As the world of baseball started to pay attention to the 2017 draft class last winter, Alex Faedo appeared to be a major contender for the top selection. If you had told any team outside the top 10 picks that they would have a chance at the precocious pitcher, they would be leaping for joy. When arthroscopic knee surgeries and a few issues with control eroded his stock, what once seemed a pipe dream became reality. Detroit selected the Florida Gators' ace with the 18th overall pick, scoring a great player at a good value.
Despite signing in early July, Faedo sat out for the rest of the season due to his heavy workload at Florida. Without any track record in affiliated ball and remaining whispers of continued problems locating his pitches, the Tigers may be tempted to start him in Single-A ball or lower. This would be unnecessary. The Tigers should start Faedo’s professional career in 2018 with the High-A Lakeland Flying Tigers.
In the past, Detroit has leaned towards an aggressive approach when handling college pitchers, especially first rounders. In 2006, Andrew Miller started his professional career in High-A, jumping straight to the majors for a small stint. He also pitched a significant number of big league innings in 2007 before being traded to the Marlins. Ryan Perry debuted the year after being drafted, and by 2010, he had accumulated 124 1⁄3 innings of MLB time to only 30 2⁄3 minor league innings.
Justin Verlander himself took the most bold path of them all. Spending only one season in the minors, he decimated minor league batters during his brief tenure. He reached the majors just a year after being drafted, and made two spot starts with the Tigers in 2005.
However, despite these and other examples from the past, the Tigers have also decided to soft-pedal moving pitchers up the organizational ladder. Chief among recent examples is Kyle Funkhouser, a first round talent the Tigers picked in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. He pitched all of his first (abbreviated) professional season with short-season Connecticut. The righty from Louisville dominated the Midwest League in 2017 before the organization was forced to promote him to High-A, the benchmark where most of the aforementioned pitchers launched off their careers.
Another case of the Tigers taking things slow is Spencer Turnbull, a second round flamethrower from Alabama with a nasty slider. A cameo in Rookie Ball followed his signing in 2014, and he spent all of 2015 with the Single-A Whitecaps. He was forced to rehab in Rookie Ball following an injury to start out 2016, pitching in High-A for the rest of the season and spending most of 2017 there as well.
Faedo is a different prospect than either Funkhouser or Turnbull, though. Like Turnbull, Faedo had suffered an injury that required surgery and impacted his game. Like Funkhouser, Faedo is a pitcher who was once seen as elite, but has seen the court of public opinion turn against him. However, the extent of these facts is far less extreme in Faedo's case than the others. He appeared to shake off the effects of his knee surgeries during the 2017 season, earning College World Series MVP honors by year’s end.
The former Gator would be best served by beginning his career at High-A. The competition he faced in the SEC is better than what he would be paired up against in the Midwest League, and he was able to overwhelm Division 1 batters with his vicious stuff and feel for pitching. "Alex Faedo is a slider monster who’s been up to the mid 90s but never got all the way back after autumn knee surgery," said ESPN's Keith Law. "If the velocity returns he might be a frontline starter."
By pushing him this season, the Tigers could expect to see Faedo end up in Double-A by September. If all goes well, this puts him on a trajectory to pitch in Triple-A and probably hit majors at some point in 2019. That would put him right behind the duo of Franklin Perez and Beau Burrows in terms of when he reaches the majors, with all three hopefully contributing to a contending Tigers team in the not-too-distant future.