Folks, it’s been a rough month for obvious reasons. In depth analysis about baseball has just seemed a bit frivolous under the circumstances, and the uncertainties a bit overwhelming. Like everyone else, the BYB staff has dealt with strange mixes of stress, busyness, fear, and utter boredom as we attempt to process the COVID-19 pandemic. We wish you all the best, and thank you for your part in this Detroit Tigers community. The meaning and importance of community has rarely been more clear than in this strange time of social avoidance.
So while our normal season preview activities may remain restrained until we actually have a season to prepare for, there are still topics to explore. However, for the first time since spring of 2015, your humble author went two straight weeks without publishing an article, so bear with him as he tries to find the groove again.
Let’s talk about a few unheralded pitchers in the Tigers’ system we’ll be keeping a close eye on whenever sweet, sweet baseball returns to us. May the wait be short for all the right reasons...
Fully 15 spots on our top current 30 Detroit Tigers prospects list are already occupied by pitchers, but wait, there’s more. Beyond them, the Tigers do have a bit of depth in pitchers just a step away from becoming really interesting prospects. Most are hard-throwing relievers, but there is at least one more young starting pitcher who could force his way into solid prospect status this season.
All four pitchers can certainly be regarded as longshots at this point, either because they’re young, or because hard-throwing relievers with poor command go by the wayside constantly and are generally low percentage assets. Still, as the upper levels of the farm system are now chock full of pitching talent nearing graduation, it would help keep the pipeline flowing if at least one of these young hurlers could develop into a real asset this year.
The 19-year-old Venezuelan turned heads with a nice performance for the Connecticut Tigers in short season A-ball last summer. Montero came off a nice stint with GCL Tigers West, and posted two solid starts for the Tigers before showing out on August 8th against the Aberdeen IronBirds. He punched out eight in five innings of work before a rain delay intervened, and did it in style. He followed that outing with a one-hit, six inning performance six days later, solidifying himself as an intriguing name to watch for in 2020.
The control is still a work in progress, but Montero’s approach was fairly advanced and he has enough of a handle on his location to work both sides of the plate effectively. The heater has some life and topped out at 96 mph this season, but is typically 92-94 mph right now. He pairs it with a nasty tilting curveball and a changeup with decent fade that may eventually be an average third pitch.
He’s on the small side for a starting pitcher, standing a tick over six feet with a lean, rangy frame, but Montero packs a powerful delivery for his size. His athleticism allows him to drive aggressively to the plate with a strong lead leg and good arm extension that augers a bit more projection in his stuff than his frame might suggest. He can also spin the heck out of the ball. The question is whether he’s got the ability to handle a starter’s innings. There’s going to be skepticism on that front until proven otherwise.
FanGraphs rated Montero the Tigers’ 27th best prospect, and he had a few votes on BYB’s top 30 list as well, so he won’t be flying under the radar this year. Seeing him for a full season would have offered a better look at his potential as a starter, but we’ll have to make do with whatever we get under the circumstances.
Montero’s breaking ball checks in at 3000 rpms, well into elite territory. That bodes well for his future ability to manipulate the ball in general. Should the changeup fail to develop, there is still the possibility of adding a slider instead as he goes along. His aptitude and delivery leads to some optimism about his future ability to command the fastball and breaking ball combination. He’s probably an interesting relief prospect in reality, but his progress at West Michigan in a starter’s role will be worth checking in on this season.
Looks via MiLB.tv, particularly in the New York-Penn League, are not ideal, but our friends over at Tigers Minor League Report have a nice curveball montage from Montero up on their YouTube channel.
Hard-throwing righthander Jason Foley emerged from nowhere in 2017 to become one of the Tigers’ better pure relief prospects before Tommy John surgery put him on the sidelines. Foley was an undrafted unknown who played his college ball at Sacred Heart, a small private college in Connecticut. There was little in his pedigree or even his college numbers to attract a look in such an out-of-the-way place.
Credit the diligence of Tigers’ scouting in spotting Foley’s high velocity fastball. The club followed through, signing him in August of 2016 after his junior year.
