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Spring training report: Beau Brieske shines, Tigers rotation looks sharp early

Possible openings on the bench and in the bullpen frame early camp roster battles.

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MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at Detroit Tigers Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

With four Grapefruit League games under their belt, the Detroit Tigers 2022 major league camp is well underway. While the club waits for their newest addition, starter Michael Pineda, to arrive, the rest of the likely starting rotation took their first turns on the mound to good effect. On the position player side, the hitters look behind the pitchers as usual, looking to dial in their timing. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad from spring camp thus far.

On Tuesday at 1:05 pm ET, the Tigers travel to Clearwater, Florida for a matchup with the Philadelphia Phillies. It will start as a duel between lefties, as Tigers’ swingman Tyler Alexander takes the bump for his first start of the spring calendar. The Phillies have lefty Bailey Falter to oppose him. Falter is a solid pitching prospect featuring heavy doses of low-90’s fastballs and a cutter, who made his major league debut in 2021 with 22 appearances out of the bullpen.

Miguel Cabrera, Jeimer Candelario, and Akil Baddoo will get the day off out of the club’s projected starting lineup. Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson will be in the lineup with Greene playing center field and leading off, despite the fact that centerfielders Derek Hill and Daz Cameron will both be in the lineup as well. That’s a strong defensive outfield behind Alexander and the Tigers’ pitching staff. With Harold Castro in at third for Candelario, we’ll otherwise get a look at the likely starting infield, with Torkelson’s starting assignment the only question mark.

The compressed schedule and need to ramp the major leaguers up to regular season speed in three weeks is leaving less time for looks at some of the top prospects who aren’t already on the cusp of major league duty. The Tigers reassigned catching prospect Dillon Dingler to minor league camp on Saturday, and made a few more moves on Tuesday morning.

Utility infielder Jack Lopez has impressed a few in camp, and may push Harold Castro and Isaac Paredes for a utility infielder role. Castro still has the inside track, but Lopez may have a line on a bench spot anyway, depending on how many outfielders A.J. Hinch decides to take north. This will bear watching over the next two weeks.

Also of note is the fact that Kyle Funkhouser hasn’t appeared yet, and is dealing with a lat issue. That opens a spot in the bullpen on Opening Day. Righthander Miguel Diaz is your early favorite, but there’s a long way to go. Jacob Barnes, Jason Foley, Rony Garcia, Bryan Garcia, and perhaps Miguel del Pozo or Drew Carlton, will be in the mix depending on how they pitch over the next few weeks.

The big one is the reassignment of pitching prospect Alex Faedo to the Low-A Lakeland Flying Tigers. Faedo is still only 15 months removed from UCL reconstruction, and the Tigers would clearly like to keep a close eye on him as he works his way back. Keeping him in Lakeland until he’s built up to a starter’s workload allows the Tigers’ medical staff to keep close eye on his arm and how he’s recovering from outing to outing.

In his appearance over the weekend, Faedo was 93-94 mph with the fastball, back to where he left off in 2019 when he put together a strong campaign for Double-A Erie and was on the fast track alongside Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal. That’s a good sign. If all goes well we may see more of the mid-90’s velocity he showcased in his college days. He’ll need to regain feel for the slider, his one plus weapon, but as that comes along and his command returns, Faedo could well look like a good starting pitching prospect once again. He should be on track to get back to the upper levels by May once he’s fully built up.

Starting Rotation

There wasn’t too much of note to come out of the first outings from Eduardo Rodriguez, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning. As they were brief appearances, that’s as expected. However, one theme that emerged was that the starters looked none the worse for wear from the late start and condensed camp. They all looked in good shape, showcasing good command and velocity for this time of the year.

Rodriguez in particular showed good command, mixing in good changeups and breaking balls. Both Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal mixed in a few curveballs, an offering each is trying to build into a more consistent part of their repertoire. Meanwhile, after overpowering Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with fastballs in the first inning of his start on Monday, Manning touched a maximum velocity of 98 mph in his second inning. As he lost 15 pounds due to a nasty bout with COVID last offseason, it was good to see him built back up and looking strong early in camp. He showed a couple good curveballs and sliders, but also looking like he’s still feeling for his release on a few others. Cody Stavenhagen has a nice profile on Manning and his family’s budding sports legacy up this morning for The Athletic subscribers.

