What Detroit Tigers think about pitching prospect Joey Wentz reaching the majors in 2021

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers left-hander Joey Wentz is looking forward to his major league debut, but ensuring a prepared arrival is of the utmost importance.

Acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the Shane Greene trade in July 2019, Wentz underwent Tommy John surgery eight months later. From the sidelines, he watched Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning make their MLB debuts. It wasn’t long ago that Wentz anchored the Double-A Erie starting rotation with them. Just as his name became synonymous with the future, a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow needed repair.

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Following five rehab assignment starts in Low-A Lakeland, Wentz returned to the SeaWolves on June 23. The 23-year-old has made eight starts, posting a 4.50 ERA, 24 walks and 34 strikeouts over 30 innings. For now, he is allowed to throw about 80 pitches per outing.

“He may earn some more pitches if he gets in the strike zone a little bit more,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s just been very erratic. When you look at the box scores, the video, and if you talk to our minor league people, they’ll tell you that he shows flashes of command and control. And then he can be a little erratic, and that eats into the pitch count.”

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In his latest start, Wentz allowed three runs on six hits and three walks over 3⅔ innings Thursday in a 3-2 loss to the Harrisburg Senators, an affiliate of the Washington Nationals. He threw 50 of 78 pitches for strikes, picking up five strikeouts.

Wentz gave up three runs on three hits and two walks over four innings in a July 29 start, a 6-0 loss to the Akron RubberDucks (Cleveland affiliate). This time, he tossed 43 of 74 pitches for strikes and punched out five batters.

“Keeping him under 100 (pitches) is pretty standard,” Hinch said. “I wouldn’t expect to him to go any higher than that. The hope is that he’s going to be able to stretch the innings and use the same number of pitches. The five-inning, 85-pitch is just too many. It’s because of the ball-strike ratio, being able to attack hitters in leverage counts and not have these five, six and seven-pitch at-bats.

“From where I’m looking at it, efficiency is more important to us that necessarily stretching him out to 100 pitches or even getting him into the seventh and eighth innings. We need strikes.”

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Wentz is ranked No. 6 on the organization’s prospect list, according to MLB Pipeline. In five post-trade starts for the SeaWolves in 2019, Wentz boasted a 2.10 ERA, four walks and 37 strikeouts in 25⅔ innings. He looked the part of the Mize-Skubal-Manning combination.

In spring training, Tigers general manager Al Avila said Wentz could make his MLB debut in 2021. Unless something changes, though, the 2022 season seems like a more realistic projection.

“He hasn’t earned that yet,” Hinch said. “We’re still monitoring him in the quality that he’s bringing, but we’ve got to get him inside the strike zone and more consistent for him to get up to (Triple-A) Toledo, let alone to the big leagues.”

Farm system notes

• Right-hander Reese Olson, acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for Daniel Norris, made his first start with the Tigers on Friday for High-A West Michigan. The 22-year-old, ranked No. 13 on the team’s prospect list, tossed six scoreless innings in a 4-3 win over the Dayton Dragons, a Cincinnati Reds’ affiliate. He allowed two hits and one walk, struck out four batters and threw 53 of 80 pitches for strikes.

• Erie catcher Dillon Dingler was placed on the seven-day injured list Friday with a fractured index finger on his left hand. The 22-year-old is the Tigers’ No. 4 prospect, behind Spencer Torkelson (No. 1), Riley Greene (No. 2) and Manning (No. 3).

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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