Right-handed pitcher Buck Farmer had one goal going into spring training last season: finish up the year in the Detroit Tigers' Single-A level program in West Michigan. Having played under the leadership of the newest West Michigan Whitecaps coach (Andrew Graham, in Connecticut during the 2013 season) Farmer approached 2014 as he had with each year prior. A chance to simply get better.
The 2014 season far-exceeded his expectations. A southern gentleman, Farmer would be happy to recall the highlights, once the whirlwind experience sinks into his own mind. Despite early recognition by the Atlanta Braves, transitioning from Rockdale County High School for the single game strikeout record holder, to playing collegiate level baseball was a no-brainer.
"I know you've heard it a hundred times that at some point, baseball is going to end and I've accepted that," Farmer said. "Going to Georgia Tech and getting the education and actually having something to fall back on once that is over, whether I have a ten year career, a twenty year career — I'll always have that to back me up, so that was pretty much the basis of it."
It didn't take long for the Business Management major to grab the attention of not one, but three major league programs. Between Farmer's pitching repertoire and the workhorse level of production from the hill, the onslaught of interest really didn't come all that surprising.
Farmer's time spent with the Yellow Jackets provided him the opportunity to build on an already admirable résumé, including a fastball that has been known to tip the scales in the mid-90s.
The corner-infielder-turned-pitcher set the bar high while donning the infamous Georgia Tech colors by averaging 109 innings thrown over his final three seasons. That included being the only pitcher in the ACC to throw a shutout against Duke during his junior year.
Farmer bypassed a golden ticket from the Milwaukee Brewers by choosing to return as a Yellow Jacket for his senior season. And frankly, the Tigers made sure not to miss their shot at snagging the big right-hander. Following his exit from a storied collegiate career, Farmer signed the dotted line with Detroit as the fifth-round pick in 2013.
Fast-forward to 2014 and the official invitation by the West Michigan Whitecaps that called Farmer north from Lakeland. As excited as he may have been to be called to Single-A baseball, not even the Conyers, Georgia native could have successfully predicted how the year was about to play out.
Placed under the guidance of Whitecaps pitching coach and former Tigers legend, Mike Henneman — whose experience speaks for itself — Farmer found yet one more outlet to perfect a natural ability and he couldn't have been more thankful.
"I can't say enough about Mike Henneman and everything that he has to offer from a pitching standpoint and also a life standpoint," Farmer said. "He had such a successful career and he's been through everything. He was able to teach everybody on that team one or two things, if not ten things about how to live as a baseball player."
Following a mere 18 starts, posting 116 strikeouts scattered over 103 innings thrown in West Michigan, Farmer received a promotion in Erie to join the Seawolves program, where he posted two starts. As if the call to Double A wasn't exciting enough, Farmer received a call that capped a seasonal run most players would only dream of.
Less than a month after joining the team in Erie, Buck Farmer was going to Motown. The Tigers placed the soft-spoken starter up against Pittsburgh on August 13, where you would have had a hard time spotting any jitters in the performance of the 23 year old. During his five innings of work, Farmer surrendered four runs on six hits, striking out four to earn the no-decision.
Amidst the blur of hotel hopping between Erie, Toledo and Detroit — and spending a significant amount of time at every level of the Tigers organization — sleep became a bit lost in the mix.
"Yeah, I didn't get much," Farmer recalled with a chuckle.
In short, that August day remains a moment Farmer will never forget.
"It was unbelievable," Farmer said, recalling the memories. "That morning, I woke up and it was like, ‘Is this real? Is this about to happen?' It was unbelievable; just going into the park and everybody knowing who I was and everyone being so cordial as well."
Chamberlain, Farmer among options in bullpen
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has all but locked in his relievers for the 2015 season, leaving six players to compete for the final bullpen spot.
After being embraced by Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and the starting rotation, Farmer found the advice of one particular teammate to be especially helpful.
"Torii Hunter with having 15 or 20 years in the big leagues, he was able to tell me things that I would have never figured out," Farmer said.
Despite the exit of Hunter, and Farmer's other point-man, Rick Porcello, Farmer remains hopeful coming into the start of the 2015 season, already setting goals on improvement from his workload last season.
"I definitely need to improve my off-speed pitches, that's always a big thing," Farmer said. "The strength that I definitely want to keep going on and keep growing on is obviously my fastball, establishing it early and down in the zone. I was really happy with the way that worked out last year, but then again no area is too perfect and you can always perfect things a little bit at a time."
Since joining the Tigers in Lakeland, Farmer reports that he is feeling great and enjoying being back in the swing of things. The next several weeks should give a better observation of where the young righty looks to land for the start of the regular season. Possessing a level of experience that few his age can claim, Farmer looks to continue his campaign as just one piece of a brighter future for a pitching rotation that hungers for consistency.