Here’s the transcript for BYB Podcast Episode 6. Sorry for the lateness. It’s been a busy week!
BYB Podcast Transcript, Episode 6
Released January 25, 2018
B: Brandon Day
R: Rob Rogacki
[Intro music: Pia Fraus – You Look Fine]
B: Welcome back, this is the Bless You Boys Podcast. Bless You Boys is the home for the best, the worst, the indifferent, and everything else in between for Tigers baseball on the SBNation platform. I’m your host, Brandon Day, and I’m a staff writer and editor at Bless You Boys. With me tonight is Rob Rogacki, our managing editor. How’s it going?
R: Not too bad. Ready to go.
B: The Tigers didn’t really do much by signing Alexei Amarista, adding another utility player candidate into the mix, but we put a bunch of prospect lists out this week, and I figured we’d dive right into that. The first thing that stood out was Baseball Prospectus having Daz Cameron and, who was it, was it Jake Rogers or Isaac Paredes above Matt Manning? Dropping him down to sixth. Does any of this mean much to you? Is this the kind of thing that makes you wonder how he’s doing?
R: No, I’m definitely not worrying about him. We had come out and published a post right after that saying it’s way too early to really worry about him. The biggest reason that Baseball Prospectus had dropped him down was because they had seen a couple outings of his in, I think it was July, where he was down in the 80s with velocity. And that type of thing is going to happen; I went back and found the initial reports that they had filed, and their top prospect guy is based in New York or around that area, so he’s been to some of those New York-Penn League stops quite a bit. I was following along because he was tweeting along saying he was excited to see Manning for obvious reasons, and then was a little bit disappointed when he had come out like that. They’re basing a lot of it on those couple outings without, I don’t want to necessarily say “following up,” because it’s so hard to keep track of every single start of every single player in this industry. But I think that those outings definitely heavily skewed things when there was clearly some improvement from him down the stretch, especially as he moved up to West Michigan where he really found his form those first few starts. So, definitely nothing to worry about yet; obviously Manning’s a very, very high-risk prospect, even for somebody coming out of high school, because he’s hardly played baseball and he’s still getting the basics down. But this is a guy who can reach back for 97 mph with little effort. And that type of arm just doesn’t come along very often.
B: And you pair that with the length and extension, the plane he can get from being 6’6” [198 cm], the raw ability there is still impressive. I was following on Twitter and listening to the last few games he pitched for the Whitecaps this season and the postseason, and it sounded like he put it all together. The reports that were filed earlier in the year just didn’t match up at all to the guy we were seeing late in the year; the curveball looked pretty sharp, he was dusting people with the fastball left-and-right.
R: Even in a vacuum it doesn’t make sense. How would a guy who’s throwing 85 mph [137 km/h] with the fastball, who doesn’t have power secondary stuff, be able to go out and strike out ten single-A hitters in an outing? I mean, they’re still in single-A, but those guys can time 85 like it’s nothing. Obviously when you get up to 95 [153 km/h] they have trouble, but that tells you exactly what was happening there.
B: It’s interesting, the whole process of trying to evaluate, especially the kind of guy who doesn’t have a lot of experience that other prospects come with. Some of these guys are used to pitching showcases when they’re in high school; there’s an awareness of when the scouts are in the stands and when you need to show-out. It just feels like none of this has anything to do with Matt Manning’s progress at this point. You might see a start or two this year where he’s wild, or the mechanics are off, but when you see the ceiling starting to form when he’s really going good, it’s pretty plainly obvious why the Tigers took him where they did. Full disclosure, I just got off the phone with Matt Manning and was talking to him [what else do you do on the phone, then? -fp], and he had a couple interesting things to say – we’ll have a post up, should be tomorrow. But he was basically saying the same thing, he’s really dead-set on throwing strikes and perfecting his mechanics, and that was a lot of what was going on in July, that was him trying to dial all that in. And then they’ve also had him working on changing speeds and trying to pitch with less than his full fastball, but he was chuckling that he knows he can reach back for 97 [156 km/h] anytime he wants to, but that’s throwing and not pitching. He was definitely talking about wanting to focus on becoming a pitcher.
R: They get to mould this guy from the ground up. You get your perfect specimen in terms of a physical guy that you want to be a starter. He’s got the same build as a Justin Verlander, and you get to build a guy from the ground up. It’ll be interesting to see (a.) how the Tigers are able to do that, and (b.) what the finished product ends up being. If he does pan-out, this is the kind of guy that has that type of ceiling. He can be a true number one starter; he has the highest ceiling of any arm in this farm system. He’s just so far away from that now that he’s just such a high risk as a prospect. I don’t blame Baseball Prospectus for dropping him down that low; you obviously have to go on what you see as an evaluator. Seems like they just saw some of the wrong stuff. It could also have been fatigue at that point, too; this was his first full season of pro ball – or, his first season of professional ball, not even a full season yet. We’re probably going to see starts like that next year, especially if he goes right at the start of the year to West Michigan. There’s going to be a lot of bumps in the road, but hopefully he comes out of it in the end in the Tigers rotation.
