LAKELAND, Fla. — Suddenly, Brant Hurter appeared.
He came running over from the practice field and stopped in front of the Detroit Tigers facility.
“We were just doing conditioning,” he said, leaning over, sucking in some air.
“Take your time,” I said. “Catch your breath.”
Hurter took a few deep breaths and then stood up. Or rather, he kind of unfolded and extended and got even bigger.
First impression: He’s massive. Hurter is 6 feet 6 and hard to miss.
But it is hard to find a better under-the-radar prospect in the Tigers system. This 24-year-old left-hander doesn’t get much ink. Doesn’t have a high profile. And isn’t high on prospect lists for the organization — some have him in the 20s.
But that is going to change soon. Because of what he did last year.
To which we can apply the same sentiment: Suddenly, he just kind of appeared.
Hurter soared through the Tigers system in 2022, climbing from Low-A Lakeland to Double-A Erie, and he left behind some eye-popping stats: 106⅔ innings, 136 strikeouts and just 21 walks.
That’s the epitome of the marching orders under new Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris: Just pound the strike zone.
MORE FROM SEIDEL: Tigers willing to take any plunge to get better — even into a frozen river
“A three-level mover who really performed last year,” said Ryan Garko, the Tigers’ vice president of player development. “Left-handed, throws strikes, strikes people out and he does not walk people.”
Yes, all of those are fantastic traits.
“He’s a big dude,” Garko said. “Big, physical left-hander who is a tough look for lefties and righties, just given some of his pitch shapes and the mix and the strike-throwing capability.”
MORE FROM SEIDEL: Tigers’ surprising power surge might be the best part of this spring so far
Lessons from Tommy John
Hurter’s story begins back in college. And that part unfolded slowly.
As a freshman at Georgia Tech, Hurter appeared in 14 games, making 11 starts. He struck out 56 batters in 53⅔ innings.
“My freshman year was terrible,” he said. “So I went to the Cape (Cod League) after — which, I don’t know how — but I went to the Cape and I just kind of decided, this is what I want to do with my life. It’s either I can do what I just did last year or be better, so I was trying to get better.”
He started working out six days a week, training harder than ever in his life.
“Only day I took off was start day and just had a pretty good summer ball,” he said.
MORE FROM SEIDEL: I took a break from spring training and found resilience where Hurricane Ian hit
As a sophomore, he threw 48⅓ innings, striking out 58 while walking 14. But then he blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery.
“I had to find out why it blew out,” he said. “A lot of it was my lower half. It’s still a problem but working on it.”
He missed 2020 while recovering — a season that was eventually canceled because of COVID-19.
In 2021, he threw 85⅓ innings, striking out 83 while walking 19; the Tigers drafted him in the seventh round.
The Tigers then shut him down for the rest of the 2021 season, but they were able to get some baseline numbers on him.
“Then, we came back the next year with a whole new staff and I’ve been trying to develop through them,” he said. “They showed me a lot of new things and I’ve learned a lot.”
ON THE MOUND: How Tigers’ top-secret pitching laboratory has modernized their pitchers
Soaring through the minors
In 2022, Hurter started off in Lakeland, pitching in 10 games (42⅓ innings, 57 strikeouts and just six walks).
“It was good; it was hot,” he said. “But I loved our pitching coach, Juan Pimentel.”
Interestingly, Pimentel has been promoted to the Double-A Erie staff, which is probably where Hurter will start this season.
“l learned a lot from Pimentel,” Hurter said. “Each game, he gave me feedback, telling me what I did well, what I didn’t. He had a lot of charts and stuff to go through, stuff I didn’t know yet. So I learned a lot from him.”
Hurter was promoted to High-A West Michigan, where he pitched in 11 games (50⅔ innings, 62 strikeouts and 11 walks).
“It was good — West Michigan was awesome,” Hurter said. “The fans are crazy. The perfect time for weather. Coaches were amazing.”
He finished the year in Erie, where he got a taste of the next level (13⅔ innings, 17 strikeouts and four walks), figuring out some things he had to learn.
“You just you gotta be more locked-in all the time,” he said. “There were there were some things I needed to work on that I didn’t have to throw, like a backdoor breaker. Like just, like, more changeups in the zone. So it was just, it was a little adjustment but wasn’t too big.”
He is mainly a sinker-slider pitcher.
“My change (has) been good this year,” he said. “I started off last year throwing it a lot. They wanted to bump up my fastball numbers, so I kind of put it on the backburner. Middle of the year, kind of lost feel for it and stopped throwing it after that. But yeah, my changeup is a good pitch, if I can just get it consistently in the zone.”
MORE FROM SEIDEL: Why Tigers prospect Izaac Pacheco is Mr. Fearless
EAT ‘EM UP: One way to know Tigers are invested in future? It starts at the kitchen table
Lessons from his parents
Both of Hurter’s parents were college athletes at Wake Forest.
His father, Brian, played baseball, and his mother, Stacey, played basketball.
“My mom is 6 feet and my dad’s around 6-2, so I got a lot of the height from her,” Hurter said.
He got his ability to throw strikes from his father.
“He’s an old-school pitcher — move the ball, throw it where you want, throw all three pitches for strikes, which is kind of what he instilled in me earlier,” Hurter said.
That ability endears him to the Tigers front office.
But Hurter’s work in the classroom was just as impressive. He was named to the ACC Academic Honor Roll four times, which is an example of his intellect, work habits and competitiveness.
“I had to take care of academics to be able to play and it was a competitive thing,” he said. “I don’t like B’s. I want to get A’s, so it’s more like, being competitive with myself. I would just get really annoyed if I got bad grades.”
He takes the same approach to the baseball field. There was a time when he would get amped up on game day. But he learned that’s not effective for him.
“My competitiveness comes out more on the days leading up to the start and then I like to be chilled out on start day,” he said.
His goal is to make to the big leagues. But he’s smart enough to understand the process.
“There’s only so much I can control that but that’s what I want,” he said. “I still have to perform and prove myself. I haven’t made it obviously. So I had one good year and I gotta keep stacking them and have a better year this year and just keep going.”
Keep throwing strikes. Keep striking people out. Keep stacking good days together.
Do that, and there’s no doubt he’s going to appear in Detroit.
Suddenly or not.
MORE FROM JEFF SEIDEL:How Tigers’ Mason Englert climbed out of depression from deaths, panic attacks
Contact Jeff Seidel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.
To read Seidel’s recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.