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2023 Tigers player previews: Brendan White could bolster a bullpen in need of help

The Tigers haven’t produced many homegrown relievers in the last decade, but Brendan White has a chance to buck the trend.

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MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers Photo Day Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Another day, another player preview about a pitcher the Detroit Tigers scouted from relative obscurity who now has a legit shot at a major league career. Right-hander Brendan White is a dedicated reliever now, but as a 26th rounder in 2019, he certainly fits with the Wilmer Flores, Beau Brieske, Garrett Hill group as a pitcher the Tigers’ area scouts found well off the beaten track. Equipped with one of the best breaking balls in the organization, the 24-year-old could play a key role in a rebuilt 2023 bullpen.

The Mahopac, New York native wasn’t on anyone’s radar in high school, and it wasn’t until his junior year at Siena College that getting drafted became a realistic possibility. Once he got that opportunity from the Tigers, he ran with it on his own. After a brief intro to pro ball post-draft, White took it upon himself to really improve his game in 2020 with the season cancelled.

Having nowhere to train, White joined Kolton Ingram, a soft-tossing lefty drafted in the 37th round the same year by the Tigers, basically set up their own little camp in Georgia and got to work. A devotee of pitching coach Tom House’s throwing program, White oversaw their strength and conditioning and worked House’s principles into their throwing programs, functioning as pitcher and coach. The results were positive as they each gained velocity and improved their secondary stuff and were much better pitchers in 2021 and 2022. Ingram was released by the Tigers but caught on in the Angels’ system, while White’s conversion to the bullpen cleared his path to a major league career in Detroit.

The fact that Scott Harris decided to add him to the 40-man roster in November speaks to some faith in his potential. One way or the other, White is going to have his opportunities this year. He may just have to wait it out at Triple-A Toledo for a bit before the call comes.

Brendan White 2021-2022

Season Level IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 ERA
Season Level IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 ERA
2021 A+ 101.1 4.03 23.9 6 0.8 4.17
2022 AA 67.1 2.94 27.1 6.3 0.4 2.67

The first fact you hear about White is inevitably the 3000 rpm spin rate on his slider. As we’ve learned as the Statcast era has evolved, raw spin doesn’t necessarily translate to success, but it is one good sign of potential to really bend the baseball. White was one of the Tigers earliest forays into hunting high spin rate in lesser known college pitchers, and in his case it’s worked out well.

White’s combo of spin, seam, and release angle does translate, and the slider is a consistent plus pitch. At his best, he’ll rip off some truly fearsome sliders even better than that. If he can continue to develop his ability to command it and vary the shape for the situation, he’s going to be able to lean on it heavily even against major league hitters. At his best he can shorten it up to land strikes and then bend the really filthy version out of the zone for whiffs. More consistency is required to go out there throwing 70 percent breaking balls the way some slider specialists do. Fortunately, White has more to work with than the slider alone.

The fourseam fastball isn’t quite as impressive, but has improved over the past two years into an average pitch. His velocity was up as starter in 2021, and then saw the requisite bump transitioning to the bullpen in 2022. White gets average riding life on the fourseamer and sits 94-95 mph out of the pen with another tick or two available at times. A relatively low release point adds deception and the angle helps it play up. When he’s moving the ball around effectively, the fastball will get some whiffs and plenty of weak contact.

However, the fastball doesn’t run much at all. It has some hop, but it’s pretty straight. Combined with the angle and solid velocity, that creates a funky look for some hitters, and surprisingly White gets a lot of ground balls off the heater, even up in the zone, but he isn’t going to just lean back and blow hitters away either. He does do a pretty good job tying hitters up inside and his splits are pretty well balanced overall.

Another wrinkle White is trying to develop is a hard cutter that fits in between the fastball and slider in terms of velo and movement. If he can use the cutter to steal some strikes and keep hitters off the fastball a little more, it could open up his whole game. He also packs a decent splitter that helps him keep lefties on their toes as a change of pace. As a reliever, he’s going to be heavily fastball-slider, but having the full kit of a starting pitcher does give him a bit of dimension in certain situations.

So far this spring, White has been pretty good through two outings. He’s commanded both primary pitches well and the slider is still getting plenty of whiffs against more advanced competition as expected. He’s been durable and is comfortable pitching multiple innings, which may be a particularly useful feature to A.J. Hinch and Chris Fetter. If the pitching coaches can find another tweak or two to help the fastball play to its best, they could have a pretty good setup man here.

Unless he’s just lights out over the next three weeks, White probably opens the season at Triple-A while the Tigers test some of their minor league signings who can’t be optioned. They need help to replace the core of last season’s bullpen, and they’ve assembled a large group of options to test. The fact that White has options and hasn’t pitched in Triple-A yet might put him on the back burner without a really eye-popping spring campaign. White’s major league opportunities aren’t far off either way. If he can refine his game just a little further, the Tigers could have a really good reliever in the making.