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2018 BYB Tigers Prospect #2: RHP Alex Faedo was a first-round coup

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It’s time to get excited about the Tigers’ top 2017 pick.

MLB: Detroit Tigers-Workouts Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Scouting directors are jumpy folks from the time the college baseball season begins until the amateur draft finally arrives in June. One bad outing, or a whisper of bad behavior or a nagging minor injury can send a formerly desirable prospect’s stock into a tailspin. Likewise, a player who suddenly goes on a short-term tear can suddenly find themselves skyrocketing up draft boards. Such fickleness can produce an opportunity, and the Detroit Tigers clearly believe they have a steal in their first round pick from 2017, right-hander Alex Faedo.

Background

Detroit had to draft Faedo twice before they could claim to have added him to the organization. The first time was back in 2014, when they took a flier on him as a 40th round selection out of high school. It was a show of interest only, as the Tigers weren’t prepared to compete with Faedo’s strong commitment to the University of Florida Gators.

In college, Faedo flourished as part of the wrecking ball that was the 2016 Gators’ pitching staff. Their powerhouse rotation included AJ Puk, Logan Shore, and Shaun Anderson. Faedo posted the best year of his collegiate career, achieving personal bests in both strikeout and walk rate — 11.44 and 1.81 batters per nine innings respectively. Knee surgery derailed the opening to his 2017 season, but he recaptured his form as the season progressed. Faedo’s dominant run in the postseason led the Gators to their first College World Series title, and he was named College World Series MVP.

The knee surgeries, and the measured recovery of Faedo’s stuff and command clearly made a few front offices leery last June. When the 2016 college season ended, the 6’5”, 225 pound right-hander was a potential top five overall pick. By this time last year, that stock had been drastically undercut. If the Tigers are right, Faedo’s durability and stuff is fully recovered, and can once again be projected to lead to a likely outcome as a future mid-rotation stalwart.

Strengths

Faedo features three pitches, with the first being a plus fastball. The heater isn’t remarkable on the merits of his velocity — he sits in the 93-95 mile per hour range — but it is graded highly because he really knows how to use it well. Baseball Prospectus notes that he commands the ball and can manipulate it like a veteran. The pitch has sinking action and tail that makes it tough for hitters to elevate the ball. “I don’t really care too much about velo,” said Faedo to MLB.com. “As long as I’m getting outs and winning games, I don’t really care about all the extra stuff.”

While he stifles hitters with liberal doses of the fastball, Faedo has plenty of offspeed stuff to back it up. His changeup is the worse of the two slower offerings, but that status is partly a product of lack of use. Scouts like the pitch more than you’d expect, and it will flash plus or better at times. He needs to make it a bigger part of his arsenal to thrive as a starter in the pros, but it should be a solid pitch with reps and coaching.

The true calling card of Faedo’s game is his devilish slider. The pitch is everything you look for in a breaking ball. Topping out at 87 miles per hour, it has plenty of velocity, but he also has the feel to add and subtract the heat on it to vary its look. The slider has harsh, late downward movement that leaves batters clueless. He sets it up neatly by pounding the zone with a fastball, opening up the opportunity for an easy swinging strike. Many an opposing lineup spent outings against Faedo flailing at the pitch in 2016-2017, given no option but to just shake their heads in disbelief and wonder where it all went wrong.

I mean, just look at this thing. It shouldn’t be legal.

His slider brought high praise from Tigers brass after a simulated game in late February. This is what quality control coach Chris Vavra had to say:

I know [Bosio] was pretty excited about what he saw and how he was changing speeds with the pitches. It looked like the old wiffleball. They were swinging through the pitch like it was invisible. There’s something about it right there that he shows that was pretty exciting and pretty impressive to the guys that put him in a Tiger uniform.

Because he has such advanced stuff and is able to use it effectively, there is little doubt that the former Gator will reach the majors quickly. Under different organizational circumstances (read: if the team didn’t suck) there would probably be talk of dealing with Faedo the way the Rays handled David Price or the White Sox managed Chris Sale. However, the Tigers know that it would be a waste of service time to have him pitch for a lost cause of a team and will give their prized prospect a more standard developmental path.

Weaknesses

Forced to go under the knife during the 2016-2017 offseason, Faedo now has double arthroscopic knee surgery attached to his resumé. The procedure interrupted his conditioning routine, and he opened the his junior season in underwhelming fashion. His fastball, while it was never the kind that lights up radars, was down to the 90-93 mile per hour range. His command was off and he was walking more batters than he ever had in the past.

As the season progressed, Faedo built back into the form he showed in 2016. But despite righting the ship by the time June, and his spectacular postseason run, rolled around, he still has doubters who want to see him succeed against professional competition. The Tigers shut him down when the college postseason ended, and expect that the long offseason should have him 100 percent this spring.

Aside from the surgery, there is little to complain about in the case of this high floor prospect. His doubters cite an unorthodox delivery that bodes poorly for his future health, also complaining that it hampers his command. There is some merit to those concerns. However, the motion also boosts deception and he has made it work for three years as dominant college starter, so the Tigers’ coaching staff may well decide to leave it alone.

At his best, Faedo’s fastball features nasty two-plane movement with late life. At his worst, a somewhat noisy delivery will occasionally see him flying open, with a flatter arm slot that delivers a fastball that runs away armside without the sharp downward plane the tall right-hander is capable of producing. There is some risk that the fastball isn’t consistently good enough to allow him to maximize his potential as a starter, but pro instruction should build more consistency into his delivery and smooth out some of those issues.

Projected 2018 Team: Advanced-A Lakeland Flying Tigers

Back in January, an article published here on Bless You Boys argued that the best place for Faedo to start his professional career would be in Lakeland. Nothing has changed since then. He faced better competition in the SEC than he would while pitching for any team lower than the Flying Tigers. He overwhelmed collegiate hitters with his fear-inspiring slider and making him pitch against inferior players would be a waste of time. The Florida State League shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge either. Should things go according to plan this spring, the Tigers will probably put him on a fast track that will see the big right-hander in a SeaWolves uniform well before the season ends.