Tigers tap into pipeline Down Under, come up with gem

Detroit Tigers

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Jack Bushell was a two-way player as a teenager in Australia who had just committed to pitching full-time barely two years ago. He couldn’t have imagined being on the mound two months ago at the Tokyo Dome, facing some of the best young hitters Japan had to offer.

Bushell had just finished pitching for Team Australia in the U18 World Cup last fall. Suddenly, the 18-year-old was the youngest player at the Asia Professional Baseball Championship, a tournament featuring the top young players from pro leagues in Japan, Australia, Korea and China. Bushell started against the host team.

He took the loss in the 10-0 defeat, allowing a run on two hits in two innings, but his two strikeouts included an inning-ending whiff from Teruaki Sato, one of the more imposing young sluggers in Nippon Professional Baseball.

Bushell’s next challenge will be baseball in the Minor Leagues. The right-hander was part of the crop of deals the Tigers announced this week as part of the international signing period.

“I had the opportunity, and if I didn’t take it, I couldn’t live with myself,” Bushell told baseball.com.au. “I had to take it. It’s been my dream for a while now.”

Bushell is the only Far East signing in the Tigers’ international crop this year, but he’s the latest Aussie pitcher to come into the system. Warwick Saupold signed with the Tigers in 2012 after two seasons in the Australian Baseball League and made it to Detroit in ’16, pitching in 82 games over a three-year tenure. Lefty Jack O’Loughlin signed as a teenager in ’16 and topped out at Triple-A Toledo last year before signing with the A’s as a Spring Training non-roster invite this offseason. Lefty Matt Beattie pitched in two seasons in the Tigers’ system, topping out at Class A Lakeland in ’21, and Zac Shepherd converted to pitching in the Tigers’ organization after signing as an infielder in 2012.

All were scouted by Kevin Hooker, the Tigers’ Pacific Rim coordinator who lives in Australia.

“We liked [Bushell] as an athlete,” Tigers international operations director Tom Moore said, “and we just gravitated towards the fact when he started pitching that he’s got some skill that we thought would really do well when he gets into professional baseball.”

Bushell has baseball in his bloodlines. His dad played in the ABL, and his mom was on the Australian softball team that won a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics.

“So obviously, there’s some athleticism in the family,” Moore said.

Bushell became a star in Little League in Australia. The Tigers scouted him for at least a year, when he made an impression at Australia’s U18 national tournament. He enhanced his standing by leading the national team this past fall at the 2023 U18 World Cup in Taiwan, where he made a ridiculous play off the mound.

Bushell made his ABL debut this winter, pitching on the same Adelaide squad as O’Loughlin. Bushell reportedly has a 92-93 mph fastball and a quality changeup.

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