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After a long layoff for UCL surgery, Alex Faedo looks to return to form in 2022

The former first-rounder underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2021.

Toronto Blue Jays v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

In 2022 the Detroit Tigers have the 12th selection in the draft. This is the lowest they’ve selected since taking Alex Faedo in 2017. In between that draft and now, they’ve been right up at the top of drafts, which has helped to bring in plenty of high-end talent. Thanks to a fun year in 2021, there is a new challenge at hand in regards to the MLB Draft this season. To keep the pipeline flowing, the Tigers will have to prove they can sustain success without picking at the top of the draft.

First round pitchers have been kind to the Tigers irecently with names like Matt Manning and Casey Mize. There’s also excitement behind the reigning first rounder Jackson Jobe selected third overall in 2021’s amateur draft. There is a particular excitement behind these picks because they are thought to be among the best players in their draft class on any given year.

While Faedo’s pro career was derailed by UCL reconstruction—Tommy John surgery—in late 2020, he’d made gains in 2019 that had him on the fast track to a major league debut. That probably would’ve happened in 2020 if not for, well, EVERYTHING in 2020. Instead he’s been on the shelf and now on the comeback trail. There’s still potential here, but at 26 years old, Faedo would typically have graduated from prospect status by now. We’ll give it another year considering the surgery, but for now we’ve ranked him 17th until he shows he can get all the way back and then some.

Background

Faedo was the Tigers pick at 18th overall in 2017 out of the University of Florida. When he was selected that year, Faedo was in the middle of a game against Wake Forest trying to get to Omaha. So he didn’t find out until later that he was a first round pick. For many Tigers fans, their first look at him came as he led the Gators to a national title with a fiery pair of shutout performances over TCU. One step further back in his baseball history shows that the Tigers drafted him out of high school in 2014 as well, though that was in the 40th round. Faedo had long been of interest to the Tigers’ front office.

He debuted professionally in 2018, splitting his 120 innings nearly down the middle between High-A and Double-A. The results were not terrible, but they weren’t what should be expected of a first round pick. Low strikeout rates, high homerun rates in Double-A, and his ERA was just shy of five at his highest level. He tried Double-A again in 2019, and this time he enjoyed that Erie uniform much more to the tune of a 10.46 K/9 with a 1.95 BB/9. His ERA was still near four thanks to an inflated 1.33 HR/9, which is almost a full HR/9 down from his first attempt at the level. Further work on the fastball was required. Unfortunately, after working at the second preseason camp in 2020, Faedo quickly developed soreness while trying to stay sharp at the Toledo alternate sight, and after rehabilitation efforts failed, underwent the ligament repair.

Profile

A big slider leads the way for Faedo’s arsenal. It’s a solid pitch that gets plenty of sweep, but it’s the gyro, or vertical, movement to it that really makes it a potentially superb whiff generator. In 2019 he was spotting the pitch well to both sides of the plate in the lower-third of the zone, and showing some feel for varying the break at will. The slider remains the biggest weapon for him moving forward.

Perhaps the biggest question coming off of this injury will be the velocity on the fastball. It usually sat 93-95 MPH while he was in college, but that velocity was not as consistent once he joined the Tigers. That, in part, is what led to Faedo’s vulnerability to the longball in 2018. Thanks to improved mechanics and conditioning, he saw a velocity jump in 2019, but was still regularly 92-94 mph. It will be imperative for that fastball to take a jump back into the mid-90’s. Hopefully a healthy arm is the key to that, although there’s always risk when going under the knife.

There were clear mechanical and body improvements that contributed to the overall jump in performance in 2019. He was leaner and stronger, two years removed from double knee surgeries prior to his junior year of college. His posture and arm path were improved, and the fastball had better riding life. There was a buzz around Faedo once again, and well deserved.

Another contributing factor was his changeup that took a step forward and was more consistently a major league average quality offering or better. Faedo’s command was also substantially improved. All of this helped him to show what the Tigers saw in him enough to pick him. Twice. Unfortunately all that progress was derailed by the blown elbow ligament.

The most important aspect here is that Faedo come back healthy. Once he does that and builds his arm back up fully, then he’ll get to work with a development staff that’s more analytically-driven than the one when he was last throwing. That could mean another jump in development. This is pure speculation, but just take his fastball for instance. It’s easy to tell that in 2019 there was ride through the zone, and in the example below he was able to use that at the top of the zone for a swing and a miss. That kind of optimization could pay dividends.

All of this speculation will turn to outcomes soon enough. As Faedo makes his return to games there will me more known about where he stands and what his profile looks like. He’ll be a key focus for prospect watchers this spring as no starting prospect in the upper minors is as much of a question mark as Alex Faedo right now.

If he can re-capture the command gains and build up to his best velocity on a consistent basis, there’s still a shot at a pretty decent starting pitcher here. But the plus slider is the key to the whole profile. If the heater and changeup don’t take notable steps, the potential for a solid, slider heavy reliever remains a reasonable fallback plan.

Projected 2022 team: Double-A Erie Seawolves

A third trip to Erie is more for return to competition than anything else, just to get him back throwing again. If he’s impressing in camp, then he could slot into Toledo, he could also end up in Toledo after just a handful of outings in Erie. The assignment for a pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery like Faedo can be really tricky, but starting him in familiar territory to get his Sea(Wolves) legs back under him would make as much sense as anything else.