B: For sure. I don’t think there’s anything, particularly, to worry about Matt that wasn’t there from the beginning; just the rawness. But it is an interesting case because it illustrates just how hard it is to cover prospects effectively, and to see these guys enough to really get a good grasp. I mentioned to him that, I think was Baseball Prospectus that mentioned they’d seen him throw a fastball with a cut action on it, and from his perspective that was just a bad fastball. It was just a fastball where he didn’t have his mechanics sharp, didn’t release it out in front, and it just backed up on him. If you see that a few times, it’s really easy, in one or two viewings, to mistake that for something the Tigers are trying to work on. I thought the whole arc there was just instructive on how hard it is to cover prospects. Another interesting fact he mentioned was Jorge Cordova, the pitching coach for the Whitecaps last year, showed him a split-changeup, and they moved him away from a circle-change, and he felt way better with that. He was getting a lot more downward action. And as long as he keeps his arm speed up he’s got huge extension, that pitch should play pretty well. So that was an interesting tidbit he threw in there as well.
R: You have to be interested in seeing how that affects his elbow; apparently a split-change can be a little more strenuous on that. But if they’re able to keep him healthy, that’s definitely a great pitch for him to develop. He needs that third pitch right now, along with the fastball and, what’s he throwing now, is that a spike-curveball?
B: Right now it’s a spike, yeah.
R: We’ll see what happens with that going forward. Sounds like that pitch isn’t always – not a lot of people were teaching it, but hey, if it works for him, who’s to change it, really?
B: I know Keith Law of ESPN was on about the spike-curveball grip last year, in a couple of articles. But again, you look at guys like Cory Knebel, I think Lance McCullers as well throws a really hard spike-curveball, in the mid-80s –
R: That we saw how many times in a row in the playoffs?
B: It was, like, twenty, twenty-five or something. And they still couldn’t do anything with it. It’s funny, these trends can just happen; I’ve been reading that the sinker is getting hit more around the league, as guys try and take more of an uppercut kind of swing at it. Maybe that switches things back to the point where the high fastball and the curveball are the more dominant combination than the sinker-splitter or sinker-slider. It’s interesting how those trends work. Obviously, for a pitcher, they’ve gotta take what works best for them and roll with it. Is there anything else on that Baseball Prospectus list that stood out to you? Or Keith Law’s list? He had Daz Cameron ranked in the top 100.
R: That’s the big take-away there, is to see Cameron in the top 100 of that list. It’ll be interesting to see he lands on Baseball Prospectus’s. I don’t think he’ll be in the top 100 there, maybe on the outside looking in for that. It’s great to see him getting some love too. I took a look back at some of his numbers last year and he was a monster last season, towards the second half at single-A ball. It really reversed some of the concerns people had about him, heading into the 2017 season. Obviously he doesn’t have quite the tools that his dad did, especially not the power and the speed, but he still could be a plus defender with some solid speed on the bases. It sounds like he has great instincts, which you could expect from the son of a major-leaguer. If the hit tool can come around, you have almost a five-tool player on your hands. He’s started to pull the ball and hit the ball in the air a bit more, and that’s a huge step for him. He may not hit a lot in terms of average at the MLB level, but if he can be that guy who hits some home runs, draws some walks, plays plus defence in the outfield, almost like a B.J. Upton type when he was good, that’s a hugely valuable player.
B: Or maybe a little bit Austin Jackson-like, with a little more patience and maybe a little less speed.
R: Maybe a little bit more power there. Or a poor version of Mike Cameron, if you want to go there too.
B: I would take that. That would be great. We’ve been lamenting the fact that the Tigers have all these pitchers – we’re not lamenting that part, but that there haven’t been so many position players. So it’s been nice to see some of the love that’s coming Daz Cameron’s way, and Isaac Paredes as well.
R: I was going to say, I expected Paredes to get more of the love because he’s an 18 year old who held his own in single-A ball last year, and that’s not an easy feat, you don’t always see that a lot. The last Tigers prospect to do that was Willy Adames, who ended up at, what, number 20 on some of these lists? Fifteen, twenty, in all of baseball? Obviously the Tigers did what they had to do when they traded him, and you can’t expect him to really take this leap that he has since leaving, but if you can turn Paredes into a guy like that, or Gleyber Torres, who he was also compared to, in the Cubs system, I’d certainly take one of those guys.
B: That’d be perfect, especially because we haven’t brought along a middle infielder in a long time, so I’ll be looking for him. I’m interested to see Fangraphs’ list come out, because they’ve got Kiley McDaniel back in there, who’s been working in the Braves organization, and I know Eric Longenhagen pays pretty close attention to the Tigers system as well.
