The Detroit Tigers entered Wednesday with a surprising 7-4 record. Arguably the top reason for Detroit's early season success has been an impressive rotation. The Tigers' starting five possessed the game's second-lowest ERA (2.02) through the first 10 contests of the year. To think, this is the same rotation that lost staff ace Michael Fulmer to Tommy John surgery before the season kicked off.
Obviously the Tigers current rotation isn't going to sustain this performance all year long. But the good news for Detroit fans is that there is help on the way in the form of numerous interesting pitching prospects who could arrive at Comerica Park in the coming years. Take a look at the Tigers' top six pitching prospects -- six because one is injured -- per MLB.com, and their lines from their first starts of the year (note pitchers are sorted by level descending):
Beau Burrows (6)
Kyle Funkhouser (11)
Alex Faedo (10)
Matt Manning (2)
Casey Mize (1)
Franklin Perez (3)
DNP - Injured
The Tigers have invested a ton in these pitchers. Casey Mize was last year's No. 1 overall pick, joining Matt Manning (No. 9 in 2016); Beau Burrows (No. 22, 2015); and Alex Faedo (No. 18, 2017) as former first-round picks in the group. Kyle Funkhouser was also a first-round pick, albeit by a different team. He didn't sign and later slipped to the Tigers in the fourth round in 2016. Then there's Franklin Perez, the top piece in the Justin Verlander deal.
With so much riding on those six arms, we decided to go a little deeper, breaking each down to give a better feel for what the Tigers have coming through their pipeline.
Mize, the first collegiate right-hander taken No. 1 since Mark Appel in 2013, could probably debut this season if required. He throws strikes with a varied arsenal that includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a diving splitter that serves as his out pitch. The Tigers limited his professional workload last season, and could justifiably do the same this year. Nonetheless, Mize ought to slot in as an above-average starter whenever he gets called to the majors.
Manning is an athletic 6-foot-6 righty who could've played college basketball had the whole baseball thing not worked out. He has a good fastball-curveball combination, but his changeup and location lag behind and his drop-and-drive delivery negates his natural downward plane. In an ideal world, Manning, like Mize, is an above-average starter. The key word there is "ideal." There's a chance he's less than that -- especially if he can't find a third pitch or more command.
Perez is 21 years old with a starter's frame and a quality arsenal. Yet his stock has slipped due to durability woes. Perez has topped 70 innings once in a season, and is off to a rough start this year, as he'll miss at least a month due to shoulder tendinitis. The makings of a mid-rotation starter are here -- unfortunately, though, so are the makings of an attrition victim.
While Perez feels like he's a thousand miles from nowhere, Burrows is close to reaching the majors. His best pitches are his fastball and his changeup and his crossfire delivery gives him some deception. He doesn't have a true out pitch, however, and despite his name value he profiles as someone who will pitch closer to the back of a rotation than the front of one.
Best known for his time at the University of Florida, Faedo has taken a step backward since becoming a professional. He still uses an upright delivery with a long, slingy arm action that sees him release from a sidearm slot. Those mechanics arguably help his best pitch, a slider, but don't do him many other favors. He was hit around once he reached Double-A -- permitting 15 home runs in 60 innings -- and it's fair to wonder if he'll be more than a back-end guy.
Funkhouser is like a sampling of elements of the above. He too has regressed since the peak of his collegiate days, and has been limited due to injury -- he's yet to top 100 frames in a season. All the same, he probably will debut in the majors this season, likely as a back-end starter in the short term, and potentially as a reliever over the long haul.
Should everything work out to plan, the Tigers have something like a No. 2, potentially another No. 2, a No. 4, a few No. 5, and whatever Perez's body permits him to become (and the range of possibilities is too wide at the moment to make a guess). That collection may not be what dreams are made of -- everyone, unreasonably, wants their team to have five potential aces -- but it's a solid group who should help improve and fill out Detroit's rotation in the coming years.
