Detroit Tigers Newsletter: Developing rotation in Double-A Erie starting to shine

Detroit Free Press

It wasn’t that long ago that Alex Faedo was a bona fide pitching prospect.

The No. 18 overall pick in the 2017 draft started as the No. 50 prospect in baseball (according to Baseball America) heading into the 2018 season. But by the time he was called up last week, that label was well-faded, with a 5.53 ERA in 12 big-league starts last season and a hip injury severely lowering expectations (despite a 2.50 ERA over 18 innings in Triple-A this season).

And so, Faedo’s start for the Detroit Tigers against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday afternoon — three earned runs, seven strikeouts and one walk allowed over six innings — might not have seemed like much.

THE FUTURE IF BRIGHT: How Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene plan to be ‘unstoppable’ together

But it was a minor milestone, at least: The first “quality start” (defined as a start of at least six innings and three earned runs or fewer allowed) by a Tigers pitcher younger than 30 this season.

(In case you missed it, you can get the full report on Faedo’s performance, and why it’s a slight beacon of hope, from the Freep’s Jeff Seidel here.)

Hello, and welcome to the Down On The Farm Newsletter.

The Tigers have eight other quality starts from their 30-something starters in 2023: Five by Eduardo Rodriguez, two by Michael Lorenzen and one by Matthew Boyd. But no team has gotten fewer quality starts from pitchers in their 20s than the Tigers have this season — three others also have just one, while the Cleveland Guardians lead the MLB with 19 — which is a far cry from last season when the Tigers’ 43 such starts ranked 11th in the majors.

Faedo and Joey Wentz will likely be the only 20-somethings in the Tigers’ rotation for a few weeks, barring an unexpected injury (or trade, but we’ll get to that in a little bit). But that doesn’t mean the organization doesn’t have some prospects to watch in the minors, both on the mound and at the plate. With that in mind, here’s an update on 10 players to know in the Tigers’ system (with their MLB Pipeline ranking within the organization in parentheses):

(All statistics through Sunday’s games.)

OF Roberto Campos (13)

What kind of prospect list is it if you don’t have at least one player who’s not yet old enough to legally drink a beer? In this case, that would be the 19-year-old Campos, who — brace yourself — was barely five weeks old when Miguel Cabrera made his big-league debut. A long-awaited international signing — after commanding a $2.85 million bonus back in 2019 — he tweaked his swing over the offseason, and it seems to have paid off with a .257/.317/.434 slash lie that includes 27 strikeouts and 11 walks in 126 plate appearances for High-A West Michigan.

C Dillon Dingler (14)

The Tigers’ second-round pick in 2020, who made it to Double-A last season, started 2023 crushing the ball (albeit down a level in Low-A Lakeland) with a 1.474 OPS. Since his return to Erie, he has kept the hitting going, with a .351/.455/.649 slash line in 44 plate appearances.

FROM ERIE: How has a return from injury for this Tigers prospect helped to spark the Erie SeaWolves?

RHP Wilmer Flores (4)

Dingler’s fellow representative in last year’s All-Star Futures Game was the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2022, but 2023 hasn’t started as well. The 6-foot-4 righty has a 6.15 ERA in seven Double-A starts; the bigger issue is the 22-year-old’s sudden inability to, ahem, command the strike zone. After posting a 4.52 strikeout-to-walk rate with Erie last season, he’s down to 1.83 this season in 26⅓ innings.

LHP Brant Hurter (21)

All is not lost in the Erie rotation, however: Hurter, a hulking lefty drafted out of Georgia Tech in 2021’s seventh round, is dominating Double-A batters. The 24-year-old leads the SeaWolves with 36 strikeouts in 30⅔ innings, posting a 2.35 ERA. That, combined with just 10 walks issued, bodes well for his chances of reaching Detroit eventually.

(As well as his chances of making the Freep’s Jeff Seidel look good; he wrote about Hurter’s rapid rise back in March. Check it out here.)

3B Colt Keith (2)

Another member of the Tigers’ six-pick 2020 draft class, Keith solidified his status as perhaps the organization’s top hitting prospect with an Arizona Fall League run that featured a .344/.463/.541 slash line over 80 plate appearances. His opening stint in Double-A hasn’t been quite as encouraging, as the 21-year-old’s line is down to .266/.331/.460 with 35 strikeouts and only 11 walks in 139 plate appearances.

RHP Ty Madden (5)

We’ll wrap things in Erie with perhaps the star of the SeaWolves’ rotation. Madden, the Tigers’ other first-round pick in 2021, has struck out 31 of the 95 batters he has faced, with just seven walks and a 2.35 ERA in 23 innings. It’s not far off his 2022 performance in Double-A, when he struck out 49 and walked 12 over 35⅔ innings.

3B/OF Justyn-Henry Malloy (7)

The prize of the offseason’s Joe Jiménez trade, the 23-year-old has been tearing up Triple-A all season. He has cooled off a bit from his first month — in which he walked 21 times and struck out 26 times while hitting .340/.470/.521 — but is still maintaining his power, with a .275/.408/.525 slash line, 15 strikeouts, three home runs and eight walks in 49 plate appearances.