Foley’s command was practically non-existent at the time, but the power fastball was undeniable. He hit 101 mph at his peak and consistently sat in the upper 90’s with the makings of a quality slider as his kicker. A year of pro instruction paid real dividends and improved mechanics led to better control.
He was fantastic early in 2017, mauling Midwest League hitters with a 31.3 percent strikeout rate while issuing just five walks in 29 innings of work for the West Michigan Whitecaps. Foley was still inconsistent, and the secondary pitches needed work, but there was an awful lot to like in the amount of progress he’d made in a short time. The Tigers promoted him to Advanced-A Lakeland, but unfortunately he only managed a couple of appearances before blowing out his elbow. The resulting UCL surgery and rehab cost him the entire 2018 season.
Foley returned in 2019, and while he was clearly rusty, the potential appears to be intact. He touched triple digits with his fastball again this year, and looks like he’s added a little muscle. Foley gets out over a strong lead leg with good extension. He’ll flash a solid changeup, but his slider remains inconsistent. He does appear to have the innate ability to spin the slider, and we’ll just have to see if he can dial it in consistently.
There’s hope that Foley has some trajectory remaining after just a few years of baseball as more than a walk-on, and after coming though major surgery in good shape. Like most of this type, he has high bust risk because there is a leap needed in terms of command. Still, should he take that next step, Foley could find himself fast-tracked to the major leagues in fairly short order.
Green is a 23-year-old southpaw with a personality as big as his fastball. The heater is up to 98 mph with deception from a tough angle. He has two breaking balls. One is a more traditional curve with some tilt around 79-80 mph, while his second is a slow curve with surprisingly tight downward action at just 69 mph. Neither is quite ready for prime time, and perhaps as a result, Green isn’t punching out as many hitters as you’d hope just yet.
Green is 6’1” and pretty average size, but he appears to have added some muscle in pro ball, and he’s a good overall athlete. There’s also been some evolution since the Tigers selected him in the 8th round of the 2017 draft. The strike throwing took a step forward in his work in the Florida State League last season. Green was emphasizing pitching aggressively and avoiding walks last year, and while the strikeouts suffered, he produced an awful lot of weak contact and awkward swings.
Green was a recent guest on the Marchant Orders podcast with friends of BYB James Chipman and Chris Brown over at the Tigers Minor League Report. In the interview he mentions working on a slider to give him something coming out on the same plane as his fastball. He also discusses his growth in understanding the actual craft of pitching after a long year of Florida State League action.
You can bet on the athleticism and aggressive mentality here a little bit despite the low percentages involved with a pitcher like this. If he can refine a breaking ball and be more consistent, he might have a part to play in the Tigers’ bullpen.
Moreno has been on the radar for quite a while, but the 24-year-old needed Tommy John surgery in June of 2018 and missed most of the 2019 season. He’s a dedicated relief prospect with an unimposing frame but a pretty big riding fastball. Moreno has been interesting all along as he packs three potentially above-average pitches. Prior to surgery he could run the fastball up into the high-90’s, and the pitch has consistently drawn plus grades.
Moreno also has a pretty good slider and a developing changeup that draws a below average grade from FanGraphs, but wouldn’t have to improve that much to play against his fastball as a show-me pitch. It’s helped by Moreno’s extension and armspeed, though it’s probably unlikely to ever be a real weapon for him.
The problem prior to surgery was always bouts of wildness, and an inability to consistently command either secondary offering. Often the rehabilitation from UCL surgery gets a pitcher into fantastic physical condition, and Moreno has looked strong and powerful this spring, with all of his former velocity on display.
This may just reveal a weakness for guys returning from injury, but sometimes there’s a bump from the conditioning required to rehabilitate from the surgery, and you never know how long a pitcher was throwing with a developing injury before surgery was required. It doesn’t mean there is suddenly more projection here, but it does merit a fresh look at him as he works his way back.
We got a few looks at Moreno during the club’s abbreviated Spring Training. The stuff appears intact post-surgery, and he racked up five strikeouts in three innings of work. Like all hard-throwing relievers, Moreno is a high-risk candidate to ever succeed at the major league level. However, he throws hard and flashes enough stuff to keep us interested in his return to action. Give us five or six guys like that, and hopefully someone puts it together.