R: And those guys see a lot of stuff; I know Longenhagen is based in Arizona. That’s been another interesting thing about following these lists, too, is knowing where some of these guys are based, and being able to decipher which events they’re seeing, is always an interesting component to this. It’s really the first chance we’ve had to pick apart these prospect lists, because the Tigers really haven’t had many prospects since prospect lists became a thing about ten years ago. So it’s interesting to be on this side of it, figure out where they’re getting their reports from, and what events they’re seeing. But anyways, getting back to them, it’ll be interesting to see what Longenhagen has to say about some of these guys. I can’t really think of anyone off the top of my head who was in the Arizona Fall League that he might’ve seen, that might really appear high on these lists. I think he’s seen a couple of these guys before, especially some of these guys who might have been traded to Detroit last year... trying to think of any affiliates out that way that he might’ve seen a little bit more of. But they’ve certainly kind of – I don’t necessarily want to say that they have their own opinions of some of this, they haven’t been too far off in the rest of baseball, but some of their reports are just so detailed. I’m really interested to hear what they have to say, especially with both Longenhagen and McDaniel there now.
B: Whatever McDaniel can take away from working in a pretty progressive system that was, and still is, pretty good; he’s seen a lot of good, young talent.
R: He’s seen a lot of good, young talent; he apparently has connections all over the game. I think the quote that came out when Dave Cameron hired a new prospect analyst after McDaniel, his quote was something like, “If we wanted someone with as many connections as Kiley had in the game, we’d have to hire an actual MLB General Manager,” just to indicate how plugged-in this guy is. I always like it when they’re able to pick from their own independent sources. We’ve heard from some other outlets, team sources in particular, and those guys have a little bit of an agenda when it comes to promoting their own prospects. But if you can get independent sources and independent reports, that’s obviously the way to go.
B: They’ve always done a really good job, as far as being really detailed in their analysis, and they’re definitely well-connected and they know a lot of scouts. But also, as we were talking about on the site, a lot of teams have cut their scouting departments, and it seems like there are a lot of veteran scouts floating around out there. I know the Tigers have signed some of those guys, including some international scouts, try and bulk up the scouting department there. It goes to, trying to draw in as many opinions and have as many eyes as possible, because you never know, based on any one opinion, anyway. Everyone seems to love Franklin Perez – seems to be solidly just outside, or just inside, the top 50. Somewhere around there. And he’s only, what, 19 still?
R: Nineteen, maybe just turning 20 right now. I’m trying to think exactly how old he was last year. Anyways, he’s very young for the level; sounds like he’s close to being a finished product, too. There’s not a lot of development left; I think Mark Anderson from TigsTown and a bunch of other places have said that it’s really all about refinement and polish for him. So we should almost undoubtedly see him at some point in 2019, probably. Maybe not 2018, and he’s not going to start the year in the majors in 2019, but he is almost certain to be up at some point. So we should get a good glimpse of him relatively soon.
B: I’m trying to think of who was in the Arizona Fall League, and the only guys I can think of, as far as pitchers, are Spencer Turnbull and, I think Adam Ravenelle was out there.
R: I’d be interested to see what they have to say about Turnbull, but given Fangraphs’ predilection for ranking fifteen to twenty guys or so, Turnbull may not even be mentioned there.
B: He’s in a weird situation because he just hasn’t pitched that much. It feels like he’s fairly close to his projection, based on what he’s physically going to be capable of doing; he’s already 24 or 25. Have him as kind of a sleeper, show up and get a cup of coffee sometime this year, possibly, as well.
R: He feels like a guy they should really just move to the bullpen. This is a guy who, obviously, there’s a lot of potential there as a starter; this is a guy who can carry 97, 98 into the later innings. But some of the secondary stuff isn’t quite there. And you wonder if you just let him air it out in the bullpen, how high up he can get. Does he hit 97, 98? Does he up to 100 with a secondary pitch? That could be a real weapon if he has a bit of stuff, heading to the bullpen, and develop that slider that he’s fairly well known for, too.
B: It’ll at least grade out average, if not flashing plus here and there. I could see that; he and Sandy Baez you could both see that way. Turnbull, especially, because he’s older, and it seems like he’s had consistent shoulder issues over the past couple of years. So we’ll have to see if they take that under advisement.
R: I wonder if they’d be a little bit slower to do that with Turnbull, because Baez was added to the 40-man roster, what, a year or two ago? Turnbull, I think, was just added, so they still have a couple of years to play with, with him. It sounds like if you gave him another year in the rotation, he’s not coming up to the majors, he’s not going to be used in high-leverage situations in terms of the team actually being in a playoff race. You’re almost better off giving him more starts in the minors and then flipping him to the bullpen in another year or two. I think he’s going to eventually end up there, but there’s no harm in keeping him as a starter right now.
