Detroit Tigers: Who will be the next international signing starting pitcher?

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Who may rise through the ranks of the Detroit Tigers farm system and be the next international signing starting pitcher?

When you think of the international signing period and how much has changed since the 1990s into what it is today, the Detroit Tigers have had a few prospects that have come through the farm system that is notable when it comes to positional players. But as I was having a discussion with Chris Brown last night during the podcast after a question submitted by a podcast lister, we both drew a blank on the last starting pitcher the Tigers developed.

Relievers, sure, Joe Jimenez, Fernando Rodney, Francisco Cordero (who was trade bait for Juan Gonzalez) come to mind but what about starting pitchers? I went back all the way to 1995 to research some data on who Detroit has developed. This will include a few names Detroit Tiger fans should be familiar with and some you may scratch your head on when you last heard their name called.

I also will be pointing out a few arms that are in the system that may come up. While I am under the understanding that pitching is hard to develop, keep in mind this. Al Avila did sign Liván Hernández out of Villa Clara, Cuba, among others including Miguel Cabrera while in Miami as the director of baseball operations in Latin America.  But this goes back further than Avila.

As an AL Central example, Cleveland has had Bartolo Colon, Danny Salazar, Danys Baez as international signings. While they may not be aces, they were able to help out the rotation at some point. The Dodgers’ track record of developing players from the international side goes back so far, it’s a long resume that goes back decades.  Let’s start with past examples for the Detroit Tigers.

Felipe Lira

Detroit Tigers

LAKELAND, UNITED STATES: Detroit Tigers pitchers Felipe Lira (L) of Miranda, Venezuela and Omar Olivares of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico  (Photo credit should read TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images)

Felipe Lira signed with the Tigers in 1990 and would reach the majors in 1995. He would go on to make 69 starts with Detroit and pitch 436.1 innings. His best season in a Tigers uniform was in 1995 as a rookie, going 9-13 with an ERA of 4.31. The Tigers did not have much in terms of pitchers in their system after the 1992 draft when Scott Aldred and Kevin Ritz were both selected by Colorado so Lira quickly made his way through the system.  Jose Lima was the first to be signed in 1989 and was in Detroit with Lira in 1995.

Victor Santos

Detroit Tigers

Credit: Danny Moloshok /Allsport

Victor Santos was signed in July of 1995 and would spend just a season in Detroit before being traded to the Rockies. He was more or less an organization arm and Detroit would call him up in 2001 from Toledo, making just seven starts.

Jair Jurrjens

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT, MI – SEPTEMBER 12: (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Jair Jurrjens was signed by Detroit in 2003 and quickly made his way through the minor league system. If Twitter was around in 2005, people would of praised his All-Star season at West Michigan in 2005 after his 12-6 record and an ERA of 3.41 In 2006, he posted a strong season between Lakeland and Erie, going 9-3 with an ERA of 2.69. We first saw him representing the Netherlands in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.  The control was there, only 90 walks in 390 innings pitched. The Tigers finally had a starter from their system that came from the international rankings. Plus, one of few pitchers in the 2000’s that the Tigers had that was ranked in the Baseball American Top 100 prospects list.

An inflamed rotator cuff put him on the 15-day DL in 2007 after making his major league debut at 21 years old. Then along with Gorkys Hernandez, in a move that viewed as win-win for Detroit at the time,  he was traded to the Braves for Edgar Renteria.

Renteria would have just one season in Detroit while Jurrjens would have an All-Star season in 2011 and give the Braves 720 innings of work before his arm issues crept back.

Castoffs (International signings Detroit took a flyer on)

  • Armando Galarraga (2008-2010) career WAR of 4.6 with a 4.55 ERA
  • Fu-Te Ni (2009-2010)

I mention these two because they were both unknowns that would help the rotation (Galarraga) in their short time here.

The current state of the Detroit Tigers System Starting Pitching Wise.

Here are a few names that Detroit Tigers prospect folks would recognize.

  • Franklin Perez (signed out of Venezuela by Houston)
  • Carlos Guzman (signed out of Venezuela in 2015 as an infielder, converted to a pitcher in 2017) last pitched in West Michigan
  • Tom de Blok (signed out of the Netherlands in 2018, last pitched in Lakeland, signed first with Seattle in 2017)
  • Jack O’ Loughlin (signed out of Australia) last in Connecticut in 2019

Among the names I mentioned above, Franklin Perez is the closest to the major leagues. The rest as James Chipman of Prospect Live would say are “organizational soldiers” aka they may never reach the majors unless something radically changes. Guzman has some good potential but was injured last season at West Michigan and O’Loughlin is out as well.

Talking to Chris Brown, Chipman and Jacob Boes about this, the problem with some of the arms as Chip indicated, is they stall out in the development leagues or GCL, the first place that the international signings land.

Beyond that, they have failed to develop or sign anyone in the past decade that has lasted a full season or provided any type of impact. Understanding how most of who they signed ends up being relievers is important for example, Gregory Soto and Sandy Baez come to mind. Both were international signings who are now relievers. I get it and it’s better than to have a reliever who can provide something versus nothing at all.

But heading into 2021, the Detroit Tigers in terms of starting pitching depth across the board have some serious questions outside of Toledo. With whatever they decide to do with the minor league system, Detroit has been focusing on filling their positional rankings with draft picks and international signings, which is fine.

But take a look at what the Pirates did yesterday with the international signing of 19-year-old Taiwan pitcher Po-Yu Chen, who may project to be a starting pitcher. They had their scouts down there for the past three years. How come we don’t hear things like that in Detroit? If it is because of budgets, fine. But I am curious to see how creative Detroit will be in the off-season to fill the void of the starting rotation.

Signing Derick Rodriguez is perhaps a sign of things to come which is taking a  low-risk flyer on pitchers from other organizations. Detroit needs to continue to focus on developing its international talent better overall. They have had some hits on the positional side but let’s hope they can change their fortunes on the starting pitching side.

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