BYB 2021 Detroit Tigers prospects #14: RHP Alex Faedo

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Particularly for pitchers, the path of their development in the minor leagues can be a twisty road filled with reversals, injuries, and bursts of improvement. When a young pitcher has already shown one plus pitch, and some moxie for pitching in big games under pressure, it’s worth being patient. Look no further than Detroit Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull for an example of a player whose stock seemed to rise and fall by the month until he finally put things together and reached the major league level. Right-handed pitching prospect Alex Faedo’s trajectory could prove a similar one.

2021 will mark the 25-year-old’s fourth full year in the organization, yet his development is currently stalled out as he underwent Tommy John surgery in December to repair his UCL. With luck, this will prove a blessing in disguise. If Faedo can take advantage of the rehab process to get stronger and more athletic overall, we could eventually see a turbo-charged version of the big right-hander down the road.

Background

Faedo played his high school ball in Tampa, Florida and was a known commodity by his junior year when he threw a no-hitter and posted a 1.15 ERA. The Tigers drafted him in 2014 with their 40th round selection as a “getting to know you” pick, as Faedo was fully committed to attending the University of Florida. He posted an excellent record as an underclassman with the Gators, and played on the U.S. National Collegiate Team in 2016.

That winter, the six-foot, five inch right-hander underwent surgery on both knees, and his junior campaign began on bad footing. However, he got healthier and stronger as his junior season progressed and ultimately the Tigers took him with the 18th overall pick in the 2017 draft. Tigers fans were then wowed as Faedo posted a couple of outstanding starts on the big stage in leading the Gators to a College World Series title over LSU that summer.

In deference to the pre-season knee surgeries, the Tigers sent him home to rest when his college season was complete. His pro debut came in 2018 with the Advanced-A Lakeland Flying Tigers. Faedo posted good numbers there and quickly made the jump to Double-A Erie where he encountered home run trouble but continued to rack up the strikeouts. By 2019, he’d made improvements to his mechanics that helped his fastball and his command, and he was a much more consistent performer. Entering 2020, he showed improved fastball velocity in spring training, and we were just getting a bit more enthusiastic about his outlook when COVID intervened.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Going all the way back to his college days, Faedo’s main strength has remained his slider. The mid-80’s breaker is an all purpose weapon for him as he has the ability to shape it to his desires while still spotting it effectively both in and out of the strike zone. Throughout the ups and downs, the slider has remained the best feature of Faedo’s repertoire.

Also on his side is a classic, six-foot, five inch power pitcher’s frame. Faedo was a big, durable starting pitcher sitting 93-95 mph in college, and he consistently threw a high volume of strikes. Those characteristics are still in place, despite some overhauling of both his physique and his mechanics. His changeup remains a fringy offering, but did flash better depth in 2019 as the mechanical changes and new arm slot became more ingrained.

The real issue with Faedo when he was drafted, and which was evident in his 2018 stint at Erie, was his fastball’s vulnerability to pro hitters. His velo was down to 89-92 mph for much of that season, and he surrendered 15 homers in 12 starts there. Part of the issue was presumably conditioning, as the recent knee surgeries limited his work and the Tigers shut him down after the College World Series in order to give him plenty of time to heal.

The other issue was with his mechanics. Faedo used to collapse his upper half at leg lift, pitching his balance forward and closing off from the target, before reversing the whole operation with a lot of rotation to get back on target to the plate. That delivery led to a lot of imbalance. As a result, his arm was often late and on a flatter plane that was optimal, leading to a lot of flat, running fastballs up in the zone. Eastern League hitters feasted.

In 2019, he came out looking leaner and meaner on the mound. He trimmed down, and the improvements in his mechanics were evident as well. His posture was much improved and the riding life, as well as the velocity, on his fastball improved accordingly. He was driving toward the plate much more directly, with better extension, and his stuff responded. Still a flyball pitcher, Faedo will probably always have some run-ins with homer-itis, and he still doesn’t have the stride length and lower half stability you’d like to see, but there may be some reasons for further optimism on this front as long as his rehabilitation goes well.

Many pitchers return from Tommy John rehab in the best shape of their careers. Faedo is a six-foot, five inch specimen who presumably spent much of 2017-2018 getting past the knee surgeries to the point that his conditioning started really improving. The fact that he got in better shape heading into the 2019 season, and was able to make some fairly serious changes to his mechanics, speaks to his ability to keep evolving and improving physically. Should he return in 2022 in full on specimen mode, it’s entirely possible the Tigers could have themselves a really good reliever who sits 95+ mph with life, packs an excellent slider, and with the aggressive strike-throwing traits he developed as a starting pitcher.

The changeup may never really blossom and lead him to a career as a starter, and there are no guarantees recovering from UCL surgery, but we’re still a long way from giving up on Alex Faedo. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t get a chance to show his stuff in 2020 after looking better than ever in a few spring training appearances. Faedo will age out of prospect status next year, but he’ll remain one to watch anyway.

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