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2019 BYB Tigers Prospect #9: RHP Alex Faedo needs to rebound in a big way

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The Tigers first round pick in 2017 hit a wall at the Double-A level last year.

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

Prospect currency is more volatile than the markets, particularly when that prospect is a pitcher. When the Tigers selected Alex Faedo in the first round of the 2017 draft, that decision was pretty well received. Faedo was rapidly installed on many top 100 prospect lists, bolstering the Tigers’ core of good young pitchers. By the time the big right-hander had shown out in leading the University of Florida to a College World Series title that summer, confidence that the Tigers had landed another exciting young arm was pretty high. Unfortunately, Faedo’s first full season of pro ball did not go as planned.

It’s too early to call this a decisive year in Faedo’s career, but the fact remains that his loss of velocity and overall stuff was the most striking note from his 2018 campaign. Ups and downs are expected in any young player’s development. However, with pitchers especially, seeing them in a diminished form without any particular explanation is concerning. If he’s going to maintain his status as a part of the Tigers hopes for the future, he needs to rebound in a big way this season.

Background

The baseball program at the University of Florida has positively been a gold mine of pitching talent over the last few seasons. An absolutely dominant career there made Faedo an easy pick for the Tigers when they came on the clock in 2017. His college numbers are dominant — he pitched to the tune of a 2.80 ERA with 10.84 strikeouts and only 0.59 home runs per nine innings.

Professional baseball didn’t treat him so kindly, though. He was able to weather High-A without much damage to his surface numbers, but there was also chatter of his stuff having backed up quite a bit during his first few starts. A strikeout rate of just 7.52 batters every nine innings would seem to confirm that, and those voices only got louder as the season progressed. His velocity was more commonly 90-91 mph, instead of the mid-90’s heat he showed in his junior season with the Gators. The slider wasn’t quite as biting. Double-A hitters absolutely teed off on him, launching 15 home runs in just 60 innings of work for the Erie SeaWolves. The strikeouts started to tick back up, but his walks also increased threefold. What was driving these performances?

Strengths

All the things that made Faedo a first rounder are still present, they’ve just been dialed down a little. His main weapon is a breaking ball. It’s a slider with late vertical movement, a pitch that positively ate up college hitters and qualified as one of the best in the nation at the time. It flashed easily plus at its best, serving as his out pitch. Through the power of that electric pitch and a power sinker, Faedo was at one point a candidate to go first overall.

It didn’t play as well in pro ball as it did in college, though. Evaluators still saw an above-average pitch, but nowadays it resides more in 55-grade territory rather than its former easy plus status. That’s still a solid pitch, mind you, one that is polished more than many minor leaguers’ breaking balls and can get strikeouts against high level batters.

Faedo’s fastball atrophied in a similar way to his slider after entering the pro ranks. He could never lay claim to high-end velocity. “I don’t really care too much about velo,” said Faedo to MLB.com almost a year ago. “As long as I’m getting outs and winning games, I don’t really care about all the extra stuff.” Instead, he worked a plus heater thanks to his ability to manipulate its shape and command the pitch. He didn’t show the same aptitude for the pitch in 2018, though, and it’s grade slipped down to an average level, peaking slightly higher.

The organization is still optimistic about the young righty’s future. “I think there’s a lot to like about Alex Faedo,” said Vice President of Player Development Dave Littlefield in an interview with The Athletic. “He’s a great competitor, he’s got a variety of pitches, plus location and plus pitches at times.”

Weaknesses

After giving Faedo an above-slot bonus of $3.5 million, the Tigers shut him down for the season. He’d been a workhorse for the Gators and pitched deep into the postseason, winning the College World Series’ Most Outstanding Player award. Unfortunately, he did just exactly what you’d expect a 20-something-year-old alpha male might do with disposable wealth and no one hovering over his shoulder. He showed up to Spring Training looking very rusty.

The command that once drew accolades and allowed his whole pitch mix to play up faltered due to a variety of reasons. It’s difficult to overestimate how important it is that Faedo is able to maintain his command, it’s what floats the profile as a starting pitcher. Especially because his fastball isn’t very intimidating on it’s own merit he needs to be able to locate it consistently in order to be effective. The loss of velocity only heightens those concerns.

Faedo has always had some minor fundamental issues in his delivery. He uses a highly uncommon, offtempo slinging motion without much drive and hip speed rotation. It’s not ideal in that Faedo doesn’t get very good extension, and doesn’t use his lower half to generate balanced speed the way you’d like to see. Still, when the whole package is clicking, it works. Hitters may have a harder time reading the ball out of his hand than they would if he utilized a more standard delivery.

Unfortunately, that asset quickly becomes a detriment when it isn’t working. It gets in the way of his command (drink), may present an increased risk of injury (drink), and stifles the movement on his fastball (drink). There’s a lot of work to be done if the Tigers want to tone down this noisy, complex delivery.

Finally, his changeup has fallen out of favor. We speculated in last year’s report that Faedo would benefit from throwing the pitch with more frequency to keep hitters from adapting to his slider, which he did in 2018. But despite that increased frequency, it was a below-average pitch that failed to impress. It was once viewed as a future plus offering, so there is projection for the pitch, it just has a longer way to go than we had hoped.

All tallied, there are a lot of issues to be concerned with. If Faedo’s fastball sits 90 mph, even with good life, there’s even less separation between his secondary offerings, reducing the quality of the overall mix. In that scenario, there really isn’t even a strong relief profile to fall back on. A pitcher with a good-but-not-great slider and little else to offer is going to be hard pressed to provide any value at the major league level. So while this is only year two of the Faedo experience, the pressure to turn things around is going to be very high for him heading into spring camp.

Projected Team: Double-A Erie SeaWolves

Unfortunately. Alex Faedo isn’t looking the part of the high-floor, slider-monster the Tigers were hoping for. He’s got a fight ahead of him to work his way through the upper minors and recapture the status he once had as one of minor league baseball’s better pitching prospects. There’s still a chance that he reaches his ceiling of an durable mid-rotation starter, but pitching in a major league rotation looks much less like a slam-dunk than it once did. He hit a wall in Double-A, so that’s the logical starting point in 2019. Detroit will give him every chance to succeed as a starter, and that rebound will have to begin in a SeaWolves uniform.

h/t J. Chipman for the video