Around the Tigers’ farm: Who might stick as starters among Double-A Erie’s talented trio?

Detroit News

Three pitching lines from Double-A Erie, all in games last week at New Hampshire, were of interest to Tigers execs charged with grooming a future pitching staff in Detroit:

Wilmer Flores, Tuesday: 4.2 innings, one hit, no runs, three walks, six strikeouts.

Reese Olson, Friday: six innings, one hit, no runs, one walk, 10 strikeouts. He had a whopping 25 swings-and-misses in a 90-pitch outing.

Ty Madden, Saturday: 5.1 innings, six hits, one run, three walks, eight strikeouts. Seventeen swings-and-misses (91 pitches).

Throw these three relative gems together and you had 16 innings of one-run, eight-hit baseball, highlighted by 24 strikeouts.

The question is how many of the above trio will stick as starters.

Flores? For now, absolutely. He is a right-hander, 21 years old, 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. He has been the hottest pitching story on the Tigers farm in 2022. Flores has a 1.96 ERA on the season and, after wearing down a bit as the heat and innings piled up, he was back Tuesday, with a fresh fastball and a flight-plan to stick in the Tigers’ developmental rotation.

Madden, who gave up a few too many hits and walks Saturday, still had those 10 punch-outs in 5.1 innings. He also is a right-hander who was last year’s second-overall Tigers draft pick. He was a University of Texas ace before being plucked by Detroit, and with a 6-3, 215-pound frame, is being polished as a long-term starter.

For now, anyway.

Olson?

There, potentially, is the Erie trio’s bullpen candidate, not that it would be any brand of demotion.

It has to do with size (Olson is 6-1, 195), fastball speed and movement, and secondary pitches. It’s simply something the Tigers will keep in mind as the group moves closer, probably next season, to discussions when the Tigers need help at Comerica Park.

Ryan Garko, who heads player development for the Tigers, was asked Sunday about chances any of the above might someday be more lethal as bullpen arms.

All three, he said, would remain on starting-pitching programs and that there were no immediate plans to move anyone to a relief role.

Ah, but it’s free to wonder if Olson might be viewed as an eventual bullpen piece. Especially when his best pitch is considered.

“His bread-and-butter really is the change-up,” Erie manager Gabe Alvarez said during a Saturday phone conversation. “It’s a plus-plus change, and he can throw it to both left-handers and right-handers, in any count.”

There is another option.

“He can throw the slider,” Alvarez said. “He can land it for strike-one, and he can also bury it for a strikeout pitch.”

Olson’s fastball, which runs 92-96, is not always the high-bore pitch a starter can fling, especially to big-league hitters.

Is this a pitcher who might be more valuable in a big-league bullpen, especially when his fastball could gain a tick or two in shorter-innings stints and make his other options sharper?

“I think it’s too early to tell,” Alvarez said, believing his bosses will take their time sorting out any eventual role.

Either way, the Tigers are happy with Olson in their farm fold.

That’s also because of some symmetry Friday night. Daniel Norris opened for the Tigers in their game against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. He worked 4.2 scoreless innings, which was nifty, given that it was his first time back in a Tigers uniform in almost 13 months.

Norris re-signed two weeks ago with the Tigers, this time to a minor-league contract, after departing them 13 months ago in a trade with the Brewers that brought to Detroit a prospect pitcher named …

Reese Olson.

The name is Navigato

It’s tough being a 20th-round draft pick. Perceptions linger that whatever happens on the farm might not stretch to the farm’s upper tiers, much less the big leagues.

Andrew Navigato is hinting at bigger things.

“He’s playing phenomenal for us — he’s turned himself into a prospect,” Alvarez said, speaking of a 24-year-old infielder and capable outfield plug-in who has had a nice 65-game run for the SeaWolves in 2022: .279/.347/.481/.828, with 12 home runs.

“I think he’s played his way into the discussion.”

Navigato is 5-11, 188, bats right-handed, and played college ball at Oklahoma State. He officially is listed as a third baseman/second baseman, but that’s a bit confining.

“I can play him anywhere on the field,” said Alvarez, although catcher, pitcher, center and right field haven’t yet been part of Navigato’s mix. “And I can hit him anywhere in the lineup.

“He can steal bases and is very aggressive on the bases. He’s a solid player with a high baseball IQ and a high motor.”

Meditating on Meadows

He hit three home runs last week in three separate games. He has 12 bombs on the season.

Parker Meadows, at age 22, is having a sound summer at Double-A Erie.

“I think he’s started to come into his own — he’s really taken it up a level,” Alvarez said. “And he’s playing phenomenal baseball in center field.

“Yesterday, (Friday night, at New Hampshire) he made a spectacular play in the first inning, against their leadoff batter, on a ball over his head in left-center field. He caught it on the warning track heading into the wall.

“Then, he hit a moon-shot, three-run homer off the top of the video board.

“Also, when he was on first base, (Quincy) Nieporte hit a double to left, cut off by the left fielder, and Meadows scored from first.”

He has that kind of speed, of course, which isn’t typical of outfielders who are 6-5, 205 pounds.

Meadows is doing fine, overall, in 2022: .259 batting average .337 on-base, and an .803 OPS ahead of Sunday’s series finale at New Hampshire.

There is just one, lingering issue: He is batting .176 against left-handed pitcher, with a .478 OPS.

Alvarez isn’t nervous.

“I think, like any young hitter, they haven’t seen a lot of left-hand pitching,” the skipper said. “Like with any young hitter, that’s going to be one of the last things to develop.”

Short hops

► Izaac Pacheco, who started big at Single-A West Michigan with two home runs in his first two games, was lost last Tuesday for the remainder of the week.

He was spiked in the hand on a play at third base and took 12 stitches. He is expected back, quickly.

Jack Anderson, a right-handed reliever at West Michigan, ranks as one of the Tigers farm crop’s better young relievers.

Anderson, 22, and a 16th-round pick in 2021 from Florida State, had struck out 17 of his last 39 batters heading into Sunday’s game.

“Really good job, good stuff,” Garko said of a pitcher, 6-3, and 200, who has a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a 1.12 WHIP in seven games since being bumped from low-A Lakeland.

“He’s got a good mix, and all the things you look for: velocity, some deception, some good movement, and ride.”

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

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