked anywhere but the bottom five in baseball."
When you extend beyond the top four or five prospects in the Tigers system, those same four or five prospects that would only constitute depth in most quality systems now represent the only players with a realistic chance to be average regulars at the big league level. The Tigers depth consists of players with fringe profiles.
James McCann, the Tigers #5 prospect, is widely considered a platoon or backup catcher. Devon Travis, now ranked sixth, projects as a second division player. Hernan Perez, ranked #9, projects more to a utility role. Drew VerHagen, the #7 prospect, is likely a back end starter if it all comes together. The teens of the Tigers prospect rankings lay claim to a host of potential relievers and more fringe big league prospects. Depth of quality prospects does not exist in my view.
With an absence of impact talent and no significant depth, the Tigers farm system lacks the qualities necessary to be ranked anywhere but the bottom five in baseball, and there is a case to be made that their minor league system is one of the two or three worst or thinnest in baseball. It really is that bad, folks.
Even those other systems residing near the bottom of the league’s farm system rankings offer an occasional impact talent. The Brewers – who also generally lack any blatantly obvious Top 100 prospects, much like the Tigers – at least offer boom-or-bust talents like Jimmy Nelson, Tyrone Taylor, Devin Williams, and Jorge Lopez. That’s a bottom tier system that at least has some upside.
The Atlanta Braves – widely considered to own a system ranked in the bottom third off the league -- have only the occasional impact talent on the farm at this time, but they offer up one consensus Top 50 arm in Lucas Sims, and a couple of potential legitimate regulars like Jose Peraza and another high-end arm in Mauricio Cabrera.
Even the New York Yankees, the kings of the over-hyped farm system, offer enough talent to out-pace the Tigers. With bats like Gary Sanchez and Luis Torrens, and a top-ranked arm like Luis Severino, the Yanks have some talent that could impact the Major Leagues.
The three examples cited above are just a sampling of the clubs that live in the bottom third of the typical farm system rankings, and the Tigers can’t compare to any of those three clubs, let alone many of the others living in this range. The Tigers farm system just doesn’t stack up.
The Tigers have long made due with a farm system that was considered among the bottom third in baseball. They have excelled at finding takers for admired but flawed prospects to help bolster their Major League club. That is one of the roles of the minor league system; to help the big club win and the Tigers have done well in this regard.
However, at some point the Tigers are going to need to find some talent at the minor league level, whether that comes from the draft, the Venezuelan or Dominican pipeline, or through other acquisitions. They are going to need to find some talent to help augment the Major League roster full of large salaries, or they will need talent to go out and get more big league help via trade. The current farm system does not appear to be capable of accomplishing that task; hence the reason the club was forced to flip their fifth starter and starting center fielder for an upgrade at the deadline, rather than doling out prospects.
Regardless of what some storylines would like you to believe, the Tigers are not busting at the seams with future Major League regulars or impact talents. Instead, they own among the smallest collections of legitimate prospect talent across the game today. This fact likely will not hurt them in their quest for a World Series crown this year or next, but the truth should not be ignored or distorted.