Tyler Alexander will get the start on Tuesday looking like he’s got the inside track to the fifth starter job in the early going. With Pineda working through visa issues, and Wily Peralta also signed right before camp began on a minor league deal, Alexander should have a good shot to land a start or two until Pineda is up to speed. Peralta the Tigers would presumably like to keep in their back pocket as a mentor and backup plan at the Triple-A level, though we don’t have the details of his deal to know if there’s a cutoff point where they’ll have to release him if not promoted to the majors.

Starting Lineup

Hitters are typically behind the pitchers this early in camp, so there are no particular conclusions to be drawn yet. It is interesting to note Riley Greene getting starts in center field even with Derek Hill and Daz Cameron in the lineup. In five plate appearances, Greene has a home run, two hits, and walk, and is so far doing everything in his power to break camp with the major league club. The new CBA has incentives for starting rookies on Opening Day, making the likelihood that Greene and Spencer Torkelson are in the Opening Day lineup much more likely as long as they each perform to their ability.

Akil Baddoo is off to a nice start, with a home run and a triple already in seven PAs. Otherwise most of the major league regulars are just getting loose and haven’t seen much action. Robbie Grossman has led the way thus far, picking up where he left off in his 2021 career best season. The veteran outfielder already has two homers and a walk drawn in six trips to the dish.

Prospects

There have been some fun notes on some of the Tigers’ prospects in camp. Dillon Dingler only got a brief look before his reassignment, but he made it count, drilling a Tyler Cyr offering off the right field wall for an RBI double in one of his two plate appearances. Daz Cameron has graduated from prospect status, but remains in 4-A limbo. He looks to have made a few subtle swing changes, and showed them off with a three-hit game, including a long home run to centerfield and a pair of solid line drives. Shortstop Ryan Kreidler, who was the biggest mover in the system in 2021, has also impressed, showing off strong defense. If he can trim a bit more swing and miss from his game, the Tigers have a good shortstop prospect on hand. He’ll presumably start the year in Toledo, but is highly likely to debut in the majors this year, either on the bench or in case of an injury on the infield.

However the real eye-opening performance of the spring has belonged to our 15th ranked prospect, righthander Beau Brieske. His breakout 2021 season put the 27th rounder on the radar as one of the club’s most interesting pitching prospects, but many wanted to see if he could sustain his performance in the upper levels after a strong late season debut for Double-A Erie. Judging by word out of camp, and Brieske’s first spring outing, he’s on the fast track toward top prospect status.

Already featuring near major league ready command late last year, Brieske sat 96.3 mph in his two innings of work, almost three full ticks better than last year. While his command of the changeup wasn’t consistent, that pitch looked to have improved tunneling off the fastball, and at 81-82 mph, will feature huge velocity separation off the heater if he can comfortably sit in the mid-90’s now. The Tigers new Director of Pitching, Gabe Ribas, has also made an adjustment to Breiske’s grip to help him throw a harder, tighter slider. While he threw a couple on Friday, improvements weren’t in evidence just yet. Still, pretty exciting developments for the Tigers. If the velo bump was more than just adrenaline in a short outing, and he can sustain a higher cruising velocity in his starts this spring, Brieske will likely challenge 2021 first round pick Jackson Jobe for supremacy atop the farm system as Greene and Torkelson graduate. It’s ok to be excited, but patience is advised, of course.

Over the vibe of the club seems good, but it better be at this time of the year. The collection of young talent is getting a lot of buzz, and the Tigers’ veterans have bought in. Notable was Miguel Cabrera mounting a campaign to get Spencer Torkelson on the Opening Day roster by telling Hinch he wants to DH this year to open the way for the top prospect slugger. Here’s hoping. Riley Greene certainly looks like he’s going to be hard to keep down, but there’s nothing to do but see how the next two and a half weeks of games progress.