Detroit Tigers’ Drew Carlton ‘keeps having success’ as MLB journey stops in Dominican Republic

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Three weeks into the Detroit Tigers‘ instructional league in Lakeland, Florida, right-handed reliever Drew Carlton got a message from Leones del Escogido, his new offseason team in the Dominican Winter League

They needed him in the Dominican Republic, where preseason camp was getting ready to begin. By Oct. 26, Carlton was on a plane. He flew from Tampa to Miami, and then to Santo Domingo.

“I wasn’t really knowing what to expect,” Carlton told the Free Press on Monday. “The way of life down here is completely different.”

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The 25-year-old had never been to the country before. He lives in a Homewood Suites hotel room in Santo Domingo with his wife, Victoria. When it’s time to play baseball, Carlton rides a team bus for 15-20 minutes to the ballpark.

That’s where things feel a bit more like home. That’s where Carlton — who has dominated the minors since being drafted out of Florida State in 2017 (32nd round) — steps on the mound in the same way he does in the United States.

Without any fear.

Through 11 games and 11 innings for Leones del Escogido, the 6-foot-1 righty has a 0.82 ERA, 0.727 WHIP, 10 strikeouts and one walk. In 2019, he recorded a 1.46 ERA with 65 strikeouts and 18 walks across 68 innings for Double-A Erie.

“The end goal is to get to the majors,” said Carlton, who didn’t pitch in 2020 because the minors were canceled. “I’m going to try to get there as fast as I can. It’s been a goal of mine since I’ve been a little kid. Everybody wants to make it there.”

When Carlton isn’t chowing down on rice and beans, he’s ordering Uber Eats. His American food options include McDonald’s, Taco Bell, P.F. Chang’s, and, for an occasional breakfast treat, Krispy Kreme.

Carlton hasn’t yet explored Santo Domingo, which is the most populated city and the capital of the country. Besides the fact there’s a global pandemic, he a doesn’t know much Spanish.

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So he’s often left in his room, playing Call of Duty or League of Legends with his friends, or hanging out by the hotel pool with his wife. The weather, he admits, is nice this time of the year. (Most days, it’s 80-plus degrees and sunny.)

“The talent level is pretty high here,” Carlton said. “From what I’ve seen, the batters’ approaches are pretty solid, and they have a really good eye for the zone. … I’m just having fun. It’s a good time down here.”

‘I’ve had to work my tail off’

Owning a low-90s fastball and command-centered approach, Carlton continues to steamroll through his opponents at every level.

Carlton, without “nasty” stuff, knows how to work smarter.

“I really take pride in my command of all three of my pitches,” Carlton said. “They’re not good by themselves, but with the command, they are pretty good. I’ve had to really work my tail off to produce the numbers I have. That’s the only way I’m going to be able to get up there (to the majors).

“My stuff isn’t overwhelming or way above average like your starters in the major leagues, but I’ve worked to push myself and give it the best that I have. It’s worked out pretty well.”

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In 2017, Carlton had a 1.08 ERA in a combined 25 innings for the Rookie Gulf Coast League Tigers (0.90 ERA in 10 innings), Short-Season A Connecticut (1.29 ERA in 14 innings) and Single-A West Michigan (one scoreless inning). 

He registered a 2.26 ERA across 67⅔ innings in 2018 for High-A Lakeland (2.38 ERA in 56⅔ innings) and Double-A Erie (1.64 ERA in 11 innings). And in 2019, he posted a 1.46 ERA in 68 innings for the SeaWolves, while helping starting pitcher Alex Faedo toss a no-hitter.

Not too shabby for a late-round pick.

“He’s an extreme strike-thrower, works fast and has had success everywhere,” Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield told the Free Press on Saturday. “He’s one of these guys, you keep moving him until he doesn’t have success. And he keeps having success.

“Great young man. Mature. Knows himself as a pitcher. Goes out there and pounds the strike zone with everything.”

‘A great asset’

After spring training was shut down in March because of the pandemic, Carlton wasn’t invited to summer camp at Comerica Park in July. He didn’t make an appearance at the alternate training site in August or September, either.

Instead, he went to Plant City — a town near Lakeland — to work out with a few professional players and perfect his mechanics. He pitched two bullpens each week, one without hitters and one with hitters, before arriving at the Tigers’ spring training facility in early October for the instructional league.

“I noticed my hips kind of just dragged along a little bit,” Carlton said. “I focused on loading my step and getting a good arm path into (my) release. I really tried focusing on throwing my hips and allowing my arm to go along for the ride. That’s helped me accelerate through the ball and into the plate.”

Once the instructional league began, Carlton wanted to remind the Tigers of his value. Safe to say, he accomplished his goal.

“He’s able to put the ball where he wants, and that’s a great asset,” Littlefield said. “The stuff isn’t going to jump out at you, but let’s just keep pushing him, let the hitters show you what he can or can’t do. And so far, he’s doing very well.”

He expects his work ethic will make his childhood dream come true. Maybe as soon as in the 2021 season.

“Hopefully, I’ll start in Triple-A next year, prove that I can handle that level,” Carlton said, “and then get the call up to the majors and prove myself there.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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