Those last three starts Ty Madden has put together at West Michigan should spur thoughts and memories.
Begin with memories: Madden was the second player the Tigers picked in last July’s MLB Draft, 32nd overall, when a right-handed ace from the University of Texas was sitting there, surprisingly, unclaimed.
As for thoughts: A pitcher who has allowed three hits in each of his last three starts (five innings, five innings, six innings) against high-Single A hitters just might be figuring out this professional baseball gig.
That seemed especially true Friday, in a game at Lake County, when Madden went six innings, allowed a single run on three hits, all while walking none and striking out seven.
It turns out months of work with Tigers tutors is taking shape.
Madden’s delivery has been changed a tad. It’s not quite as over-the-top as it was last year when Baseball America compared him unfavorably with Vanderbilt ace Jack Leiter, showing how Madden’s mechanics left him vulnerable to having higher-zone fastballs mashed.
But it’s the usual better mix of primary and secondary pitches that has been the story, Dean Stiles, pitching coach at West Michigan, said during a Sunday phone conversation.
“He’s taken his curveball to another level,” Stiles said, acknowledging that “the vertical (delivery) has always been there.”
“What he’s learning to do now is start that fastball low in the zone, work at that level, then come back and make an effective pitch up, changing eye level. He’s pitching more north and south, and also more east and west — more horizontally.”
That’s all a product of attacking the strike zone’s quadrants. And, Stiles said, of adding a cutter to Madden’s quiver, which makes for a handy four-pitch package that includes a solid change-up.
Madden is 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, and turned 22 in February. He threw 113.2 innings a year ago as he wrapped up his junior season for the Longhorns and was done as a game-day pitcher after the Tigers drafted him. They wanted a lid on his innings and a slow, methodical program bent on getting him to Detroit.
He will be pitching, Stiles said, at a six-inning, 90-pitch limit for the foreseeable future. And that future appears in 2022 to be confined to West Michigan, although no one is ruling out Double A.
Not when so much finesse already had been applied through April and now into June.
“The curveball, especially,” Stiles said. “It sat at about 70 (mph), and was kind of a get-me-over first pitch. Now he’s upping the velo to 75, 76, 77 and he can use it at both ends of the count to protect his fastball.”
As for Madden’s fastball: It’s sitting 94-95 and has hit 98.
That other all-essential tool, the change-up, is doing fine.
“It’s probably his third-best pitch,” Stiles said. “One of the organizational philosophies is to use the change — his is at 87 or so — and not be afraid to use it right-on-right as opposed to right-on-left.”
That, of course, was baseball talk: Right-handed pitchers prefer to throw changeups that break away from a left-handed batter, versus change-ups that break opposite of a curveball and into a right-handed hitter.
It helps explain why Madden is still at A-ball. Even talented athletes who know pitching, who pitched at Texas against college baseball’s elite hitters, understand the difference in pro ball. Madden sees it every week, even at Single A.
The Tigers need a long-term everyday catcher. It is what they hoped/thought they were getting two years ago when they picked Dillon Dingler to begin the MLB Draft’s second round.
And they might well have scored there.
Except … the strikeouts.
Dingler has 61 of them in Double-A Erie’s first 45 games. He is whiffing at a rate of 32%. And that, as MLB front offices will tell you, is not a sustainable number.
Otherwise, Dingler is having an OK year at Erie: .247 batting average, .333 on-base, .737 OPS, with four home runs.
Concerned? Not really, Ryan Garko said Sunday.
“He’s working on some things, simplifying his approaches in the (strike) zone,” said Garko, who heads player development for the Tigers.
He also said Dingler’s focus is hardly on offense, only.
“We’ve put a lot on him with the catching, as well,” Garko said, “and his receiving (defensive) numbers are coming back great. He’s got a lot on him right now. The catching part is going as well as we could hope for.
“He’ll get there. He knows he’s got work to do to try to simplify (hitting) as much as we can. Obviously, those are markers — swings and misses. He’s definitely working on some things.”
Can he change?
Strikeouts indeed are torpedoes to a hitter’s hull — excessive strikeouts, anyway.
What’s more distressing are chase-rates. Hitters who not only strike out, but who strike out on bad pitches, tend to become organizational washouts.
Can a shortstop such as 19-year-old Manuel Sequera, who otherwise flashes sublime baseball skills, discipline that right-handed swing sufficiently to ever cut it as a serious Tigers prospect?
Sequera has 44 strikeouts in 45 games at low-Single A Lakeland, which isn’t a problem as much as having seven walks, total. He is batting .217, with a .254 on-base percentage and .618 OPS. He also has five home runs, all clubbed in the Florida Complex League’s big ballparks.
“It’s not something we’re in denial about,” Garko said of a right-handed hitter, 6-1 and 170. “There’s so much talent there. There’s a lot to love, and he can really play shortstop.”
Garko said every game is reviewed for every hitter — the pitches they saw the previous night or day. Swing decisions are studied. How do they apply to the Tigers’ metric evaluations?
“We’re trying to be creative,” Garko said of the challenge to make Sequera more disciplined. “He has good nights and bad. And nights when he locks it in. And when he does …”
Talent. So much talent. Hitting. So very difficult, for so many.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.