Around the Tigers’ farm: Ty Madden’s slow start no cause for alarm, manager says

Detroit News

We interrupt this regularly scheduled programming, which was to have been an update on Ty Madden’s mastery at Single-A West Michigan, to pass on this news bulletin:

Madden hasn’t been pitching all that well for the Whitecaps.

Still, to hear Brayan Pena talk, Madden’s 5.01 ERA and 1.32 WHIP are no big deals.

“He has some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen at the minor-league level,” Pena said Sunday, four days after Madden had been smacked for eight hits and six earned runs during a bad three-inning ordeal against Beloit.

“I’ve been around the game a long time, and I know when I see a big-leaguer. And while I don’t want to put pressure on anybody, in my humble opinion we’ve got a big-leaguer in hand.

“We just need him to get some innings. It takes time.”

Pena has a point. Madden a year ago was pitching for the University of Texas. He was drafted by the Tigers early (32nd overall) and was regarded by various national observers to have been first-day draft thievery, especially given forecasts that he might go in the draft’s top 10-15 picks.

But he did not pitch competitively last summer after racking up 113.2 innings for the Longhorns (2.45 ERA, 1.05 WHIP). The Tigers tossed him onto West Michigan’s high-A roster for 2022 and the challenges have, to his bosses, been no great surprise.

It’s that old trap-door, Pena repeated: the change-up.

“In the same way power is always the last thing to come for a hitter, a change-up is last for a pitcher,” Pena said. “Very rare when you see a young pitcher with a good change-up, because it’s a very difficult pitch to get a feel for.”

Madden throws a fastball that can sit at 95 and reach 97. There is an overhand curve he brought from Texas and a slider that’s been in a grooming phase at West Michigan.

But it’s the change-up that needs to mature. And when it does, Pena says a pitcher who could audition for a rotation job in Detroit within two seasons will have fulfilled some prophecies.

“If you ask me, who’d you like to have in one game, I tell you it would be Ty Madden,” Pena said. “Without question. This guy has been to the College World Series. He’s pitched in front of thousands. He’s there — he’s there.

“And what I mean by that, is that mentally he knows what it’s like. Physically, he knows what it takes. All you have to do is remember this young man didn’t pitch last year (summer). This is his first year of professional baseball.  It’s going to take a little time to understand that it’s a process.”

More: Flores red-hot in West Michigan, but Tigers expect to be patient before promotion

A young Colt romps

Colt Keith is 20 years old. He does not turn 21 until Aug. 14, at which time Keith will have nearly two full seasons of minor-league ball behind him.

The question is whether, by that 21st birthday, Keith might be at Double A and a quick step from Comerica Park.

Such has been the torrid ways of a left-handed hitting prize who has been getting equal time at third base and second base at the Tigers’ high-A site, West Michigan.

Keith showed up for Sunday’s game against Beloit following a rare 0-for-5 stint in Saturday’s duel with the Sky Carp.

Still, he was batting .309 in 30 games, with four home runs and an .896 OPS.

Pena couldn’t help repeating words he had offered a month ago about Keith.

“I’ve not ever seen nobody hit the ball harder than this young man,” Pena said Sunday. “This guy is unbelievable, and his metrics are just as impressive.

“He’s a very good athlete, a strong young man, and he’s allowing his swing to work in a good sequence — he’s learned how to create good directional rhythm with his swings.

“His pitch-recognition and confidence continue to rise. He really impresses me.”

It is, and isn’t, a surprise — this searing spring by Keith.

In the same manner Madden was viewed as a possible draft-day theft a year ago, Keith two summers ago was considered by the scouting intelligentsia to have been possible larceny when the Tigers got him in the fifth round out of Biloxi (Mississippi) High.

He had been ticketed for Arizona State before the Tigers won his autograph with a $500,000 offer.

Keith is 6-foot-3, 211 pounds. At issue is whether he might stick at third base, his supposed big-league position, or move to second base, where he also is comfortable.

“We’re still working on that,” Pena said, mentioning a session last week when Keith was tutored by Billy Boyer, who heads minor-league infield instruction. “We made some adjustments, especially with his backhand. He understood the message. He made a tremendous play last (Saturday) night. And he’s got an above-average arm. Remember, he was a two-way player (pitcher and infielder) in high school.

“I feel good playing him at either position (third or second base). He’s a very good athlete.”

Left/right tensions

Kody Clemens is barreling along at Triple-A Toledo. He was batting .294 when he showed up for Sunday’s game at Louisville. He had clubbed seven home runs and owned an .871 OPS, which is nice documentation to present a big-league manager like Tigers skipper AJ Hinch, especially when you can play multiple positions.

But there’s this problem.

His splits.

Clemens is comfy against right-handed pitching: .333 batting average, seven home runs, a .998 OPS.

But against lefties, Clemens’ left-handed bat is all but nullified: .200, no homers, and a .564 OPS.

That won’t unseat any of his prime competitors now on the Tigers’ everyday roster – Harold Castro and Willi Castro.

It’s a next-step necessity for Clemens: getting better against same-side pitching that continues to confound him.

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

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