In 2015, the Detroit Tigers surprised draft analysts by reaching to select pitcher Tyler Alexander with their second round pick, the 65th overall selection. The 6'3 lefthander out of Texas Christian University was not a top 100 draft prospect, ranking 327th overall by Baseball America. Clearly, the Tigers saw something they liked in him, having already drafted him out of high school in the 33rd round back in 2013.
Alexander spent the 2016 season playing at both Advanced-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie. Between the two stops, he posted a 2.44 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings, and an impeccable 1.3 walks per nine. He also generated 2.4 ground balls to every fly ball and a 56 percent ground ball rate. These are good things for a variety of reasons. Balls put in play on the ground tend to result in the lowest number of runs scored per event and generate the best chance for double plays. Combine that with a pitcher who walks batters an an exceptionally low rate and you have someone who can limit damage and get through innings.
Alexander’s best skill is his uncanny control of his pitches. He pounds the strike zone with all three of his pitches — more on those in a bit — and has advanced command to keep hitters off balance by locating his offerings off the plate. He only walked 20 batters in 19 appearances last season! Scouts also praise his baseball knowledge, noting that he already has a good feel for mixing pitches. He also controls the running game well with a good pickoff move, and fields his position well. TigsTown’s Mark Anderson summed up Alexander as such, and most other scouts seem to agree.
Raw arsenal doesn’t jump off the page; potential for three pitches with fringe-average to average grades; entire package plays up because of outstanding command; can dominate hitters with location of three pitches, deception in delivery, and high pitching IQ.
These sentiments are echoed by David Littlefield, Detroit’s vice president of player development
Very advanced thinker, he competes well. He’s mature. He throws a lot of strikes and has an advanced approach...Sometimes, his individual pitches aren’t as impressive as the overall package. He locates real effectively, and the change is probably his best pitch....there’s command and life to his fastball, and it’s a fairly complete pitching package. But it’s still in the development stage.
From a raw “stuff” standpoint, nothing about Alexander is better than average. His fastball sits around 89-91 miles per hour, topping out at 93 mph with good sinking movement. He secondary offerings are all average as well. He features a sweeping slider in the low 80s, and a low 80s changeup with sink. For the most part, scouts think that none of it will get much better. The lone exception is FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, who sees Alexander’s changeup becoming his best pitch, grading it a potential 55 pitch, or slightly above-average.
Alexander will be 22 in July and scouts feel he has more or less physically reached the height of development. There probably won’t be much opportunity to add velocity going forward. He has a simple windup that is clean and smooth, allowing for an easy release from a low three-quarters arm slot. In terms of projection, his ceiling is limited to a No. 4 or 5 starter that can eat innings. Due to his advanced command and mature offerings, he could already profile as a middle relief lefty that can take multiple innings.
While he won’t blow batters away with nasty strikeout material, getting through six innings with three runs or fewer allowed is a valuable asset to have in your rotation. I think Alexander projects to be a tick better than Kyle Ryan, but doesn’t have the upside of a Matt Boyd due to his lack of velocity. The term “crafty lefty” applies here. There have been plenty of such pitcher that have had good, long careers in Major League Baseball. There is a small chance Alexander gets called up this season, depending on health and how aggressive the Tigers want to be with him.
Jacob’s Scouting Report:
Projected team: Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens
After dominating Lakeland and Erie in 2016, Alexander may end up in Toledo, although one could make a case to keep him in Double-A. On one hand, the Tigers have been rather aggressive with his ascent through the minors since drafting him in two years ago. He has the profile to support such choices — lefties with command tend to rocket through the lower minors — and his command gives him a high floor. On the other hand, Alexander is only 22 years old and won’t be 23 until July. There is no need to rush him to the majors, especially since there are several pitchers ahead of him on the pecking order for major league starts. While Alexander didn’t spend much time in Erie, I think he will spend most of the season in Triple-A.