By: Will Burchfield
It’s a long process, one that’s only just beginning.
But as the Tigers attempt to revamp their organization, keen on getting younger and leaner and growing stars within, it’s players like 2017 first-round draft pick Alex Faedo who offer hope.
“This is what we’re working toward. He’s a big part of our future right now and hopefully future drafts bring us more guys like him,” said GM Al Avila on Wednesday. “We’re ecstatic that he fell to us at No. 18, we’re really happy…We were hoping that he would, and we got the guy that we wanted.”
Faedo is perhaps the most promising Tigers draft pick in quite some time, certainly the most hyped. The 21-year-old pitcher was named MVP of the College World Series last month after helping Florida to its first title in school history.
He seems to be on the fast track to the major leagues.
“We don’t want to put a timetable on him, but obviously he’s an advanced guy. He’s had a lot of success at the college level. There is no timetable, really, but we feel he’s advanced, as opposed to, let’s say, (Matt) Manning, who came out of high school,” said Avila. “There’s two completely different ends here.”
Manning, Detroit’s first-round draft choice in 2016, is currently pitching for the Connecticut Tigers in Class-A short season. The 19-year-old has a 2.61 ERA over three starts.
He is one of a number of solid pitching prospects in the Tigers farm system, which also features Joe Jimenez, 2015 first-rounder Beau Burrows, 2015 second-rounder Tyler Alexander and 2016 fourth-rounder Kyle Funkhouser.
“In our farm system, what we do have is pitching. We’ve got some starters, definitely have some relievers. If you look at (Class-A) West Michigan, (Double-A) Erie, those relievers and the game reports we’re getting, we’re seeing a lot of 96, 97, 98, 99 miles per hour, even a couple guys that throw 100,” said Avila. “So there’s a lot of guys with really good arms in relief, some guys who look like they could be starters. What we’re lacking is position players. That’s an area of improvement that we’re really focusing on.”
To that end, the Tigers used three of their top five draft picks this year on position players, including outfielder Reynaldo Rivera (No. 57 overall) and catcher Joey Morgan (No. 95 overall).
“We feel really good about the draft, particularly the first few guys that we got. I think there will be some good players coming out of there. Of course, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get a few guys there, sooner than later, that will be up here in the big leagues to start the new process,” said Avila.
The Tigers have drawn criticism in recent years for spending too many first-round sections on pitchers. Avila addressed that perception on Wednesday.
“Everybody says, ‘You guys always go after big-time pitchers.’ Well, you also gotta understand one thing: We usually go for the best talent at that point, it just happens to be a pitcher. Quite frankly, if you had a really great position player that you felt was gonna be an All-Star, an impact guy, then that’s also someone you would go after,” said Avila. “If you look at it, the top position players, high-impact position players, they usually go first.”
The Tigers haven’t had a top-five pick since 2004, when they drafted Justin Verlander second overall.
In attempting to compare Faedo to a current big-league pitcher, Avila said his delivery is reminiscent of Max Scherzer.
“But really the main thing about him is competitiveness. This guy was the best player in the College World Series, pitched at LSU in front of 20,000 people, probably the most intimidating stadium in all of college baseball to pitch in and he had tremendous success. That gives you a pretty good feel about him,” Avila said.
On top of his mid-90’s fastball and terrific slider, the Tigers love Faedo’s mental makeup. Scott Pleis, the team’s director of amateur scouting, described him as a “pure gamer,” a guy who relishes the big moment.
Whether that expedites Faedo’s climb to the majors remains to be seen.
Said Avila, “The difference between that kind of competitor, fearless on the big stage, that’s what separates a number-one, number-two starter from a number three, number four. Sometimes that number-four starter, his stuff is as good as a number-one guy, but why is that guy number one? Because the competitive effort is there, maybe the fearlessness, the mind over matter kind of theory.
“We feel he fits obviously at the top of the rotation.”
MLB success, Avila explained, comes down to two things: consistency, and the ability to elevate one’s game when the situation calls for it. He sees both traits in Faedo.
“It’s a really a combination of being able to pitch or play day in and day out over the course of the six-month (season), and then being able to perform when the big stage comes. I think he’s got that combination,” said Avila.
The Tigers have a long road ahead. Organizational sustainability is still well off in the distance. But Faedo brings them closer, a potential star born within.