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Meet the Tigers’ newest call-up: RHP Sandy Baez

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The righty is benefitting from the lack of polished pitching depth in the high minors.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers made a somewhat surprising move on Sunday when they announced that they will call up right-handed pitcher Sandy Baez for Monday’s doubleheader against the New York Yankees. The move would have been more surprising had Baez not announced it on Instagram first, but it makes sense given the roster crunch the club is currently under due to injuries throughout the organization.

But we’re not here to talk about that. Let’s meet the Tigers’ latest call-up.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic all the way back in October 2011, Baez wasn’t heralded as he entered the Tigers organization. His stateside debut was thoroughly unimpressive, and he has progressed through the minors at a slow rate. He may not have started his career with a bang, but his stock has consistently trended upwards over the last three years. The stark lack of healthy pitching depth at the higher levels of the minors is working out in his favor, and has resulted in his call to the major leagues.

The biggest tool in Baez’s profile is his fastball. The offering sits in the mid-90s and tops out around 97 miles per hour. It features arm-side movement and has more run than sink. It can straighten out at times when he’s off, or when he tries to hard for velocity. More often than not, it’s an effective weapon. You can squint and call it a 70-grade pitch, but it’s probably a whisker below due to battles with command.

The breaking ball that Baez shows hitters is somewhere between a slider and a curveball, and it is called by both names by prospect evaluators. It is the least developed of all his offerings, and FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen notes that Baez changes his mechanics when utilizing the pitch.

More advanced than his breaking ball, however, is his changeup. Rather than throw a straight change or circle change — the two most common variations on the pitch — Baez opts for a split-change. Also called a “fosh” change, this pitch has more tumbling movement than the standard fading motion of a usual offering. It earned praise from Baseball America as the best changeup in the Tigers’ system.

The biggest flaw to plague Baez is his command. Like many pitchers with big stuff, he has a hard time harnessing it to best effect, and walks more guys than he should. Longenhagen said that Baez throws a “starter-worthy ratio of strikes,” but that assessment was delivered over a year ago. Baez is facing tougher competition now, and his walk rate is higher than it has been since 2015. Not only that, he has been striking out fewer hitters than ever, and appears even more raw than one would hope.

The likely reason the Tigers picked Baez over one of a myriad of other relievers is because he already has a spot on their 40-man roster. Placed there so as to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft, he would need to be put through waivers to open a spot for another pitcher who isn’t already rostered. Baez is slated as the 26th man in Monday’s doubleheader and would have to be brilliant to stay a Tiger for any longer.