So, the big question of course, where does this group stand? Well, if you rank all 30 organizations and fit the Tigers in, they're definitely not high. Realistically, they are probably somewhere in the bottom third.
Now, part of this is skewed because of the high number of youngsters the Tigers currently have on the big league roster. Players like Wil Ledezma, Jeremy Bonderman and Omar Infante are all high caliber prospects that no longer qualify for the list, but may still hold prospect status if they were in an organization where there wasn't a dire need to rush them to fill holes on the big league roster.
However, no matter how you look at it right now, the Tiger farm system still isn't very strong – and the Tiger front office, especially President/CEO Dave Dombrowski, is well aware of it. The first step was obviously Dombrowski's replacement of Greg Smith as the Scouting Director – but there will definitely be more changes on the way. The decision not to bring back Gary Green and Rick Morales is just another sign that the Tigers' brass knows there is a problem, a problem that needs to be addressed.
So, what looks good with the farm system? Well, the pitching depth has definitely improved, as for the first time in many years; the Tigers have multiple arms at each level with plenty of potential. They even have quite a few arms that have high-end potential, as the Tigers recent first round draft picks (Justin Verlander and Kyle Sleeth) as well as pitchers like Joel Zumaya and Humberto Sanchez could become top of the rotation starters.
The Tigers have plenty of position players as well – there's just one problem. The ones with loads of potential have yet to show much on the field, and the ones that have produced in the minors aren't considered to have excellent tools. Curtis Granderson, Chris Shelton and Tony Giarratano are by far the top position players in the organization, yet all project to be major league starters, not all stars.
Much of this is believed to be attributed to the scouting philosophy of the organization to stay away from pure tools players, rather electing to go after players that have shown solid production. The problem with this philosophy, and which has been the case for past 10 years with the Tiger farm system, is that it produces plenty of mediocre big league players, but none to really rely on. As one scout joked recently, whenever you were looking for a utility infielder, 4th outfielder, or long reliever, look to the Tigers, because that's all they ever develop.
Dombrowski has started to make a change in this department, making it a point to obtain high quality arms, almost to a fault, with the hope that the organization can then develop such prospects. It remains to be seen whether or not the coaching staffs throughout the minors can follow through on their end of the bargain, and turn these high quality arms into good pitchers, but the team as at least moving in the right direction, a big plus as pitching continues to be a desired commodity.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the position player department still needs a major overhaul. The organization has yet to make a marked improvement in finding position prospects that will turn into stars. The supposed studs of the 2002 draft – Scott Moore and Brent Clevlen – both had a huge letdown in 2004, as Moore continued to struggle defensively as well as struggling to make contact, while Clevlen regressed in virtually every facet of the game.
The Tigers have been filling these voids by signing older veterans, but at some point, they'll need to be able to develop their own guys to keep a continuous talent flow into the big league club.
Overall, things are starting to look up, but realistically, this group still has a long ways to go before the farm system can be considered a strength for the club. And no matter how much Mike Illitch is willing to open his wallet, without a strong source of young talent, the Tigers will not be able to continually produce competitive teams.