|Taylor Widener, part of the Brandon Drury trade, struck out five in his Triple-A debut. His high-spin fastball is his best pitch and he has a chance to be a mid-rotation starter sooner than later.|
|A good sign for the Braves: Mike Soroka struck out seven batters across five perfect innings in his season debut. He's certain to see significant big-league action this year.|
|The No. 11 pick in last year's draft, 19-year-old Grayson Rodriguez didn't seem to mind an aggressive assignment to full-season ball -- rather, he fanned 10 of the 19 batters he faced across five shutout innings in his debut for Class A Delmarva. He's a big lad with a big fastball and mid-rotation potential. |
|Darwinzon Hernandez has a fun name and impressive raw stuff. His below-average command is likely to limit him to a (promising) future in the bullpen, however. With that in mind, it shouldn't surprise you that he either struck out (10) or walked (four) a combined 70 percent of the batters he faced in his season debut.|
|On a related note, Dillon Maples -- who has the chance to be in the Cubs bullpen sooner than later -- had faced 10 batters entering Monday night. He'd struck out or walked nine of them. |
|Catching prospect Zack Collins homered three times over his first three games in Triple-A. Expect him to reach the majors later this season.|
|Last year's No. 5 pick, third baseman Jonathan India is off to a slow start in High-A: 1 for 17 with seven strikeouts. Once he gets going, he should move up the ladder quickly.|
|Last season was Jean Carlos Mejia's first as a full-time starter. He has the frame and arsenal to turn into a mid-rotation workhorse with extreme groundball tendencies -- he's allowed four homers in 246 professional innings, including five shutout frames in High-A this year.|
|First-base prospect Roberto Ramos homered 32 times last season split between High- and Double-A. He's off to a quick start this year, homering three times in his first four Triple-A games. The power is legit but so are the concerns about the rest of his game. |
|The Tigers have had one of the best rotations in baseball, and they have some pitching prospects worth watching on the way (see above).|
|The good news for J.B. Bukauskas is that his wretched season debut (nine runs in 2 ⅔ innings) counts for just one start. The bad news is his seasonal numbers are going to look ugly for a while. |
|The Royals are going to burn through some relievers this year. Expect to see Andres Machado get another look at some point -- he has a big-time fastball and little to go with it. |
|Jaime Barria and Griffin Canning -- two young arms who the Angels will need at some point for their rotation -- combined to permit five runs in their first 10 innings on the season. |
|Dustin May, the Dodgers top pitching prospect, struck out nine of the 18 batters he faced in his season debut. It's possible he finds himself in the majors before the season is out behind his well-rounded arsenal.|
|Zac Gallen, acquired in the Marcell Ozuna trade, opened his season with seven perfect innings in Triple-A. He doesn't have overpowering stuff but he did strike out 11 and should reach Miami this year.|
|Infield prospect Mauricio Dubon had stolen at least 30 bases in three consecutive seasons prior to last year's injury-shortened campaign. He's back to running, having swiped three bags in his first four games. He could factor into the big-league club's shortstop picture before long.|
|You're not going to find Bailey Ober on many (if any) prospect lists. We're giving him some love here because he's a 6-foot-9 changeup artist who has struck out more than 10 times as many batters as he's walked in his first 109 professional innings. He fanned 11 in his debut at High-A.|
|The Mets' Triple-A affiliate includes three famous names, in Tim Tebow, Carlos Gomez, and Rajai Davis. Through their first four games, they've combined for five hits, one walk, and 15 strikeouts. Woof.|
|Gio Gonzalez and Chance Adams combined in their debuts to yield 14 hits, 14 runs, three homers, and seven walks in seven innings -- you know, just in case Yankees fans felt too good about their rotation depth.|
|Think Dustin Fowler wants back in the majors? He's off to a 9-for-18 start with two doubles and two homers. |
|The Phillies continue to push former No. 1 pick Mickey Moniak up the ladder despite lackluster performances. His first few games at Double-A saw him notch five hits, including three doubles and a homer. |
|Mitch Keller is going to pitch for the Pirates at some point this season, but he still needs some more time on the farm. He walked five in his season debut.|
|The Padres have a couple promising young southpaws on the rise: Ryan Weathers (the No. 7 pick in last year's draft) and MacKenzie Gore (No. 3 in 2017) combined for 17 strikeouts, one walk, and zero runs in their first 10 innings. Gore has the higher ceiling of the two.|
|Call us a sucker, but it's cool to see Brandon Beachy back again. He's at the Double-A level, marking the first time he's pitched above A-ball season 2015.|
|Part of the James Paxton payout, Erik Swanson figures to get a look in the majors due to his lively fastball. He made a good first impression in the M's organization, punching out eight of the 20 batters he faced in his season debut.|
|All Nolan Gorman has done since being drafted last June is hit. Guess what, he's back at it, going 8 for 16 with three doubles and a dinger to begin the year in the Midwest League.|
|The No. 31 pick in last June's draft, Shane McClanahan struck out nine of the 17 batters he faced in his A-ball debut with Bowling Green. He is, believe it or not, perhaps not the best pitching prospect named Shane in the system -- that honor may belong to Shane Baz, acquired in last year's Chris Archer trade.|
|Shortstop Chris Seise, the 29th pick in the 2017 draft, missed all of last year due to a rotator cuff injury. He's shown no rust in his return, though, going 9 for 17 with four doubles to begin the year. |
|How's this start for Cavan Biggio: 6 for 12 with a triple, two home runs, a stolen base, and five walks -- or four more than he has strikeouts. That'll do.|
|Sterling Sharp's name sounds more familiar than it should because of the former NFL player. That's a good thing because it might be worth keeping Sharp in mind. He's nearing his 24th birthday, making this an important season for him, but he has a tall, lanky frame and a sinker that has enabled him to post some gaudy groundball totals. He opened the year in Double-A but could end the season as part of the Nationals big-league bullpen.|