A Look at the Detroit Tigers’ Immediate Minor League Pitching Depth

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February 12, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Kyle Lobstein (31) works out during spring training at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Starting Pitching

Depth Level: Fair

40-man options: Kyle Lobstein (AAA-AA), Jose Alvarez (MLB-AAA)

Starting pitching depth is another reason as to why I’m still not keen on the Doug Fister trade. Having Drew Smyly slated for a bullpen role would have meant excellent depth in the rotation as well. The wouldn’t want to yank him back-and-forth every time they need a spot start, but he would be available to slide in if a long-term injury were to occur (especially if it happened early on).

As it stands now, however, the Tigers appear to have just two starting options on their 40-man roter, now that Casey Crosby is reportedly making the switch to the bullpen.

Jose Alvarez probably won’t make the big league club out of spring, but he has experience as a spot starter with the Tigers. He made six such starts last season and, although he didn’t fare particularly well (he had an ERA above 5.00), he had a few good starts and was basically replacement level in the role. You wouldn’t want him to make more than one start a month, but he’s not likely to kill you with an outing here or there.

As a Rule 5 player last year, Kyle Lobstein didn’t make the team out of spring training, but the Tigers traded to keep him in the system and he responded with a good year between Erie and Toledo. The 23 year old made 28 starts (168 innings) between the AA and AAA levels and combined a 3.27 ERA with eight strikeouts per nine innings and fewer than three walks per nine. His biggest problem was battling a somewhat elevated BABIP. Lobstein doesn’t seem to have the profile to become an above-average MLB starter, but he might be a decent fill-in for a few games in 2014. He at least made things interesting with a solid 2013 campaign.

The real wild card in all this — and probably the reason why I didn’t rate the starting pitching depth as poor — is the newly acquired Robbie Ray. He’s not on the 40-man roster — and probably will start in AA — but Dave Dombrowski seems to think that he’ll be “ready” soon, and a good first half could put him in line for a second half spot start should that be required. In 11 starts in the Eastern League last year as a member of the Washington Nationals organization last season, Ray struck out more than nine per nine innings and posted a 3.72 ERA. He might very well be the best pitching prospect in the organization right now.

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