Tigers, Eli Villalobos Agree To Minor League Deal

MLB Trade Rumors

The Tigers have agreed to a minor league pact with free agent right-hander Eli Villalobos, per the team’s transaction log at MLB.com. He was designated for assignment by the Marlins last month and rejected what would’ve been his second career outright assignment in favor of free agency. Villalobos hasn’t pitched in nearly a month now, so Detroit assigned him to their Rookie-level minor league affiliate to ramp back up before presumably heading to their Triple-A club in Toledo.

Villalobos, 27 next week, made his big league debut with the Fish earlier this season and tossed 4 1/3 innings. He allowed one run on three hits and a pair of walks with three strikeouts in that generally sharp first MLB effort. He’s also logged 18 innings in Triple-A Jacksonville, recording a 4.50 ERA with a strong 26.5% strikeout rate but ugly 13.3% walk rate. Statcast measured his average fastball at 93.3 mph during that brief MLB run, and he also worked off a low-80s splitter and mid-80s slider.

While Villalobos has never ranked as a high-end prospect in Miami’s system, the former 14th-rounder was selected to the 40-man roster to shield him from the Rule 5 Draft on the heels of a 2022 season in which he posted a 2.86 ERA with a 32.7% strikeout rate (101 punchouts overall) against a 9.4% walk rate in 78 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He’s since bounced to the Pirates organization and then right back to the Marlins via a pair of DFAs and waiver claims.

Lack of prospect pedigree notwithstanding, Villalobos has sub-4.00 earned run averages and strikeout rates north of 25% in two seasons of action at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. He walked a calamitous 18% of his opponents in Triple-A last season but has dished out a free pass to a less-alarming (but still too high) 12.8% of his opponents between Triple-A and the big leagues this season. He’ll be a project for the Tigers but could be a near-term bullpen option for them if he can continue to move past last year’s career-worst command issues.

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