The Detroit Tigers entered Thursday ranked last in the majors in winning percentage (they're on pace for 54 wins); last in run differential (they're being outscored by nearly two runs per); and last in runs scored. (In a minor victory, they rank third-to-last in run prevention.) By any competent rubric, the Tigers are once again the worst team in the majors. It's an indignity the Tigers know well, having made two of the past three No. 1 picks, as well as an indignity that calls into question the progress of their rebuild and the job security of general manager Al Avila.
The only thing standing between the Tigers and a fifth consecutive 90-loss season is last year's pandemic-shortened schedule. Though Avila will have been in power for six years come August, the Tigers still appear a ways off from being competitive. Put another way, the other nine teams who chose in the top 10 of the 2018 draft have since had at least a .500 season; the Tigers, even with the No. 1 pick that year, would be doing well to crack 70 wins. Avila did inherit a rough situation from Dave Dombrowski, who poured all the club's financial and talent resources into chasing a World Series, but that explanation has a limited shelf life -- and it's about to expire.
The Tigers' failing rebuild goes beyond their won-lost record, too. Let's examine their major issues with drafting, scouting, and developing.
The Tigers have made four top-10 picks since Avila took over the reins, yet you wouldn't know that they picked early often based on their farm system.
In theory, a team in the Tigers' position should be able to amass both, top-shelf prospects and depth. In practice, the Tigers have only been able to bank on their first picks, resulting in an unbalanced system. To wit, FanGraphs' Eric Longenhagen gave Tigers prospects a 50 grade (representing a future as an average everyday player) or better -- Spencer Torkelson, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Casey Mize, and Riley Greene. Torkelson, Mize, and Greene were all top-five picks under Avila's watch while Manning was the ninth pick in 2016. Only Skubal, a ninth-round selection, qualifies as a find.
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Beyond those five, Longenhagen gives just five other Tigers prospects a chance at being a low-end regular or platoon players; everyone else is projected as a bench player or worse. For reference, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles have 12 players apiece who are forecasted as becoming at least a 45, meaning the Tigers are underperforming their fellow rebuilders despite getting a headstart on their overhaul.
You could blame the Tigers' amateur scouting department for not finding good prospects past the first round, but talent evaluators with other teams expressed concerns to CBS Sports about Detroit's player development arm.
Consider the struggles of Mize, Skubal, and Manning -- the three arms who were supposed to front the rotation for years to come. Instead, Mize has struggled to resemble the pitcher he was at Auburn; Skubal has lost velocity and stuff; and Manning has yet to crack the Show.
Development isn't always linear, and it's certainly possible that any or all of the three starters figure things out en route to a successful career. But, at this point, it's fair to have reservations -- and that's worrisome given how much the Tigers have riding on a handful of prospects.
Scouting and development issues
In addition to lackluster down-draft efforts, the Tigers have had a less-than-stellar track record on trades and free-agent signings and have lacked surprise ascents. The San Francisco Giants have shown it's possible to find talent on the waiver wire or through other beachcombing means; the Baltimore Orioles, conversely, have done well to coach up John Means and Anthony Santander, among others. The Tigers, for the most part, have few examples of either.
The biggest scouting or developmental hits on this current Tigers team are Matt Boyd, Niko Goodrum, José Ureña, and Rule 5 pick Akil Baddoo, who has cooled off considerably following a historic opening week. That isn't a particularly impressive crop, not when the Tigers have had years to identify, acquire, and audition potential undervalued contributors.
It doesn't help that the Tigers traded Justin Verlander and J.D. Martinez, in addition to other useful veteran players, without receiving anyone who emerged as a big-league starter in return. (The Tigers released right-hander Franklin Pérez, the key piece of the Verlander trade, on Wednesday; injuries limited him to fewer than 30 regular-season innings in the minors following the deal.) Nor does it help that Avila missed out on his chance to return a large package for Michael Fulmer, and later Boyd. (Boyd has pitched better this season, suggesting Avila could get another shot.) Every team misses on moves, but once a pattern of constant underperformance emerges, it becomes hard to shake the feeling that something is wrong on a systemic level.
That last part is pivotal, and explains why officials with other clubs openly wondered to CBS Sports about how much longer the Tigers can stick with Avila.
It's not that everything that has gone wrong has been Avila's fault and his alone; it's simply that general managers get the credit when moves work out and the blame when they don't. Avila has had nearly six years to enact his vision, almost as long as the Colorado Rockies allowed Jeff Bridich before he resigned in April. At some point, likely in the near future, someone will have to answer for the Tigers' failure to launch; that someone tends to be the general manager.
Whoever is calling the shots for the Tigers heading forward, be it Avila or a newcomer, will have their hands full if they're to salvage this rebuild cycle and deliver a winner again to Detroit.