B: It allows him to go out there and pitch consistently, know what he’s doing every five days, and get into a grove, hopefully. It’s a question of health, but they’ve got time with him; with Sandy Baez it feels like the fastball is huge, the splitter is good, but the command is still an issue. So we’ll see if they decide to move him in a different direction this year. Overall, what I’m thinking is, we didn’t have the prospects that we have now, but it’s interesting to see the different takes on who is top-100, and it really feels like you could take four starting pitchers, Daz Cameron and Isaac Paredes, and even Christin Stewart was on Keith Law’s list, right at the very bottom of the top 100, even last year. So it just shows the depth; we don’t have any top-30, “this guy’s an absolute blue-chipper” type, or position player, just yet. But the depth in that mid-tier is really good now.
R: It feels like they have right now about three or four that could go in the top 100, and then another four on top of that, that would go from 100 to 150. It feels like a lot of guys are sitting in that range, and I know that John Sickels from Minor League Ball does the top 200 every year, I think. I’d be really interested to see where some of our guys land on that. You could have as many guys as, if you include Stewart too, you could get up to eight guys, nine guys maybe, in that top 150 to 200.
B: Even Dawel Lugo is getting a little more love from some, at least. He’s showed up around 10 for some observers.
R: He was up to seven on TigsTown.
B: They were really high on him.
R: Which is nice to see. They’re the ones leading the charge to say the transition to second base is going pretty well for him, which is nice to see. It sounds like the range is a little bit of an issue, and probably will be as he bulks up a little as he gets older, but the hands and the throwing arm, he could play anywhere on the infield. So at second base he’s going to have no problem getting the ball over to first. It sounds like his hands and his footwork around the bag have been pretty good too; this is a guy who was still kind-of hacking it as a shortstop, even getting into last year. If he can handle second base capably as a defender, maybe develops a little bit more power – I don’t think the plate discipline’s going to develop quite too much – but if he can be at least a little bit more selective, drive the ball a bit more, that’s a solid guy to have. Maybe not hugely valuable player, but someone who can at least carry their own weight for a couple of years, and then maybe develop into that lower-division starter, number six or number seven, a Jonathan Schoop type.
B: That’s a pretty good comp. From what I’ve read, he makes pretty good contact; he hits the ball pretty consistently hard. A lot of it’s on the ground; there’s obviously adjustments to be made. If he can start driving the ball up the gaps, and hitting a few more out of the park – sometimes the walks just come, just by virtue of pitchers learning to back off you a bit.
R: That’s the difference between him and a Jonathan Schoop type, is that Schoop is hitting for a lot of power. And Lugo might have some of that raw power, but he hits the ball on the ground so much that it really mitigates that some.
B: He’s got a stiff lower half [heh -fp]; I know Emily Waldon, our buddy over at The Athletic, and a few other people have mention that’s something they’re trying to work on, getting a little bit more leverage out of his legs. At least there’s a raw product to work with there, that’s still pretty valuable. And maybe a little better than what people thought, when the J.D. Martinez trade went down; obviously none of us were super-stoked on that trade. I’m not sure what you could have gotten for J.D. Martinez on that trade, that would’ve made anybody happy to see J.D. Martinez traded and gone.
R: Certainly not. I would have liked to see if they could’ve picked up Anthony Banda, who was their top prospect at the time who ended up coming up later in the year. But it sounds like they just weren’t going to be able to pull him. So, getting a guy like Lugo, if he turns into something at the major league level, if he’s a starter for a couple of years, that’s a pretty solid return on that. And you have two other guys in Alcantara and Jose King down there, who could eventually turn into something too.
B: Both of them are very athletic, Alcantara maybe a little bit undersized to ever really hit much, but really gets rave reviews for his glove.
R: He really sounds like a carbon copy of Dixon Machado, doesn’t he?
B: He really does. A switch-hitting Dixon Machado. Which, you know, you can have one of those guys on a playoff team down the road, and that’s a pretty valuable guy to have. It’s really a question of hitting these next two drafts; we’ve talked about this enough on the site, for everything that’s gone on in the past year, the draft this year is really job number one. I did see Al Avila’s comments that they were already getting ready to convene on early assessments of who they want to take number one, so they’re definitely on that. Obviously they realize how important it is.
R: And they want to make sure, too, that they’re getting a good deal out of it. Unless someone really establishes themselves as a clear one-one pick, you want to shop around a bit. The last couple years, you’ve seen teams look for the right deal; when the Twins took Royce Lewis last year, people assumed he had taken a below-market deal so that they could spend that bonus-pool money around elsewhere. I think, if there’s no clear-cut number one, the Tigers should definitely look to do that, whether it’s taking a position player, a pitcher, it doesn’t really matter. If you can get a solid guy at number one who, maybe he’s a number three or number four guy on everyone’s board, but if he signs for below-slot money and you can use that money elsewhere to pick up a Sam McMillan or some other high-schooler who is looking to go to college but can be swayed by a few hundred thousand dollars. You’ve obviously got to explore that too.
