Cincinnati — Drew Carlton, who grew up in Lakeland going to Tigers spring training games as a kid, was drafted in the 32nd round in 2017. He’s never been on any prospect list. He’s been passed over by younger pitchers who hadn’t performed as effectively as he had at every level.
And yet, he never doubted this day would come. That’s a window into his character, right there.
“I’ve always grinded, always gone out and showed what I can do and proved what I could do,” said the right-handed reliever whose contract the Tigers purchased from Triple-A Toledo on Saturday. “I always thought I’d get this chance and I’m glad the Tigers gave me this opportunity.
“I am going to show them what I can do.”
What Carlton has shown posting a 2.06 ERA through five levels of the Tigers system in four years, plus a strong showing in the Dominican Winter League last offseason, is the consistent ability to get hitters out without a high-octane fastball or what would be considered devastating secondary pitches.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Tigers reliever Kyle Funkhouser, who has been through the system with Carlton. “Nothing against Drew or guys like Drew, but sometimes guys like that, strike-throwers who throw really well in the minor leagues but don’t have that 100-mph velo don’t get a chance.
“I am really happy for him. Hope he does well because everywhere he’s been, he’s been good.”
He just gets outs. That’s what former manager Ron Gardenhire said about him when Carlton would get thrown into spring training games. It’s what manager AJ Hinch said when he brought him over last spring.
“He has demonstrated throughout his career that he’s a strike-thrower, he comes at hitters and he performs,” Hinch said. “Sometimes we get caught up in prospect status and who’s ahead of who — sometimes you just have to go with the guy who keeps getting outs.”
Carlton was the closer at Erie when the rotation there featured Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo. He posted 19 saves that year. This season with Toledo he has been used mostly in relief, but he’s also made spot starts. He’s got a 3.12 ERA with a 1.082 WHIP, 48 strikeouts and just 10 walks.
“Doug Bochtler (Toledo pitching coach) called me into his office (in Omaha Friday) and all the coaches were in there, the whole staff,” Carlton said. “Tom Prince (manager) said it was his proudest moment when he gets to tell guys they are going to the show. He said, ‘You are going up tomorrow.’
“I was just flooded with emotions. So excited. So happy. Couldn’t ask for more.”
Shortstop Zack Short was sent back to Toledo to make room for Carlton. The Tigers bullpen was in dire need of a fresh arm.
“I told him it could last a day, it could last a decade,” Hinch said. “Just come and pitch. Respect the opportunity but it’s the same game, the same philosophy, throw strikes, get in leverage counts and get outs.
“I’m really happy for our development system and the pitching coaches in the minor leagues. The pitching department has talked about Drew Carlton since the beginning of my time here. Now he has an opportunity to make an impression.”
Hinch said he asked Carlton, on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being most surprised, how did this announcement rate.
“He said 9.5,” Hinch said, laughing.
Carlton said he fully expected that he’d be starting a bullpen game for the Mud Hens Saturday, not scrambling to get to Cincinnati.
“It’s every kid’s dream who plays baseball, to make it to the big leagues” he said. “Nobody can take it away from me. I’m very excited to be here and show what I can do.”