Thursday afternoon, the Detroit Tigers announced that right-handed pitching prospects Matt Manning and Alex Faedo have been shut down for the year. In the announcement, they were classified as having the same injury, namely, a slight strain of the right forearm.
The opinion of many Tigers fans, and some scouts, is that Manning is the top prospect in the Detroit system. That’s a contested title considering the number of high quality pitching prospects that Al Avila has accumulated during his tenure as the Tigers’ General Manager, but it gives a sense of how highly regarded the club’s first round selection from 2016 has become.
Manning’s results in the minor leagues thus far have matched up to his lofty draft status. He absolutely dominated Double-A last season, pitching to the tune of a 2.56 ERA and 3.89 strikeout to walk ratio. Frankly, hitters at that level didn’t stand a chance, he could simply overpower them with his fastball or spin a little curve if anyone gave him some trouble.
He still needs to grow as a pitcher, though. Manning is a little younger than most of the Tigers other top pitching prospects, and while his ceiling may ultimately be the highest of the group, he’s also the least experienced. At times his progress has been spectacular, while in others, like much of the last year, development of his secondary pitches and command has only come in fits and starts. His changeup still needs growth and consistency, and progress on a harder breaking ball began this spring, but has been impossible to judge without access to the minor league camp. There is work ahead, but these are understandable problems; he’s only been pitching seriously since his junior year of high school.
Faedo is in a similar situation as Manning, although his route has been considerably more circuitous. While Manning was always going to be a long-term project and has developed basically according to plan, Faedo was a much more polished product on draft day, though probably more limited in terms of ultimate potential. Drafted as the star of the Florida Gators’ rotation and the 2017 College World Series MVP, he came to the Tigers’ organization with considerably reduced stuff and has put in a lot of work refining his mechanics in an effort to regain ground after a rocky 2018 season that saw his velocity well down from his college averages.
Despite falling out of favor with many Tigers fans over his first full season in the organization, Faedo dispelled doubts about his prospect status in 2019. His Double-A campaign could only be classified as a roaring success — his strikeouts, walks, home runs per fly ball rate, ERA, FIP, and xFIP all took big steps in the right direction and scouts noted improved stuff and mechanics.
With forearm injuries, there is always fear that Tommy John surgery may lurk in a pitcher’s future, but there is no indication of a UCL tear in either case. Often, time and rehab are enough. The Tigers seemed to indicate that shutting the pair of pitchers completely down for the season was a precaution more that a necessity, so it’s not unreasonable to hope for the best.
That being said, it doesn’t take the sting out of this news in the short-term.
Cameron delayed, Rogers denied
In Thursday’s press conference to announce the shutdown of Manning and Faedo, Al Avila also weighed in on two other prospects. Outfielder Daz Cameron, who missed summer camp due to COVID-19 protocols, appears set to rejoin the team in Toledo, and should be able to get a good month’s work in. Don’t expect to see him in the majors, however. There just isn’t enough time to get up to speed.
More frustrating to many, is the apparent disfavor of the Tigers top catching prospect entering this season, Jake Rogers. Avila made it quite clear that they have no intention to promote the 25-year-old this year, and prefer to play Grayson Greiner as starter Austin Romine’s backup. This despite miserable numbers at the plate from Greiner, and Rogers’ better defensive reputation.
Rogers was acquired in the 2017 Justin Verlander trade as the organization’s potential catcher of the future, but struggled on both sides of the ball in his brief major league debut late in the 2019 season. The Tigers wanted him to adopt more of a line drive approach to trim the strikeouts, and Rogers worked with highly regarded hitting coach Doug Latta over the offseason to flatten his stroke and adopt the Tigers’ all fields philosophy. But it’s difficult to improve when you’re not playing games, and simply taking live BP against the club’s minor league arms. Particularly as the Tigers best pitching prospects have been promoted or shut down for the year already.
If the Tigers aren’t going to get him any work at all this season, then his development is apparently no longer an organizational priority. One has to wonder what went wrong along the way.