B: The Astros have done that; they took Carlos Correa who was projected to go fifth or sixth and signed him under-slot. I believe they got Lance McCullers as a result of that as well in the second round. And, my god, that’s a haul.
R: That’s worked out, a little bit. Not too bad.
B: You’re looking at Lance McCullers who had strikeout rates of – somebody mentioned to me that he should be a Cy Young candidate this year. He’s had too many injury concerns to really pitch the innings, but I didn’t realize what his strikeout to walk ratio looked like, and it’s insane.
R: What is he? Is he their fifth starter?
B: I guess he is their fifth starter. Maybe their fourth.
R: Maybe their fourth. Who else do you have in that rotation? You have Verlander, you have Kuechel, you have Gerrit Cole, you have him, you have Charlie Morton, Brad Peacock is going to come out of the bullpen, and come out of nowhere with a ridiculous strikeout ratio again. I don’t understand how that happened. They probably have two other guys I’m forgetting about too.
B: Collin McHugh?
R: Yeah, Collin McHugh. Jeez.
B: He’d be our number two starter. It’s just a wealth of riches over there. Everybody’s raving about Forrest Whitley as well, so they’re pretty loaded. They’ve got Paulino and Marquez.
R: Whitley does sting a little bit, he’s a guy who was drafted the same year as Matt Manning. He’s already coming up through the system looking like an absolute monster. Obviously I’m not writing Manning off yet, but he was always going to take a long time. But having Whitley right there would be nice.
B: I’d like to have Forrest Whitley, absolutely. Despite being a big Matt Manning fan. We’re going to be putting out, on Bless You Boys, our prospect list sometime in early February and we’ll be covering the prospects extensively all year. This is a huge push in terms of the coverage now, mainly because it’s the most interesting part of the Tigers now.
R: This is what we want to talk about the most.
B: For the time being, we’ll leave it there. I wanted to ask you about the piece you wrote about the MLBPA, the players union, and Rob Manfred, regarding the pitch clock. Manfred obviously is pushing hard to put the pitch clock back in play this year, they had it in the minors last year, and it sounds like Tony Clark is at least trying to hold the line there. Do you want to go into that, and break down what you were talking about?
R: I’m not sure exactly how this is playing out. Rob Manfred has said that he’s going to implement a pitch clock, and apparently there’s something in the CBA that allows him to make a rule if he’s given the MLBPA a year’s worth of advance. They had talked about this last year, and so it sounds like he has given them that year’s notice, and he can come in and say, “We’re doing a pitch clock now,” whether the MLBPA likes it or not. Now, obviously, they’ve come out against it, but I argue that they should be doing that because they’ve lost so much ground in other areas over the last couple rounds of negotiations, especially in terms of free agent compensation, and the amount of revenue that they’re getting in the game, because that’s fallen off considerably in the last several years. Obviously they’re still making money hand over fist, but the owners are making Scrooge McDuck levels of money. They’re literally swimming their piles of gold coins.
B: And no one wants to sign any big free agents.
R: No one wants to sign free agents. So, between teams getting smarter and realizing how inefficient free agency is, as well as the influx of money in the game, that’s really left a lot of people upset. The players had argued, especially in this last round of CBA negotiations, it was more “quality of life” stuff they were after, like extra off-days, or a chef in the clubhouse. Things that sound stupid to us, but if you’re doing that every single day, they’re important things. If you’re doing that every single day and still making $15 million a year, what’s that extra few million compared to having a better quality of life over the six, seven eight months you’re working?
B: It can be easy for people to forget that players aren’t in the army. Half the time, some of them at least, are very wealthy people, living in nice places. Then when they’re on the road you’re travelling with the team and on a very strict schedule. Asking for a few things to make that easier on them, making their quality of life better when they’re on some of those road trips, all makes sense. It’s just that, while they were getting those things, it felt like the owners were going out the back door with the loot, getting the salary tax threshold changed.
R: The tax rates and threshold have become a little more severe, so you have all these big-money teams trying to get under it. I’d argued before that teams like the Yankees and the Dodgers don’t necessarily need a lot of help, so that they haven’t signed any free agents this winter isn’t really damning in that regard so much as it is, okay, they could sign another fifth starter. But they could save a lot of money by getting under the tax threshold, eliminating the penalties like draft pick compensation that are more important than money itself. It’s tough to see, especially a team like the Giants in particular, they’re trying to get under the tax threshold, to stay under that, when they’re trying to go out and get another piece. They could really use another starter, whether it’s Darvish, or a little lower down on the pole like Lance Lynn or Cobb, they really need a starter. But they’re not going out and doing it because of this tax threshold. Ultimately I think it’s hurting players more than it’s increasing parity across the game.
