A new era of Tigers’ baseball has arrived a year early, and suddenly, with the passing of owner Mike Ilitch. While the stewardship of Chris Ilitch is now something of an unknown going forward, the Tigers are now called to embrace the future in 2017. If young players like Michael Fulmer, Nick Castellanos and Daniel Norris can continue building on their success, that new era may get off to a great start.
That future is already on display in Lakeland, Florida, where Joker Marchant Stadium and the Tigers’ renovated training complex are impressing visitors to spring camp. The Tigers are first among them, with the new clubhouse and training facilities drawing rave reviews from players and coaches. We have an in-depth look at the whole complex on the site as well.
I for one, am quite confident in the burgeoning Tigers’ youth movement. The real questions revolve around a pair of older starters. After two years where he was apparently unable to do much offseason strength work because of his balky shoulder, starter Anibal Sanchez sounds like he’s in the best shape he’s been in years.
(Hopefully you snorted reading that. Scoffing is also acceptable.)
Meanwhile, Jordan Zimmermann has “old man’s neck” which doesn’t sound too promising. While Zimmermann apparently feels great so far, the heavy use of qualifiers around his condition will keep anyone from getting too comfortable.
Joe Jimenez is already impressing the Tigers
You know that high-pitched squealing noise you have been hearing in the background? That’s our excitement over Tigers relief prospect Joe Jimenez. James McCann didn’t squeal — because what would the fellas think? — but he was clearly impressed with the flame-throwing righthander.
It’s not the just the fastball that’s impressing, though. Jimenez apparently made a few subtle adjustments to his slider that may be paying off. McCann singled out Jimenez’s changeup, which hasn’t really been on display that much. Hmm... hard throwing righthander who never really used his changeup all that much and has a good one tucked away? I could get used to this!
McCann picked up on Michael Fulmer’s nearly unused changeup last spring. If Jimenez adds that to the mix, it could be a big year for him. If Bruce Rondon will follow suit, as I requested last year, we’ll have something cooking in the ‘pen. Maybe Rondon should lower his arm angle too.
Spring training is here, and the seasonal culling of arms begins
There really isn’t a good time for a pitcher to have an arm injury, but unless a rotation stalwart goes down during the pennant race, spring training is just the worst. A pitcher needing Tommy John surgery late in the season can be assured at least that they won’t have to push their timetable to avoid missing parts of multiple seasons. A spring training blowout? You’re liable to miss the better part of two seasons.
Baseball’s number one pitching prospect is Alex Reyes of the St. Louis Cardinals, who will require Tommy John surgery. He will now look at a timetable of returning to the game somewhere during the 2018 season. Predicting these things is still largely guesswork, though progress and new potential treatments are coming on-line, however, Viva El Birdos had this article on Reyes; mechanics in progress when news of the injury was announced. Meanwhile, there are precious few options to help the Cardinals replace Reyes. Call us, Birds.
Blaine Hardy joined Matt Boyd at Driveline Baseball
Over the past few years, Driveline Baseball in Washington has become the premier academy for training pitchers and researching all the finer points of the pitcherly arts. They basically modernized the concept of weighted ball training on their own. Matt Boyd and Chad Bell train there in the offseason, and Boyd especially has seen substantial velocity gains as a result. Blaine Hardy gave it a shot this offseason in search of better shoulder strength, more efficient mechanics, and a bit more zip on his fastball. We’ll be curious to see if results are apparent this spring.
Driveline is set up to capture all the same data that MLB’s Statcast service provides to teams and to fans, and is using that data to do a lot of cutting edge research into arm stress, mechanics, spin and velocity training. They have a pretty fascinating site with a lot of video and a growing database of research if you’re as interested in pitching as I am.
As it turns out, velocity is still the biggest stresser on the arm. That being equal, breaking balls do put more stress-per-mph on the UCL.
Michael Brantley is still trying to get back
Another arm for Tigers fans to keep an eye on belongs to Cleveland Indians left-fielder Michael Brantley. After a shoulder injury kept him off the field to start the 2016 season, he then suffered a torn biceps in the same arm that required surgery. At this point, Brantley has no set timetable to return to action, though the Indians are hopeful that he will get on the field before spring training ends.
How Brantley’s arm responds to continued rehabilitation will be the deciding factor, but it still sounds a bit ominous. While he has tormented the Tigers over the years, this is an awful thing to happen to an excellent player in his prime. Hopefully he can get back to pre-injury form.
Royals Review ranked the AL Central by position and were actually pretty kind to the Tigers. Well, besides where they think their starting rotation is better. Good luck with that. The Dodgers’ Julio Urias is already one of the better left-handed starters in baseball, but a good plan is needed to manage his innings. Remember when some of us wanted Zack Wheeler instead of Michael Fulmer? Ooof. Wheeler is still having elbow trouble. Meanwhile, Noah Syndergaard is trying to throw harder for some reason. All I can say is that Mr. Met better watch his backside.
FanGraphs have updated their starting pitcher rankings. Justin Verlander is at #8. Rick Porcello is...further down, not that we’re keeping score. Addison Russell may be on the cusp of his breakout, because the Cubs need more help. Statcast takes an in-depth look at Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, because they’re incredible. Hey Max. Miss you!