Around the Tigers’ farm: Joey Wentz takes next step in return from Tommy John surgery

Detroit News

Notes, items, thoughts from a week of watching and talking with Tigers farm folks:

Joey Wentz has moved from low-A Lakeland to Double-A Erie as his Tommy John-surgery comeback progresses.

He might be the most overlooked young arm in the Tigers system, all because out of sight means out of mind, and a year on the TJ shelf makes fans forgetful. But in Wentz, who is only 23 and a left-handed starter, the Tigers probably have an arm who will be plugged into next season’s rotation in the same fashion Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning all have ascended in 2021.

Wentz isn’t quite on their elevation. But he was a 40th overall draft pick by the Braves in 2016 — a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds — and was doing just fine at Erie two summers ago after the Tigers got him from Atlanta in the Shane Greene trade.

Definitely watch his remaining summer starts at Erie and note a probable uptick as July and August and September recondition that left arm, which features a lower-90s fastball and a nice curve.

More: Joey Wentz ‘right where I need to be’ in road back from Tommy John surgery

And while the memory banks are being stirred, it’s handy to recall that another Tigers prospect pitcher of some esteem, Alex Faedo, is on the way back from his late 2020 Tommy John procedure.

Faedo was the Tigers’ first-round pick in 2017 and by next year should be moving toward either regular work as a starter or, more likely, as a longer-innings guy who can start or offer a solid string of innings in a bullpen game.

The slider generally is the last pitch to reacquaint itself with a pitcher mending from Tommy John. Faedo’s business card advertises, above all, a serious slider. But by spring camp expect the slider to be sharpening at the same point a pedigreed right-hander also re-emerges as a player the Tigers should find useful in 2022.

New name, familiar sites

It’s now called the Florida Complex League rather than the Gulf Coast League.

And it kicks off today across those Grapefruit League facilities with which the Tigers are familiar: Lakeland, Tampa, Clearwater, Dunedin, Sarasota, Bradenton, etc.

The Tigers feature a pair of FCL entries: East and West teams designed to introduce youngsters — international teens making their way into the professional baseball scene, prep and college players just drafted — to legitimate games following three months of heavy drills and training sessions on a team’s practice fields.

The Tigers will be tossing into their FCL games the likes of Roberto Campos, Adinso Reyes, Alvaro Gonzalez, and Jose De La Cruz, a 19-year-old who has had a miserable cavalcade of strikeouts in low-A games the past two months while being exposed to pitching there.

Some will distinguish themselves enough to get a promotion — a few hundred yards to Marchant Stadium (Publix Field at Marchant Stadium to be precise) where they’ll suit up for the low-A Flying Tigers as the 2021 farm season approaches its midway mark.

Conversely, those who are experiencing some degree of ordeal with lower Single A competition can be escorted to the FCL diamonds for counseling and retooling.

Around the horn

Dillon Dingler on Friday hit his first home run since being exported to Double-A Erie, not that it was any surprise. He had hit two triples the preceding evening at Akron, each off the fence. Dingler has been hitting .300-plus in the two weeks since he and Spencer Torkelson were bumped to Double A from West Michigan.

“He’s swinging the bat real well — driving the ball,” Erie manager Arnie Beyeler said Saturday of the Tigers’ prized catching prospect. “Just a really good athlete. Threw out a guy last night. Just another guy who needs reps — working on that routine of looking into the dugout (for pitch-calls and tactical messages), getting the game speed down.

“He’s going to be fine.”

► As for Torkelson, he missed a couple of games last week with a heel bruise but is back in the saddle, and continuing to hit as if Toledo might be in his 2021 summer plans.

Drew Hutchison won another game Sunday for the Mud Hens.

He’s 5-2 at Toledo, with a 4.32 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. He has worked in 10 games, spanning 50 innings, has allowed 40 hits, has struck out 53 and walked 24.

You get the picture. He’s a right-hander and a bit of a nibbler, is 30, but has pitched five seasons of big-league ball with the Blue Jays, Pirates, Phillies, and Rangers.

In last Tuesday’s start at Toledo, Hutchison’s fastball topped out at 92.

“But he’s been at 93, 94,” said Tom Prince, the Mud Hens manager. “And he’s got that slider that goes inside on lefties.”

Hutchison, of course, is a pitcher Tigers followers might want to keep at the very least in the back of their mind. With innings limits and the usual array of injuries threatening a rotation in Detroit, Hutchison — who was signed precisely to offer legitimate depth and experience — could easily be bound for a Tigers uniform.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

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