Much has been made in the offseason rumblings about the Detroit Tigers having a locked down starting 5. Last year, the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation were occupied by a host of ineffective players. 2011 looks to be a different story.
Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Phil Coke, and Brad Penny will likely not enter the season as one of the top 5 rated rotations in baseball but I wouldn’t be surprised if they finished the season that way. What is even more comforting than staring down these 5 arms on the Tigers’ 25-man opening day roster is what rests just below the surface in the minor leagues.
The Tigers farm system was rated 25th out of 30 by both ESPN and MLB.COM, a number that doesn’t inspire much optimism among the average fan. Dig a little deeper and what you’ll find is that the Tigers may not be extremely rich with talent, especially at the AA and AAA levels, but a few players are bursting at the seams with potential.
This article will focus solely on the top pitching arms in the Tigers’ system and what that will mean for the very near future at Comerica Park in Detroit.
There are 4 prospects in particular that aren’t just projected to be contributors at the major league level; they are expected to be big-time producers. Here’s a quick glance at the bios of these 4 budding stars ranked in order of star potential:
- Jacob Turner – RHP – 19 years old, 6’5’’ & 210 lbs. – 3.28 ERA in 1 year of professional ball, which concluded at high A Lakeland. He’ll probably start there again this year and quickly move to AA Erie when the weather warms up a bit.
- Casey Crosby – LHP – 22 years old, 6’5’’ & 200 lbs. – 2.96 ERA in parts of 3 seasons in the minors, will either start 2011 in high A Lakeland or AA Erie.
- Andy Oliver – LHP – 23 years old, 6’3’’ & 210 lbs. – 3.45 ERA in the minors last year, and made 5 starts for the Tigers. Will start the year at AAA Toledo.
- Charlie Furbush – LHP – 24 years old, 6’5’’ & 215 lbs. – 3.80 ERA in 3 minor league seasons, buzz-sawed through high A ball, AA, and AAA in 2010 and is knocking on the door. Will start the season at AAA Toledo.
Notice anything in common between these 4 guys? Average height: 6’4 and ½”. Average weight: 206.25 lbs. Average age: 22 years old.
Dave Dombrowski is noted for drafting big, power-armed pitchers and letting his system develop them into stars. Remember the Marlins rotation back in the day that was assembled under DD’s watch? It consisted of Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, Carl Pavano, Brad Penny, and Dontrelle Willis.
Dream big Tiger fans, because we’re on the cusp of something very similar.
One might ask: how in the world will Jim Leyland figure out how to use the 5 he already has with these 4 guys ready for a taste of chartered planes and big league clubhouses? The simple answer is: who cares, it’s a great problem to have.
The more detailed answer is a lot more fun to address.
Justin Verlander isn’t going anywhere, neither is Rick Porcello. The same could probably be said for Max Scherzer. With these three pitchers, the Tigers have a potentially dominant top 3 in the rotation not just for 2011, but for years to come.
Brad Penny is on a one-year deal and is essentially a bridge between the present and the immediate future. He is aiming to produce at a high level and earn a multi-year deal with another team in 2012.
Phil Coke is versatile. If he needs to be shuffled back to the pen to make room for Crosby or Oliver, then so be it. And if he somehow proves too valuable to move out of the rotation, then the Tigers suddenly have some alluring trade pieces lingering in the minors.
Jacob Turner is going to prove in this year’s spring camp that he is major league ready, right now. He won’t get his full-time shot until 2012 though, and he won’t fail to grab it. He is a thoroughbred, front-line starter, in the mold of Verlander minus a few digits on the radar gun. Pencil Turner in for a spot in 2012’s rotation right now.
The big battle in 2012’s camp could come from Crosby and Oliver for the 5th spot. Crosby is reportedly fully healed from his elbow issues that popped up last year and is already scraping 97 MPH on the gun during his bullpen sessions. In his only full season of minor league pitching, 2009, he went 10-4 with a 2.41 ERA and 117 K’s in just 104.2 innings. Having him back and healthy is a monster boost to the Tigers’ overall pitching depth.
Oliver had a rough go in his 5 big league starts last year but holds a ton of upside. Not counting his stint in Motown, he compiled a 9-8 record at AA and AAA combined with a 3.45 ERA and 119 K’s in 130.1 innings. For his first year in professional baseball, those are pretty astounding numbers. Don’t sleep on Oliver despite what you saw on tv last year, he is for real.
Furbush could be the odd man out as far as becoming a starter goes but there’s no shame in becoming a strikeout-specialist lefty in the bullpen who can chew up innings with ease. Over 3 levels of minor league work last year, he K’d 183 hitters (2nd most of any minor league pitcher) in just 159 innings.
Now it’s time to crank up the imagination machine. Think of a pitching staff that looks something like this in 2012 or possibly 2013:
- Justin Verlander
- Max Scherzer
- Rick Porcello
- Jacob Turner
- Casey Crosby or Andy Oliver
- Joaquin Benoit
- Joel Zumaya
- Ryan Perry
- Daniel Schlereth
- Charlie Furbush
- Phil Coke
- Lester Oliveros or Al Albuquerque
No other team in Major League Baseball would be able to boast such an absurdly talented, and yet ridiculously young 12-man pitching staff. This isn’t wishful thinking either; this is what is going to happen. Dombrowski has been crafting this master plan for years.
It’s already good to be a Tiger fan, it’s about to get great.