Detroit Tigers assistant general manager Al Avila was interviewed on the MLB Network, where he discussed some of the players who might be called up to help the major league club in Detroit this season. Here is what he had to say:
Brian Kenny: Al, who do you think could be coming up and making a significant contribution to the Tigers this year?
Al Avila: I would say, obviously, one of the biggest guys that we’re going to be counting on, and hopefully, right now he’s 100 percent healthy and if he could continue that would be Bruce Rondon. He’s had a taste of the big leagues before and he’s one guy that we’ve been waiting to count on in a spot at the back end of the bullpen.
One guy that we’re going to have in spring training this year, we brought him up last year, he started in A ball, and we’re going to give him a chance to make an impact in the bullpen and see what he can do there, he’s been a starter with us, that would be Buck Farmer.
Those two guys, you know, as far as the pitching is concerned are two guys I think you can focus on.
It's no secret that the Tigers have been very high on Rondon for the past few seasons. They gave him the closer's job to lose prior to the 2013 season. Jose Valverde, who fell apart just as the team was making a run to the World Series, had departed via free agency that offseason. Rondon was erratic in spring training and wasn't called up until later in the season.
Rondon made a total of 30 appearances in 2013, pitching 28 2/3 innings with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. After the All-Star break, he made 20 appearances with a 1.17 WHIP, striking out over ten batters per nine innings. He has had issues with walks in the past, but appeared to be improving when he was shut down for the season.
The Tigers again were counting on Rondon for late inning duty in spring training in 2014, but he missed the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. Now, the team is hoping that the third time will be luckier. Given the normal recovery time from that procedure is usually closer to two years before a pitcher is back to full strength. counting on him to play a major role could be a risky play.
That Avila singled out Farmer is interesting news. The club has other starting pitchers who have been higher on the development chart than Farmer, including left-handers Kyle Ryan and Kyle Lobstein, and right-hander Drew VerHagen. The organization may prefer to keep those pitchers in a starting role until they show that they're not able to do it at the major league level. Still, nobody can be counted out if the team needs bullpen help, and the fact that a pitcher starts out in a starting role doesn't mean that they will stay there for the season.
Most observers would say that the Tigers have probably five bullpen spots locked up, with Joe Nathan as closer, Joakim Soria as the primary set up man, Al Alburquerque as a third right-hander, and Tom Gorzelanny and Blaine Hardy as two left-handers. Rondon will be given a job if he remains healthy, leaving just one spot open for Alex Wilson -- who was acquired in the Rick Porcello trade -- Ian Krol, Farmer, Josh Zeid, and Angel Nesbitt. Joel Hanrahan is among those invited on a minor league contract, but his injury history might be too much to over come.
Avila went on to mention Hernan Perez, who was called up later in the season in 2014 and is out of options, and James McCann as the two position players to keep an eye on. He reiterated that Steven Moya, while a top prospect in the organization, is likely to start the season at Triple A.