B: It does feel like it’s resulted in more “have” and “have-not” than it’s brought the two sides together. Some of that, I think people have to look at it honestly and see that teams are getting smarter, and teams that aren’t spending a lot of money, they’re doing that for reasons – the Astros show what can happen if you don’t invest in your team for years, collect all the top draft picks that you can, and then you start spending and you’ve got the whole pump primed, to use a Donald Trump-coined expression*, but you’ve got all this stockpile of prospects. You can start making the deals that you want to, and it feels like there isn’t much incentive to be just a .500 team that doesn’t really have a shot. The Giants are a unique case because they’re getting older and this is their last gasp, so they’re spending money. They still need an outfielder as well as a pitcher; they got Austin Jackson, but they apparently don’t really want to start him as their centre fielder. Which still leaves Lorenzo Cain out there just staring ‘em in the face, as far as I can tell.
[* Nope. Simple Keyesian economics; been around forever. -fp]
R: I’m interested to see what the Giants do. They have a prospect named Steven Duggar right now who is their centre fielder of the future. They’re hoping this is a guy with what sounds like a plus glove, the bat might not quite be there, and it could be a platoon situation between him and Jackson in centre because he’s left-handed. It could be that they might want to leave him down in the minors. I’ve been reading a lot of Grant Brisbee lately because he’s brilliant; this is how I know all of this. I think the Giants are playing it right with Jackson, using him more as a super-fourth outfielder, as Brisbee has said. You’ve got a couple of older guys in the corners, and a couple of guys in the corners that are going to be playing new positions in those corners. Between that, and wanting to keep them healthy; I think Brisbee also mentioned that, the last couple of times that they’ve been to the World Series, it has been very much on the back of their good fourth outfielders, Gregor Blanco in particular, he’s referencing. So having a guy like that and Jackson is hugely important. Obviously they still need a starter because their rotation is Bumgarner, Cueto, maybe Jeff Samardzija, and then who knows? They’re an interesting one to follow. You talk about this whole “middle class of baseball” that’s just evaporated, and it almost has me wondering if the Tigers had kept on, held Ian Kinsler this off-season, and then gone out and spent on a couple of outfielders, maybe a Curtis Granderson type, or Austin Jackson, or Jarrod Dyson, who’s still out there, and filled a couple of holes. You still sign Mike Fiers, maybe you spend a bit more on Alex Cobb, and maybe they try to sneak into the playoffs that way. Obviously a lot has to go right there; with that, maybe you can bump up their projection, with little additions you can pump their predictions up into the 75-80 win range. That’s obviously not great, but if you look at some of the projections now, that still puts them in the top half of baseball, because there are so many teams that are just trying to tank right now.
B: And they’re playing in a division that has a couple of those teams; the White Sox and the Royals are in similar shape to the Tigers. So if they had made some of those small moves, maybe Daniel Norris or Matt Boyd figures it out and has a solid year as a starter, Miggy’s healthy. You never know, you might just have a chance to sneak in.
R: I’m looking at Fangraphs right now, and there are only 12 teams projected for a winning record this year. Obviously projections are very conservative, and you have another few teams that are right around the .500 mark, but only 12 teams projected to go .500 and just as many that are projected to win about 75 games, if not fewer. So maybe if you can sneak into that area, do something – maybe you get a little lucky and get into the playoffs, who knows what happens. Obviously it’s a longshot, but with what little they got in return for Kinsler, it does make me wonder, what would have happened if they had done something like that. Would have made the season fun, at least.
B: It’s always hard to tell if they had any real reason to do that, or if it would just be a lot more entertaining to watch than having the fans come out to watch a team that looks like it might be okay in the first half, but keep trading away players and stumble down to the finish they way they did this year.
R: That’s fine, but at the same time you’re giving it a go, you’d probably get more people to the ballpark, certainly more people at Tigerfest this weekend because of that. Maybe you sneak in, maybe you end up in the same place; it sounds like the worst-case scenario for all that would be you end up with the number five pick, instead of the number three pick, in next year’s draft. With that, you’re not giving up big prospects; maybe you could have gone out and topped the deal that landed Andrew McCutcheon in San Francisco, but even with some low-cost free agent upgrades, especially how this market has played out, this could be just a little bit more competitive of a team, and that hasn’t impacted the team’s ability to rebuild at all. Yeah, you’ve got a couple of outfielders you can sneak in there for some playing time, but I don’t think that Gerber are Stewart are really going to be affected all that much if they go another year in the minors without seeing much major league action.
B: As we’ve seen, you almost always need a few guys to come up and fill in anyway, so it still wouldn’t be too onerous to get them a cup of coffee somewhere. Ashley and I talked about this on one of the first episodes, it’s funny to look at the Tigers farm system and think what players we could actually trade for. There’s enough depth there to get a piece that could help you down the stretch, should the Tigers get to July and be still hanging around in there. So it’s still interesting, just a hypothetical, or maybe it’s just our way of squirming out of having to focus on the fact that the team’s not going to be good. It’s going to be a bit of a rough go.
