Both Luke Putkonen and Luis Marte saw limited action with the Tigers last year. While there may not be many bullpen innings to go around, don't be surprised if either of these guys sees more action in 2013.
When you're trying to preview everyone on the 40-man roster and you sometimes struggle with basic things like counting, sometimes players slip through the cracks. That's why Kurt is no longer writing these previews (I kid, I kid). There are 11 days left until the Tigers report to Lakeland, and today's post looks at a couple of relief pitchers who will be looking to head north with the team at the end of Spring Training.
Putkonen has risen through the Tigers' minor league ranks as a starter, but he broke into the big leagues last season after transitioning to the bullpen. Given that he's 26 years old and the Tigers have a litany of starters in front of him, it's probably safe to say that his future rests in middle relief. Our prospect guru agrees:
Putkonen has a 7th inning ceiling for me, which is, understandably, much more of a profile than I have seen others put on Putkonen. I think that as he further adjusts to being a reliever, meaning he can air out his fastball while still maintaining command, he becomes a very nice bullpen piece to have, and one that I think could be valuable to the Tigers.
Putkonen got off to a rocky start in the majors last year, allowing two runs in his first appearance and seven runs in his first six innings. As you might imagine, the majority of the Tigers fanbase alienated him after that. He rebounded to pitch ten scoreless innings in his next seven appearances, including a save in the Tigers' final game of the regular season. While we are looking at an extremely small sample size here, his ERA was under 4.00 and his FIP was a respectable 3.34. It's quite possible that Putkonen simply had some major league jitters early on, but has since shaken them off and will be quite serviceable going forward.
Speaking of going forward, he needs to cut down on the walks. He issued eight walks in 16 big league innings, which isn't as concerning as the 3.2 walks per 9 innings he had in Triple-A Toledo last season. Putkonen relies on pitching to contact too much to be walking that many hitters out of the bullpen. Expect his strikeout numbers to go up; he had 10 in the majors last season, but was fanning 7.3 batters per 9 innings in the minors last year.
Marte's major league numbers may look better than Putkonen's on the surface, but Fangraphs sees his performance as nothing but smoke and mirrors; his ERA was a respectable 2.82, but he had an FIP of 5.06 for some reason that I still can't figure out yet. One interesting statistical anomaly of Marte's season: he allowed four of his seven earned runs and three of his four home runs against National League teams. His only win of the season came against the Kansas City Royals on the last day of the season. As for his upside, Brian has you covered:
Marte has the ceiling of a 7th inning reliever, with the more likely landing spot being a 1-3 innings middle reliever. He has the stuff to miss bats and be effective over the course of a couple innings, but I don't see the dominating stuff it takes to profile as an 8th inning guy or closer.
Like Putkonen, I want to see fewer walks out of Marte in 2013 (and beyond). Between Triple-A Toledo and the majors, Marte issued 19 free passes in just 46 2/3 innings last season. His strikeout numbers are higher than Putkonen's, which helps ease the concern about the walks, but it would still be nice to see him hover closer to an 8% walk rate (he was at 9.7% last season).
Unless the rotation absolutely falls apart, I don't see there being enough bullpen innings to give either Marte or Putkonen a significant increase in playing time in 2013 unless one of them takes a huge developmental leap. Marte probably has the better odds of making the team out of camp, but both will see their fair share of time with the big club in 2013.