He’s eager to sprout, but there’s a long process ahead in his pursuit of becoming a reliable four-pitch starter for the Tigers at baseball’s highest level. Remember, he hasn’t pitched a minor-league game yet.
“I want to learn everything,” Madden said last week. “I’m taking in knowledge, but when I’m on the field, I’m taking a more simpler approach to it. But off the field, I’m diving into it more.”
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Behind the scenes, Madden is working closely with director of pitching Gabe Ribas and pitching coordinators Steve Smith and Stephanos Stroop. All three coaches are new to the organization.
Madden will get some one-on-one time with Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter now that the MLB lockout is over, and the 22-year-old right-hander could join MLB spring training for a few innings.
“These guys are super bought-in,” Madden said. “They’re putting a ton of time and effort into us. The amount of knowledge they have is unbelievable, so not get overwhelmed with it but first getting an understanding of it and figuring out how my stuff can play the best.”
So, what has Madden learned?
“The ride on my fastball is something that they’ve really, really paid attention to and want to use more,” Madden said. “My changeup, too. If I can land it for a strike, I think it’ll be really effective.”
Madden, at 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds, posted a 2.45 ERA, 44 walks and 137 strikeouts in 113⅔ innings over 18 starts for Texas last season and was the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year.
He throws a 93-96 mph fastball to go with a slider, his best secondary pitch, changeup and curveball. He is ranked as the Tigers’ No. 5 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
During minor-league spring training, Madden has focused on upgrading his fastball and changeup. Of his four pitches, he has the most confidence in his slider, so he doesn’t want to throw that pitch as often until games begin.
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Elevating his fastball is a top priority.
“Definitely work up (in the strike zone) more — for strikes and for chase,” Madden said. “I need to refine my location up, too, where in the past at school, it was always, go up with two strikes for the strikeout. But now, having comfort going up in the zone early in the count for takes or for swing and miss.”
As for Madden’s changeup, he revamped the pitch grip. He has already seen an improvement in the way his changeup moves. The goal is to consistently land his changeup for called strikes, rather than only seeking swings and misses outside of the strike zone.
His trust in the changeup is growing daily.
This pitch may turn out to be his X-factor on the mound.
“I think it’ll just take me into more of an elite starter,” Madden said. “I think some people say there’s a reliever risk with me without that third pitch, and I’d like to prove them wrong by throwing that changeup successfully.
“I’ve heard it my whole life. I believe I’m a starter, and I think I carry my velocity deep into games really well. If that’s another pitch I can get in their head, it’ll give me more success more times through the order.”
Madden has a fourth pitch, too: his curveball.
“Just a big velo difference,” Madden said. “I flip it in early in counts, usually a free strike. It’s almost always a take (from the hitter), just to change the speed and put something in their head.”
The curveball, though, isn’t a reliable weapon for Madden — not yet, at least. Once he masters his fastball and changeup, considering his slider is his best pitch, he will begin focusing on his curveball.
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He hopes to boast a better curveball by the time he makes his MLB debut.
“I think I’m a four-pitch guy,” Madden said. “In the big leagues, when I get there, I’ll be a four-pitch guy, too. It’s exciting. It’s what I dream of doing. And playing a kids game for my job, it’s hard to complain.”