Is this random farmhand the answer to the Tigers bullpen woes?
My mother-in-law figure, Marie, a non-baseball fan who lives in southwest Virginia, seems to love that I love the Detroit Tigers. Unlike her daughter, who merely tolerates my fanaticism, Marie encourages it, stokes it even. This has resulted in behaviors that endear her to me like nothing else could: come playoff time, she cheers madly for Detroit. (I get October e-mails with titles like "Go TIGERS!!!" and, after the last game of the playoffs—two years running—"Too bad, so sad.")
Also, she sends me Tigers things. For Christmas one year, it was a long Tigers scarf. For my birthday, she sent a pack of Tigers playing cards and a book of 101 Reasons to Love the Detroit Tigers (spoiler alert: not Joe Nathan). And for no occasion at all (just because she loves me), she periodically sends me Tigers-related newspaper clippings which she excises from that journalistic powerhouse, the Roanoke Times. Thus I have hard copies somewhere of the Associated Press releases on events like the Miguel Cabrera contract and the Prince Fielder trade—stories I had obviously heard about and seen analyzed in-depth (on this very site) many days before said clippings arrived.
All of this is completely adorable.
So imagine my surprise when, a couple weeks ago, I received a card from Marie with a news story about the Tigers that I hadn't read yet and that actually taught me something about our beloved team. Clearly written for a Virginia audience, the article nevertheless demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the Tigers system and the emerging role— perhaps at the major league level, perhaps in 2015 — for a minor league pitcher I had never heard of: one Joe Mantiply.
The article (linked below, so you'll keep reading this FanPost) reads like so many made-for-Disney stories about a local major-league hopeful: the origins in a town called Dry Fork (seriously), the college pitcher coming into his own (Virginia Tech), the late selection in the Draft (Tigers, 27th round, 816th overall), the scout-who-always-believed (Bill Buck, who also drafted Will Rhymes and Kate Upton's boyfriend), and the player himself, the "unassuming kid with shaggy hair, who still lives in Virginia in the offseason, where he hangs with friends and rides four-wheelers—when he's not working at United Parcel Service, of course."
Those words belong to Tony Paul, the Detroit sportswriter who expanded his Mantiply article for the Roanoke Times after an earlier version appeared in the Detroit News. You should totally read it. Heck, read them both. But first let me give you a few reasons to believe Paul's headline ("Overlooked lefty Mantiply might reach Tigers in 2015").
1. Joe Mantiply is an in-house lefty reliever who does not cost $5-10 million per year. When Tiger fans hear phrases from management like "internal options" and "bounce-back season," we get antsy. Some of us have nightmares of Phil Coke sprinting out of the bullpen (or out of free agency) to "fix things." We cannot abide this. Yet the market for lefty relief help is exceedingly thin, even if it is the Tigers' top off-season priority. Just look at this list. Whatever internal options the Tigers do have, you can rest assured that they will be thoroughly auditioned.
2. Joe Mantiply has pretty good stuff. He's not a power pitcher, topping out in the low-90s with his fastball, but Paul cites his solid change-up, his "quality deception that comes with a) being so tall [6'4"], b) throwing three-quarters, and c) working from the first base side of the rubber," and his willingness to execute a game-plan that includes pitching inside to hitters from either side. Sounds all right to me.
3. Joe Mantiply dominated the Arizona Fall League. While pipeline-watchers in the Pre-Cespedes Era were busy salivating over Stephen Moya clips, Mantiply was quietly dismantling some of the MLB's top prospects. Catherine Slonksnis put it this way in her AFL wrap-up:
On the pitching side of things, left-handed reliever Joe Mantiply stood out for the Tigers. In 14 innings of relief, Mantiply gave up just four runs on 12 hits, allowing just two walks and striking out 15 over the course of 11 games. Not much was said about Mantiply in the AFL, but he was one of the more reliable relief pitchers. He struck out the side in his second-to-last appearance, and lasted more than an inning in four of his 11 games.
Mantiply has some inconsistencies in that he has trouble keeping runners off the basepaths though. Of the 14 innings he pitched, only three of those were clean. He gave up at least one hit on four occasions, and three times Mantiply allowed multiple hits. Interestingly, Mantiply walked just two batters. During the regular season Mantiply had a 2.52 ERA, and he kept that consistency by finishing with a 2.57 ERA in Arizona, holding batters to a .224 average.
I get that 14 innings is a tiny sample size, but Mantiply clearly distinguished himself in Arizona. He earned that invitation by pitching very well in the minors (1.13 WHIP, 2.38 ERA, in 117.1 innings) — Paul says he almost got called up last year instead of Buck Farmer — and he should get a long look in Lakeland in a couple months. Dave Dombrowski isn't ruling it out. But you won't find Mantiply's name on any top prospect lists. Apparently, he's the most highly regarded Tigers prospect you've never heard of.
All of this should be received with some skepticism, of course. Not many players crack MLB rosters after one season in A-ball with short stints in AA and the Fall League. But why shouldn't this guy be added to the list of favorites to contribute to the Tigers in 2015? At the very least, he should be poised to give the Lobsteins and Krols of the world a run for their money.
I, for one, hope Joseph Newman Mantiply (Newman!) nails his Spring Training interview, solidifies that atrocious Detroit bullpen for years to come, and helps bring home the Commissioner's Trophy in 2015.
After all, Marie is counting on it.