How Detroit Tigers’ Drew Carlton is preparing for a second MLB opportunity

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Detroit Tigers reliever Drew Carlton will never forget what happened in 2021.

That goes for everything, from his MLB debut in September to his removal from the organization’s 40-man roster in November. He reported to minor league minicamp Tuesday morning for his physical exam, describing the atmosphere as “a little weird” without MLB players around the facility.

Due to MLB’s lockout, big leaguers cannot step foot in the team’s complex.

For now, though, Carlton isn’t a big-leaguer.

“It’s nice being here because we got a lot of new staff,” Carlton said Tuesday, from the Joker Marchant Stadium parking lot. “It’s nice getting to meet everybody, being ahead of the curve, being in front of everybody and getting my work in.”

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A 32nd-round pick in the 2017 draft from Florida State, Carlton hopes to soon rejoin the 40-man roster. He pitched four games for the Tigers in 2021, allowing two earned runs on six hits and four walks in 3⅔ innings for a 4.91 ERA. He struck out one of the 19 batters he faced.

Carlton, known as a strike-thrower, had an uncharacteristic 53% strike rate.

“It’s not how I wanted it to go,” Carlton said. “But it was all a learning experience for me. I’m going to take what I did up there and improve on it. I’m going to take it into this year and try to do something with it.”

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He spent most of his 2021 season in Triple-A Toledo, logging a 2.92 ERA with 10 walks and 49 strikeouts in 52⅓ innings over 33 games (two starts). Spanning his four-year minor-league career, he boasts 1.8 walks and 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings, along with a 2.03 ERA in 213 innings.

Carlton believes his 21.1% walk rate in four MLB games was a fluke.

“Just got to eliminate those and go back to who I am,” Carlton said. “Just throw strikes, go back to who I am as a pitcher, not walk guys and go for weak contact.”

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The crafty Carlton relies on commanding all three of his pitches: fastball, slider and changeup.

His fastball velocity has been his deficiency, averaging 89.6 mph last season. This past offseason, Carlton changed his lower-half mechanics and focused on building arm strength.

“This year, I’m hoping to average 91-92 (mph), topping 93-94,” Carlton said. “I think it would change a lot of things for me. It would add an extra checkmark to the book for me. Command, I already have that. Adding some extra velo in there would be another benefit for me.”

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Carlton pitched eight games out of the bullpen for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League, finishing with a 4.32 ERA, two walks and eight strikeouts in 8⅓ innings. It was his second year in winter ball.

In the Dominican Republic, Carlton tinkered with his mechanics, in hopes of cranking up the speed, and threw his changeup at least twice to every batter he faced. He feels more confident in his changeup.

“That’s where I started to mess with my mechanics,” Carlton said, adding he adjusted his hip-to-shoulder separation and lead-leg extension. “It was just trial and error, trying new things and seeing what works and what sticks.”

If Carlton’s increased velocity is sustainable throughout the rigors of the season, the Tigers will likely give him another opportunity at baseball’s highest level. Above all else, he wants to return to manager AJ Hinch’s roster.

“I’m going to work my ass off to get back on the 40-man, get back up there and show them I can stay up there,” Carlton said. “It was a little bit of a surprise and a little heartbreaking, but it’s part of the business.

“I’m just lucky to be back here. I’m happy to be back here.”

Latest MiLB additions

The Tigers signed two relievers — left-hander J.T. Perez and right-hander Alex Powers — to minor-league contracts, a source told the Free Press on Tuesday.

Both players will head to Lakeland on March 10, when pitchers and catchers report for regular minor-league spring training.

Perez, 26, pitched for the Lake Erie Crushers in the Frontier League last season, posting a 2.41 ERA with 18 walks and 67 strikeouts across 52⅓ innings in 42 games. He picked up 15 saves and recorded 3.1 walks and 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings, without allowing a home run.

The Minnesota Twins drafted Perez in the 29th round in 2018 from Cincinnati. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound lefty had a 3.56 ERA at the Low-A level in 2019 and a 3.79 ERA over 35 relief appearances (54⅔ innings) in his two-year career in the minors.

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Powers, 29, pitched for Triple-A Reno (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Triple-A El Paso (San Diego Padres) in 2021. He combined for a 5.40 ERA with 21 walks and 61 strikeouts over 48⅓ innings in 35 games (three starts), registering 3.9 walks and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

The 6-4, 205-pound righty was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 25th round in 2013 from Southern New Hampshire University and has also played in the Cincinnati Reds’ farm system. He has a 3.46 ERA in his seven-year career in the minors across 234 games (five starts) and 327⅔ innings.

Contact Evan Petzold 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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