Young pitchers form the core of Detroit's rebuild

Casey Mize, Justin Henry, Scott Pleis`, Scott Pleis'
Posted at 6:15 PM, Feb 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-12 19:53:44-05

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — Casey Mize was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 amateur draft, and Matt Manning was a first-round selection two years earlier.

Those two pitchers are the headliners of Detroit’s rebuilding process — and they aren’t the only Tigers prospects worth paying attention to this year.

“I think there’s some other names that probably should be involved in that as well,” Mize said. “We have a really good group, honestly. The more people we can attach to that headline, is probably for the better. That’s good news for Tigers fans, good news for the organization.”

The Tigers held their first workout for pitchers and catchers Wednesday, and while only the most optimistic Detroit fan would predict a great season, there are finally some signs of promise. Mize, Manning and Tarik Skubal are all in camp as non-roster invitees. Although none of them are expected to be in the big leagues on opening day, they could form the core of the Tigers’ rotation of the future.

“I think that’s something this organization should be proud of, having those good prospects there,” manager Ron Gardenhire said.

The Tigers lost 114 games last season and have the No. 1 pick in the draft for the second time in three years, so that’s at least one more chance to add a marquee prospect to their system. So far, Detroit’s rebuilding efforts have been centered around pitching.

Mize threw a no-hitter in his Double-A debut last season and went 6-3 with a 3.20 ERA at that level.

“It was a good year. I was super happy with the growth that I made last year and all the experiences that I had,” he said. “I’m looking forward to building off that.”

Manning was 11-5 with a 2.56 ERA at Double-A in 2019. Skubal is the more recent riser of the bunch. A ninth-round pick in 2018, the left-hander went 2-3 with a 2.13 ERA in nine Double-A starts last year.

Skubal downplayed the idea that he has a chip on his shoulder because he was drafted lower.

“I feel like everyone has a chip on their shoulder,” he said. “I just try to compete — go out there and compete and have fun.”

Building around young pitchers has its risks — particularly since their health can be so unpredictable. The New York Mets went to the World Series with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey in 2015, but while deGrom has remained elite, the other two members of that trio have battled injuries to varying degrees.

Mize dealt with shoulder inflammation last year, and Franklin Perez — another pitching prospect Detroit received in the 2017 trade for Justin Verlander — has made only nine starts over the past two years. So there are pitfalls these young pitchers have to avoid.

Meanwhile, the Tigers have a season to prepare for. Fans may be itching to see Mize, Manning and Skubal during spring training, but Detroit needs to make sure the starters who will actually be on the roster are ready.

Of course, the prospects can help in that regard too.

“Even the veterans, you’ve got to be kind of looking back and think, ‘Oh, they’re coming,’” pitching coach Rick Anderson said. “It might help the veterans kick it up a little bit, and have some urgency. And these young ones see the veterans. ... It’s just a good blend.”

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Detroit’s top pitching prospects in the majors at some point this season — and spring training is an early chance for them to give the franchise some more reasons for optimism.

“It is exciting as an organization to have those guys develop, with a lot of other guys behind them,” Gardenhire said. “That’s what the game’s all about. That’s when you know you’re getting close to being able to do some really good things.”