So what are the Tigers waiting for? Our Man Seidel wrestled with that question just a couple weeks ago. Check out his reasoning here.

OF Parker Meadows (10)

Austin’s little brother popped five homers in spring training to tie for the team lead and seemed to be ready to do big things in Triple-A. Unfortunately, his power doesn’t seem to have made the trip north from TigerTown; the 23-year-old is slugging just .357 with 41 strikeouts (and 20 walks) in 167 plate appearances for the Mud Hens.

RHP Reese Olson (11)

While Toledo’s pitching roster mostly skews toward plug-and-play arms, there’s a few spots for youngsters, such as the 23-year-old who finished second in the Double-A Eastern League in strikeouts (168 in 136⅓ innings). But the problem that made Olson expendable to the Milwaukee organization, walks, hasn’t entirely gone away. After walking just 2.9 batters per nine innings last season, he’s at 6.8 in 2023, which goes a long way toward explaining his 8.44 ERA and meager 28 strikeouts in 26⅔ innings with the Mud Hens.

3B Izaac Pacheco (12)

The second-youngest player at West Michigan, Pacheco is still looking for success at the plate. The 2021 second-rounder is hitting just .214 with 38 strikeouts and nine walks in 127 plate appearances. Still, 10 of his 25 hits have been for extra bases, including a homer Sunday vs. cross-state rival Lansing.

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Taking the next step

Of course, there’s often a big jump between dominating in the minors and mastering the majors — just ask Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson, who are still cementing themselves in Year 2. But they seem to be heating up in May; together, they’re hitting .333 with 11 extra-base hits and 14 RBIs this month. It’s all part of their scheme to be “pretty unstoppable,” according to Freep’s Evan Petzold. Head here to get the rest of the plan.

Higher Ed(uardo)

Another Tiger having a pretty good May? Eduardo Rodriguez. The left-hander has 17 strikeouts over 15 innings without allowing a run this month; he even has a couple wins to show for it. It’s all part of a six-week stretch that has made him, by some estimations, the most valuable pitcher in the majors this season. Rodriguez is second in ERA (1.57), second in WHIP (0.794) and leads all pitchers in bWAR (2.5). Perhaps Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris summed it up best to Our Man Petzold here, saying, “It’s really fun to watch him pitch every five days.”

Unfortunately for the Tigers, that success comes with a flip side you may have heard a few times already: At some point, the front office will likely have to pony up a big contract extension for Rodriguez, or ship him out before the trade deadline to one of the 20 teams he doesn’t have on his partial no-trade clause. That won’t be an easy call, the Freep’s Shawn Windsor noted. But it’s not all downside, either. Head here to find out why.

The seeds of summer

The Tigers already have eight wins this month: One more and they match their total for May 2019, four more and they match May 2022’s total. Yes, those are low bars to clear, but the seeds for this success were planted by Scott Harris’ series of small moves during the offseason. Our Man Seidel broke down the transactions that are starting to sprout now here.

3 to watch

Here are three of Harris’ offseason pickups looking to connect again:

MATTHEW BOYD: It went awry vs. his hometown team, but the lefty is confident he’ll make some adjustments.

NICK MATON: The ex-Phillie still isn’t hitting breaking balls. (Though sometimes, like on Sunday, they hit him.)

ZACH McKINSTRY: The ex-Chippewa is fired up by his success atop the Tigers’ batting order.

Mark your calendar!

The Tigers have a slightly laid-back week, with a pair of games against the Pirates at Comerica Park sandwiched between off days Monday and Thursday. Right-hander Michael Lorenzen is up first on the mound for the Tigers; he’ll be taking on the Bucs with a reduced repertoire of pitches. Head here to find out why (and why it’s working) from Our Man Petzold. Following their interleague “rivalry series” — really, the teams should play for a bronze bust of Jim Leyland, or maybe just a pack of Marlboros left over from his tenure in Detroit — the Tigers head to Washington (the capital, not the state) to take on the Nationals and old friend Jeimer Candelario in a three-game set beginning Friday.

Still, that Sands is playing at all is an inspiring story; Our Man Seidel had the story in February.

Other Tigers birthdays this week: Kody Clemens (27 on Monday), A.J. Hinch (49 on Monday), John Smoltz (56 on Monday), Doug Brocail (56 on Tuesday), Jack Morris (68 on Tuesday), Carlos Pena (45 on Wednesday), Ozzie Virgil (91 on Wednesday), Joakim Soria (39 on Thursday), Brandon Inge (46 on Friday), David Wells (60 on Saturday), Hal Newhouser (would have been 102 on Saturday; died in 1998), Jacob Turner (32 on Sunday), Andrew Miller (38 on Sunday).


We’ll close this week with a gentle reminder to call your mom, if you can and didn’t do so on Mother’s Day on Sunday. Our Man Seidel checked in with the Tigers on what their moms mean to them, and, well, it’s worth a read here.

Contact Ryan Ford at Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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