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

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June 1, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Casey Crosby (45) pitches during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Relief Pitching

Depth Level: Poor

40-man options: Casey Crosby (AAA), Melvin Mercedes (AA-A+), Justin Miller (AAA), Jose Ortega (MLB-AAA), Evan Reed (MLB-AAA), Jose Valdez (A+-A)

The Tigers have a couple of interesting arms in the minors, including a couple who could factor into the late innings in future years, but it’s hard to see any of the above contributing major innings in 2014. I might have rated the bullpen depth as “fair” or even “good” had the major league pen appeared reliable, but I think they’ll have trouble there, and there isn’t a lot of help to be found in the minors.

Casey Crosby will be trying things out in the bullpen, so maybe something clicks, but unless he pulls together some sort of command and gets his walk total under control, it’s hard to see him being a reliable option. His arm has never really been questioned, so he’ll get plenty of opportunities to succeed. Perhaps the bullpen will suit him.

Miller, Ortega, and Reed are probably guys who they could cycle through, but probably none of the three are guys who you’d want to see pitching in real setup situations.

Melvin Mercedes has been climbing through the organization (and prospect rankings) with impressive results over the years, but I will continue to have reservations about him if he can’t ratchet up the strikeout totals above Porcellian levels (6.1 K/9 last year combined between Lakeland and Erie). He has thus far survived by keeping the ball in the yard and suppressing opponents’ BABIP (which isn’t necessarily impossible for a reliever with good stuff), but I always have a hard time trusting the “good stuff” of a guy who doesn’t strike anyone out. The scout-types like him, though, so I’ll trust them for now.

The most interesting relief name in the organization is Corey Knebel (non 40-man). He was a draft pick out of Texas this past June, but spent the second half of the year absolutely dominating the Midwest League. A-ball is a long way from the big leagues, but I’d be shocked if he were to be assigned to a league below AA out of spring. A dominating first half could put him in line for a second half debut. Knebel participated in the Arizonal Fall League where his strikeout stuff persisted (11 strikeouts in 8.2 innings), but his ERA ended up elevated (4.12) due to a low strand rate (in all it was a positive performance).