R: Hey, they’re still projected to finish third in their division.
B: I’d be stoked, just to put down the Royals. I know everyone wants the number one pick, but we have the number one pick this year, and relatively high the next couple of years. I don’t think that it’s something that we need, to actually desperately tank, in order to turn this thing around, assuming the Tigers know what they’re doing and they get a little lucky.
R: I mean, I’ll take another number one pick, but if they do want to compete and make this season a little more fun, I’ll take that too. There’s really not a lot to do right now; you can come out and compete a little bit, you can come out and tank the season if you want. But a lot of it falls down to, can they develop the prospects in the system right now? Can they add to that in this draft? Can they supplement that with a solid trade or two, when the time comes? They need to develop these guys, more than anything.
B: And whether or not they can get a bit more, hopefully a good deal more, out of the guys that are already on the team and are still young and still have some unfulfilled potential. Guys like Castellanos, there’s still Boyd and Norris, we need to see what happens when Fulmer comes back. The Tigers have quite a few relief arms; they didn’t really do all that well, but you look at Zac Reininger, Jairo Labourt, Joe Jimenez, all of them are flawed. They all have typical “young reliever” issues. But they all have excellent stuff, and those will all be guys we can watch this year, to give us a little taste of what the future Tigers roster will look like, when this is all hopefully turned around. We’re going to switch it over before we wrap it up, I’ve got a couple of questions off Twitter, so I’ll shoot a couple of these your way. Robert Schroeder, @mrschrodezz [?] with two Z’s, has a question about pitching prospects, and wants to know, normally, at what age does a pitcher’s fastball peak. For example, can a 22 year old still improve on the speed of his fastball?
R: Off the top of my head, I want to say that it’s around 25, that fastball velocity peaks. At around 22 to 25, I don’t think you’re going to develop too much. It depends on the player; if they’re adding to their frame a bit, they can. But in particular, our 22 year olds – Beau Burrows, Franklin Perez and Alex Faedo – I think all three of them are probably pretty close to maxed-out in terms of fastball velocity. We’ll see about Faedo, if he can clean up his mechanics a little bit, but those other two are pretty much finished in terms of physical development, and it’s all about refinement for them at this point. We probably won’t see them add too much at this point; we might see Manning adding a little bit as he gets older, or at least getting to a point where it’s more consistent from him. Obviously he can reach back for that 97, but if he’s able to refine his mechanics and make it a little easier to get to that point, that’s certainly what they want.
B: He’s still 6’6”, 210 pounds [198 cm, 95 kg], so that’s a guy where, you look at his frame and there’s still muscle that can be added there without hurting his flexibility. It comes down to the frame; you sometimes see someone make a change to their mechanics and add a mile per hour, even beyond age 25. Charlie Morton this year said he just went out there and tried to throw harder; he had never really tried to focus on that, and he goes out this year and, bam, he adds a mile an hour or two. But it seems like by the time you’re 22, you’re roughly where you’re going to be, and there’s maybe another mile an hour or two in there at best. You’re not going to go from throwing 91 to 98, 99, but you never know. There are always exceptions to these things. The next question was, should any of the Tigers starters this year pitch more than 175 innings? That comes from Ed Miller, @edmiller19... basically, should the Tigers shut everybody down at some point, assuming they get a bunch of guys that could even throw 175 innings?
R: I don’t know if anyone should be throwing 175 innings this year, in part because the minor league season isn’t long enough for a lot of pitchers to get up to that point. Maybe 150 to 160 is really the max, and that’s if you’re throwing quite a bit. If we’re talking about major-league pitchers, you let them throw as much as they can; Norris and Boyd should be able to shoulder that load, if they’re pitching well enough. Fulmer has already reached that point, so that’s fine. I don’t think you necessarily handle anyone with kid gloves, so let ‘em loose.
B: It seems that, if a guy’s pitching well and it’s late in the season, you don’t want a hard limit. If they’re going good and their muscle memory is where you want it to be, you want them to keep pitching as long as they’re alright. It comes down to the relationship Ron Gardenhire and Chris Bosio can build with the pitching staff, there’s gotta be trust and communication there. We saw a few comments today about Mikie Mahtook, having a late-season injury that he didn’t bring up, and the Tigers not knowing quite how severe Miguel Cabrera’s back condition was at various points. That’s only something that can be addressed by getting that kind of communication between the player and the coaching staff. As long as Gardenhire and Bosio are successful at that, and letting Fulmer go to 200, I’ll be perfectly happy to see a couple of these guys throw 175 innings.
R: If they get up that high, I think that’s a good sign for the Tigers, that they’re pitching well, they’re healthy, so I think you let ‘em go. There’s also that building-up of stamina over a full season, to be able to shoulder that load. A hundred and seventy-five, 180 innings, is a precursor to getting up to that 200 inning mark. You don’t want a guy shutting down at 160 and going up to 200 the next year. I don’t think there’s any harm – as long as you’re paying attention to everyone, of course – there’s any real harm in letting anyone go past that 175 mark.
