The TigsTown Top 50 rankings are out, but each staff member will always have particular prospects they keep a close eye on. This week's roundtable question for the staff: Which member of the TigsTown Top Ten are you most excited about for this upcoming season and why?
Paul Wezner, Executive Editor
While I'm excited about a number of prospects in the top ten, the guy that has me the most intrigued that I'll be keeping a close eye on is Kyle Funkhouser. If the MLB Draft in 2015 had been held 4-6 weeks earlier, Funkhouser could have well been a top ten pick and received a hefty signing bonus - instead he had a tough close to the year, fell in the draft, elected to return to school in hopes of regaining his form, and instead struggled further, and fell all the way to the Tigers in the fourth round. There's plenty of reasons to not think that there's a top prospect there anymore, as his velocity has dropped, his control is still spotty, and his other pitches have looked more pedestrian than flashing dominance. But there was once a talented arm there, and I think there's a chance that pitcher could re-emerge, with the proper coaching, training, and a little good fortune. If it does, the Tigers might have gotten a steal in last year's fourth round, and I could see him easily skyrocketing up the charts to be among the top arms in the system, and on top of that would likely be capable of moving up the organizational ladder quickly. It's by no means a slam dunk, but he's got me intrigued that I'll be watching for signs of emergence in 2017.
Mark Anderson, Director of Scouting
There is reason to be excited about many of the TigsTown Top 10 prospects, including Manning, Burrows, Jimenez, Castro, and others, but I'm zeroed in on Derek Hill for several reasons. While Hill is going to miss a significant chunk of the 2017 season thanks to Tommy John surgery, he's still the guy that stands out as the most intriguing in the group; if for not other reason that I'm curious to see how he returns from yet another injury, but we'll get back to that in a minute. Hill is arguably the most athletic of the Top 10, though Matt Manning and JaCoby Jones can certainly make a compelling case for that title, and that raw athleticism immediately draws my attention. As a 70-grade runner and potential 70-grade defender, Hill already owns two big league tools that shine on the field every single day, which makes him an exciting prospect to watch at the lower levels of the game. All that said, after injuries have ravaged his first two full professional seasons, I am eager to see if Hill can get and stay healthy, and what type of player he looks like after a considerable amount of focused developmental time away from game action. Following Tommy John surgery a few years ago, we saw Steven Moya come back more physical and muscular, and improved in many areas of his game thanks to that focused work on the back fields while he couldn't play in games. I am anxious to see if Hill has some of the same growth in his game during this considerable time away. I don't expect him to come back bulked up and driving the ball out of the park -- that's just not his game -- but I believe we could observe a more advanced and polished offensive player when he gets back on the field; with his already solid approach having more game application, his swing tweaks having taken hold, and improved contact rates that allow his athleticism and natural ability to come through. Hill will undoubtedly come back a stronger player, physically, and that will help some of the weaknesses in his offensive game, which is just another reason to be excited about his shortened 2017 season. Derek Hill's stock has slipped and some have seemingly written him off as a prospect, but not me. As a 21-year old, Hill still owns a world of potential and has a legitimate chance to be a very good big league player; he just needs to get healthy and take advantage of the extra developmental time he's going to get this year.
Chris Brown, Staff Writer
I'm gonna go ahead and take the easy way out and say I'm most excited about seeing the top dog on the list, Matt Manning. The Tigers haven't had top ten picks much over the last decade (Jacob Turner being the last, in 2009), so I'm eager to see if Manning proves to be worthy of the ninth overall selection in 2016. He showed glimpses of his promise in his pro debut last year (49 strikeouts and just 7 walks in 29 1/3 innings), but he also gave up a surprising amount of hard contact. I'll be watching to see if he can continue to rack up strikeouts at a higher level while learning to avoid extra-base hits. I'm also curious if he can add some weight to his 6'6 frame and maintain or even gain fastball velocity in his first full pro season, and I'm interested to see what kind of progress he can make with his secondary pitches. It's probably at least one year too early to hope for a breakout season for Manning, but he has a high ceiling and there's a chance he develops into a premium, top-50 level prospect, and to me that's pretty damn exciting.