Wednesday night, the Detroit Tigers announced the addition of two players to their 60-man roster, right-handed relievers Zack Hess and Alex Lange. There is no corresponding move needed, as the spots being taken by Lange and Hess were vacant before their addition to the roster. By doing so, the Tigers’ have now reached the 60-player maximum.
Interestingly enough, both Lange and Hess are Louisiana State alum and are relative newcomers to the Tigers’ farm system. That’s where the similarities end, though.
Hess has been a well-known pitching prospect since 2016, when he was on teams’ radars as an arm strength high schooler with command problems and a strong reliever risk. He made it to campus and pitched for LSU for three years, slogging through appearances as a starter but shining in relief. As he entered the draft for a second time in 2019, the general belief among talent evaluators was that he could be tried in the rotation as a professional, but his talents would be wasted there. He was miscast in a starting role from the beginning.
Evidently, Detroit agreed with that assessment, and Hess was used exclusively in relief during his pro debut. The results were a mixed bag, but the sample sizes are small enough to be of little concern. Although he does throw three pitches, Hess’ changeup is a distant third offering and he thrives on feeding hitters a heavy dosage of fastballs and sliders. He is capable of bringing the heat and can turn his fastball up to 97 miles per hour. The slider is the strikeout pitch. Both pitches are high-spin and hitters have trouble squaring up on either offering.
The Tigers’ decision to add him to the 60-man roster is likely fueled by the desire to keep the ball rolling on his development in an effort to fast-track him to the major leagues. His pitches don’t need much a ton of refinement, especially in short stints. Playing against high-level competition is a good way to kick his progress into a higher gear. That’s exactly what the 23-year-old will get in Summer Camp as a member of the taxi squad.
Lange was a high-end draft prospect in 2016 and the Cubs selected him in the back end of the first round, but he didn’t take to pro ball the way they would have hoped. His fastball lost some zip and his breaking pitches weren’t as effective, and he got hit around by competition inferior to what he had already conquered in college. The Tigers’ brass bought low on the stagnating starter, acquiring him in the deal that sent Nicholas Castellanos to Chicago. They moved him to the bullpen immediately upon arriving to the organization.
The move to relief seems to be just what the doctor ordered. There, he can work at max effort and incorporate a larger percentage of breaking balls to keep hitters off his fastball. FanGraphs reported that his velocity was back to where it had been in 2016, sitting in the low 90s with the ability to reach 95 when it’s needed. His breaking ball is a remarkably low-spin pitch and averages 2150 RPM, but that doesn’t work to his disadvantage and he still coaxes plenty of movement from the pitch.
Lange doesn’t have the same upside as Hess, but he took a big step forward after joining the Tigers’ organization and should be in the major leagues sooner than later. His addition to the 60-man roster is motivated more out of need than with Hess. Lange is almost 25 years old, hasn’t pitched above Double-A, and will be Rule 5 draft-eligible this offseason. Detroit’s 40-man roster is becoming increasingly crowded and he’ll need to earn the right to a protected roster spot in November.
Though both Hess and Lange are sensible additions to the Tigers’ pool of active players, the 60-man roster is now maxed out, which could be a bit of a problem down the road. The rules governing which players feature in the 60-man roster make it far easier to add a player than to remove him. Now that there is a full compliment of players on Detroit’s 60-man, the team could be forced to make some hard choices if they want to add someone new, regardless of whether they are already in the organization.
On the bright side, Tigers fans (and more importantly, the Tigers) will probably be able to lay eyes on two of the team’s better relief prospects and see how they fare against high-caliber competition. If they perform well and the bullpen struggles early, it’s not entirely out of the question that one or maybe even both could see time with major league club this season.