B: I don’t think there’s any reason to have a hard cap. Paul Sebastian Ozz, @p_sebastian_ozz with two Z’s asks, who are the five guys most likely to make their MLB debuts as a Tiger this season? That’s kind of a fraught question; he actually answered the question with Bryan Garcia, Gerber, Stewart. I wanted to ask you that question, because you were bringing up the fact that maybe Lugo might get a look this year.
R: I think he’d be one to get a bit of a look this year. Obviously the Tigers are a bit thin in the infield, and if he hits well in triple-A, I think they’ll bring him up at some point, even to just get his feet wet. Or even if Jose Iglesias is traded, there’s not much harm in that; let’s say at the July deadline Iglesias gets traded. There isn’t much harm, if Lugo’s hitting well, to bring him up for August and September. Let him hit a little bit and see how it goes. So I think he’s one, obviously Garcia and a host of other bullpen arms coming up. Mark Ecker, I think he’s one that a couple of people on our site have been relatively high on, over the last few years. I’m trying to think of any other relievers, because a lot of them made their debuts last year, Labourt and some of those guys you really didn’t expect.
B: And a few minor-league signings like Kevin Comer, Mark Montgomery; I’m not sure if those guys pitched in the majors yet, honestly. So we’re not expecting a whole lot out of those guys yet. Possibly one of them. But when you see Labourt and Jimenez move all the way from the Florida State League and make their major league debut, it’s hard to guess. You can go all the way down to A-ball last year and you never know, someone might just take off. Someone like Eduardo Jimenez, Gerson Moreno –
R: I was going to say, Moreno could make his debut this year. We’ll see.
B: There’s some of the college starters, too. You could see Turnbull, or maybe Tyler Alexander, if they’re going well. But in general, the big prospects, you’re probably not going to see until next year at the earliest. The last one was from Field Diamond, and this one is just evil, but how many wins for the Tigers this year? Just give me your best guess at it right now.
R: What’d they win last year, 64? I mean, I think this team’s going to be better. Just by pure dumb luck they’re going to be better, because they were fairly unlucky last year, both in terms of injuries and in their Pythagorean win expectancy, they were about six or seven wins shy of what they should have been. Between that, and some of the development, maybe the bullpen being a little better, I could see them sneaking up close to 70.
B: I think I said 69 when Ashley and I talked the other night, so I’ll just take that nice number and stick with that. Because I agree, the Tigers will probably look better than some are expecting in the first half, then some of those guys get traded, and then somebody just ponies-up and comes after Michael Fulmer really hard at the deadline. That might be something that undercuts the win total.
R: I’m going to revise mine; I’m going to say 74, because I think they’re going to come out of the gate relatively hot. People are all going to be about Ron Gardenhire as the manager, and the Great White Hope in helping this team improve a little bit, and they’re going to fall off a little bit. They’re going to be the team that comes out, they’ll be leading the AL Central at the end of April, and fall off after that. Was it the White Sox last year, or a couple of years ago, they were leading the Central into May, and they fell part after that? I think the Tigers are going to do that this year.
B: They’ve had a history of – there’s a lot of new faces, but every year under Brad Ausmus’ tenure they got out to a pretty nice start, at least the next few weeks, then they just fell apart from there. Anyone wants to know what happened to the Tigers last year, just look at May – I think Nick Castellanos had a 34 WRC+ in that month, despite hitting the crap out of the ball. Then you had the K-Rod stuff.
R: That was the month we had pointed out, going back to whenever the schedule came out in 2016, they had 28 or 29 games in 31 days, and eight of them were at home. So we circled that right away and said this is going to be a problem month. Then, right away, I was relatively optimistic because they’d gotten through it for the most part and kept their heads above water, then I think they had one series down in Houston, and then in June it all fell apart. They had that road trip and just stunk up the joint. So I think June, more than anything else, is what killed them. They should’ve taken a step forward and gotten back above .500 and gotten back into contention, but they fell back.
B: It just felt like there was some bad juju going on there. There was some contention in the clubhouse, and just some guys struggled that month, for whatever reason. Ian Kinsler tanked that month, Verlander was struggling, walking people left and right, and they just never turned it around. I think the season ended on that west coast trip against the Padres and they got swept and lost just about all three of those games in the late innings.
R: It really felt like that’s where they lost it.
B: It was ugly. So, that’s enough questions for the week. We’re going to wrap it up and be back next Tuesday with another episode. I want to thank everyone for joining us tonight; check us out on Bless You Boys, there’s a lot of new coverage coming up. We’ve got a lot of stuff on the prospect lists that have come out, we’ll be talking about that. We’ll have our own coming, and I’ve got that interview with Matt Manning. Rob, thanks for joining me.
R: Have a good night.