Tigers Rebuild Starting with Their Rotation

The Tigers are rebuilding and it appears they are starting this rebuild with premier pitchers. The Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs had successful rebuilds drafting position players and trading for pitchers or signing pitchers as free agents. The Braves successfully rebuilt by developing a dominant pitching staff. One problem with trying to rebuild with pitchers is they tend to be more susceptible to injury. For every two pitchers a team develops one gets injured and never makes it to the major leagues. Position players seem to be more certain to reach their potential without career ending injuries.

The Tigers have a solid four pitchers that have potential ace stuff, three drafted in the first round by the Tigers and one acquired through trade from the Astros. Franklin Perez is the pitcher acquired in the Justin Verlander trade. The Venezuelan has a sizzling fastball that hits the mid 90s with quality secondary pitches to complement the fastball. He throws strikes, gives up lots of fly balls and limited the opposition to a .191 average in High A. Franklin was a little more hittable when promoted to AA (.266). His strikeout numbers are not as dominant as you would expect (less than one per inning) from a pitcher with his quality stuff. The 2018 season should see Franklin start in AA. There is no reason for the Tigers to eat up his service time in a losing, rebuilding season so the highest level he should see is AAA.

Beau Burrows was a first round pick in 2015. His fastball may be a tick below Perez and his secondary pitches are not as strong. Like Perez, Beau dominated at High A (1.23 ERA, .221 opposition average) but did not fare as well when promoted to AA (4.72 ERA, .269 opposition average). Normally he throws strikes, but when he was promoted to AA he had trouble finding the plate (3.89 walks per nine innings). Last year Beau had more swings and misses with his stuff (one K per inning) than Franklin. A lack of success at AA may force the Tigers to have him repeat that level for the 2018 season.

The following year the Tigers drafted Matt Manning. At 6′6″ Manning was a good basketball player, his father being Rich Manning. His height and a fastball that crosses the plate at a tick above the mid-90s made him attractive to baseball scouts. A $3.5 million signing bonus convinced him to play baseball. Matt has a power curveball and decent change that gave him 62 whiffs in 51 innings and a 1.89 ERA in Rookie ball. As Franklin and Beau did, Matt struggled when promoted to full season ball (5.60 ERA). In 51 innings of work Matt did not allow a ball to leave the park. Matt will start the season in Low A ball with a quick promotion to High A if he achieves success.

In 2017 the Tigers drafted Alex Faedo, who stands an impressive 6′5″. Like the others Faedo can reach the mid-90s with his fastball with a swing and miss slider. Alex did not pitch in the minors last year after pitching the Florida Gators into the College World Series. With his physical frame he should be an innings eater. Unlike the other pitchers his slider may be his best pitch getting a number of swings and misses or forcing hitters to bat the ball on the ground. The Tigers should start him in Low A but they may keep him in extended spring training until he is ready.

Myworld likes Kyle Funkhouser, a righthander drafted out of Louisville. The fourth round 2016 pick does not have an overpowering fastball (low 90s) but complements it with a good slider. Unlike the other pitchers Kyle got better when he was promoted (3.16 to 1.72 ERA) from Low A to High A. He averaged 14.1 K’s per nine innings in Low A. High A pitchers made better contact (9.8 per 9 innings) but the opposition average went from .254 to .205. Kyle lacks the dynamic stuff of the four pitchers ahead of him, but injuries could provide him the opportunities. Kyle should start the 2018 season in High A but as a college drafted pitcher he should be promoted quickly.

Joe Jimenez was supposed to be the closer of the future for the Tigers but he had trouble when promoted to the major leagues (12.32 ERA and .356 opposition average). Shorter spurts allows Jimenez to hit the mid-90s with his fastball, but a failing slider and lack of command resulted in his major league failure. The slider was an effective pitch in the minor leagues but if it falls flat in the major leagues hitters can sit on his fastball. Last year Joe had an easier time retiring lefthanded hitters than those hitting from the right side. A good spring could see Jimenez start the season in the Tigers bullpen. He can again be the closer of the future, but first he needs to show success in a set up role.

On the position front the Tigers are not that strong. Jake Rogers is the future catcher for these aces, known more for his glove than his bat. His bat can find the fences but it may not hit for a high average. A power arm can control the opposition run game, throwing out 45 percent of those basestealers who tried to run against him. He was a second player the Tigers got from the Astros in the Justin Verlander trade. Expect Jake to start the 2018 season in AA where a couple of the Tigers future rotation may start. Jake is a team leader who communicates well with his pitchers, so the Tigers might as well start that process early.

After Steven Moya crashed and burned and moved his craft to Japan, the next power bat in the Tigers system is expected to be Christin Stewart. Like Moya, Stewart is weak on defense with a glove and arm best suited for left field. What he does have is some power in his bat, hitting 20 plus homeruns the last two years. Because Stewart makes better contact than Moya the Tigers hope for better success in the major leagues. With the Tigers in a rebuilding mode Stewart could see some time with the Tigers by mid-season but he should start the season in AAA.

The Tigers have to hope Daz Cameron can provide shades of his father Mike. Like his dad, Daz has the speed to play center with an arm that can shift to right. The power is there to hit in the double digits in homeruns but he has not shown an ability to hit for a high average. The available tools seem to scream fourth outfielder or starting outfielder for a lower division club. Last year Daz stole 32 bases in Low A with 13 homeruns. He was the third player the Astros acquired for Justin Verlander. The Tigers hope his 2018 season will begin in High A.

Mike Gerber is the perfect definition of fourth outfielder. His defense is not strong enough for centerfield and his bat lacks the spunk to make it as a starter. Think of a Steve Pearce, a player who can make a contribution in short spurts but you don’t want to rely on him to get too many at bats where his holes get exposed. With the Tigers in a rebuilding mode Gerber could see some time in the major leagues filling up space until players with more dynamic tools are ready to fulfill their roles.

Derek Hill was the Tigers first round pick in 2014. Hill has more tools than Gerber, especially with the speed to play centerfield and steal bases. His inability to hit for average with very little power has dropped his stock on the prospect ladder. If you need defense Derek is your man. Scoring runs could be a problem. Derek still finds himself in High A, a long way away from the major leagues for a 22 year old first round pick from four years ago.

At 6′6″ Grayson Greiner could become the tallest catcher to catch in a major league game. His bat is weak and his defense not strong enough to justify putting him in the lineup, so making the major leagues could be difficult. As expected, with his size the power will show if he can get his arms extended. Grayson played in AAA last year and could see major league time if an injury requires the Tigers to bring up a catcher and Jake Rogers is not ready to fill the role..

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