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Projecting the Erie SeaWolves and Toledo Mud Hens starting rotations

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A roster crunch in the upper minors highlights the Tigers deep stable of pitching prospects.

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

When we think of a roster crunch in a team’s farm system, usually we’re talking about a very isolated issue revolving around one premium defensive positin. Maybe you have two or three shortstops all in the same stage in their development, and the time comes to move one to second or third base. Or you have multiple catching prospects piling up on each other in the upper minors. Typically, these aren’t difficult to resolve.

Less common, is to run into the issue with starting pitchers, particularly across two levels of a farm system. Yet the Tigers’ pitching heavy rebuild now has them in a spot where they have many more starting pitching prospects than there are starts to allocate to them. And several more of the most talented players in the system will be inbound to the Double-A level in 2019. This should make for some interesting decisions facing the Tigers’ front office this spring.

Every one of the following young arms was primarily a starter last season at either the Double-A or Triple-A level. Most, the Tigers have already shown an ongoing interest in by keeping them on the 40-man roster. Meanwhile, Sandy Baez, who made 15 starts for the Double-A Erie SeaWolves, has already been converted to a reliever full-time. Some of the following names are likely to follow him into the bullpen as the Tigers carve out the proper workload for their 10 best starting candidates.

2018 Starting Pitchers

Player Age Highest 2018 level
Player Age Highest 2018 level
Ryan Carpenter 28 Toledo Mud Hens
A.J. Ladwig 26 Toledo Mud Hens
Spencer Turnbull 26 Toledo Mud Hens
Matt Hall 25 Toledo Mud Hens
Kyle Funkhouser 24 Toledo Mud Hens
Logan Shore 24 AA (Oakland A's)
Tyler Alexander 24 Toledo Mud Hens
Alex Faedo 23 Erie SeaWolves
Anthony Castro 23 Erie SeaWolves
Beau Burrows 22 Erie SeaWolves
Matt Manning 20 Erie SeaWolves

Make way for the new breed

Few of those 11 pitchers are ready to graduate to the major leagues, at least on a full-time basis. Turnbull, Funkhouser, and Hall are all close, and should pitch for the Detroit Tigers this season in some capacity, but none are likely to seize a starting rotation spot in the majors at this point. Others, like Carpenter and Ladwig, aren’t on the same level and will have to seize whatever opportunities arise. The Tigers presumably won’t give any of them priority in a rotation at any level. A few may even be whittled away before spring camp closes.

Top prospects Casey Mize and Franklin Perez seem likely to start the year briefly at Lakeland, but really have nothing to prove at that level. Mize is already considered major league ready by many scouts, while Perez has already had success at the Double-A level. He simply needs to get healthy this offseason and back on track. Both of them should be pitching for the SeaWolves as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Gregory Soto hasn’t exactly “graduated” from the Florida State League, but spinning his wheels there in 2019 doesn’t make much sense. The Tigers may give him a little more time as a starter in Lakeland, especially as he’s been suspended the first 20 games of the season for an as yet unknown offense. Or, perhaps they’ll simply make the move and turn Soto into a reliever.

Finally, we have Grayson Long, who missed most of 2018 for thoracic outlet surgery. He won’t be back on the mound until mid-season, presumably, but Long had a very nice season pitching in Double-A for the Los Angeles Angels back in 2017. He’ll turn 25 in May, and if his health is good, he too may be in the mix for a spot at Erie once he gets some work under his belt. Still, it’s also possible, even likely, that the Tigers simply take it easy with him coming off the surgery, and keep him in Lakeland under the watchful eye of the Tigers development staff.

Still that’s 13 or 15 starting pitchers all bound for the top two levels of the system. The Tigers won’t have to sort this out by April 1st. Holding a few guys back in Lakeland will allow time for the situation to sort itself out a bit. Even so, the system is reaching the point where the Tigers are finally going to be forced to make some decisions.

The rotations

Let’s take our best crack at filling out both squads’ rotations. This may not be where they start or end up, but expect these assignments to occupy the majority of their seasons.

2019 Projected Rotations

Toledo Mud Hens (AAA) Erie SeaWolves (AA)
Toledo Mud Hens (AAA) Erie SeaWolves (AA)
Kyle Funkhouser Matt Manning
Tyler Alexander Alex Faedo
Logan Shore Casey Mize
Beau Burrows Franklin Perez
Spencer Turnbull Anthony Castro

That Erie SeaWolves rotation should be absolutely nasty, by the way.

These things tend to resolve themselves

Of course, it’s important to remember that some of the crunch will sort itself out on its own. Injuries, trades, success and failure this spring, all these elements may decide matters before the Tigers even need to weigh in with tough decisions. Some of the lesser names mentioned will simply be bounced around to fill gaps in both starting and relief capacities.

Still, it’s pretty clear that a few pitchers are really up against it heading into the 2019 campaign. To find room for their top ten starting pitching prospects, the Tigers will have to take a hard look at several of the older prospects who have stalled out to a degree, and decide to either cut them loose, trade them, or move them to the bullpen. It’s also high time the Tigers consider trying to turn some of their depth into major league talent via trade. That could take the form of simply trading prospects for a player, or through a willingness to add a prospect to a trade of a major league piece, such as Nick Castellanos or Matt Boyd, to try and upgrade the return.

Obviously, depth like this is a good thing, but now the Tigers have to get more proactive. It does an organization no good to simply hang on to everyone until they’ve proven incapable of growing into a major league regular. The fact remains that few prospects make it in the major leagues. Particularly the slightly below average types with which the Tigers are absolutely loaded. They’ve got to find a way to keep their best prospects, while looking to improve in other areas even if it requires paring away some of that depth. If they play their hand well, the Tigers should be able to retain a very talented core group of young starting pitchers, while at the same time rounding out the organization in other ways.

How do you see the rotations shaking out at Toledo and Erie?