Detroit Tigers–“Throw In” Alex Wilson Pitching Well


Detroit Tigers’ general manager Dave Dombrowski has always had a “thing” for Yoenis Cespedes.

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When the touted Cuban outfielder finally became available in early 2012 as an unrestricted international free agent, Dombrowski was hot on his trail.

But it was not to be.

Designated hitter Victor Martinez had injured his knee that offseason and would be lost for the entire year. In a stunning move that buoyed the hopes of Tiger fans at the time, the Tigers signed free agent Prince Fielder to a gargantuan $214 million, nine-year contract.

There would be none of owner Mike Ilitch’s pizza dough left for Cespedes, who later signed a four-year, $36 million contract with the Oakland A’s.

But Dombrowski never forgot the chiseled left fielder. This past offseason he traded Rick Porcello, a prospective free agent in 2016, to the Boston Red Sox to acquire Cespedes for the remaining year on his contract.

A simple, straight-up one-for-one deal of high-profile players, right?

Well, not exactly.

Since Cespedes’s contract with Oakland stipulated he would automatically become a free agent after 2015, he would not net the Tigers a supplemental first round draft pick should they fail to sign him after the season.

Porcello’s situation had no such constraints, and Boston would have been awarded a supplemental 2016 draft pick had he bolted as a free agent after the season (that possibility became moot in April, when the Red Sox inked him to a four-year, $82.5 million contract extension).

The upshot was the Tigers, in addition to securing the coveted Cespedes, received a couple “throw-ins” from Boston to compensate for the discrepancy.

One was 19 year-old left-handed pitcher Gabe Speier, the son of former major leaguer Chris Speier. Though not deemed a sizzling prospect, Speier has pitched decently (4.18 ERA) at low-A West Michigan this spring.

The third player packaged to Detroit was a late-blooming right-handed reliever, Alex Wilson.

Though selected by Boston in the second round of the 2009 draft, Wilson took a relatively long time to make the Big Show.

He toiled in the minors from 2009 to 2011 as a starting pitcher before being converted to a reliever in 2012 at AAA Pawtucket.

He finally made it to the Red Sox in 2013 at the age of 26, posting an undistinguished  ERA of 4.88 in 26 games.

Last year he split his time between Pawtucket ( 4.35 ERA, 41 innings) and Boston, where something apparently clicked across an admittedly small sample size of 28.1 innings. Throughout that interim he hurled the best baseball of his seven-year professional career, as he fashioned a 1.91 ERA along with a 0.88 WHIP.

On its face, then, in Wilson the Detroit Tigers got a pedestrian 28 year-old reliever with one brief stint of major league success on his resume.

For the record, the cynics howled: “A 28 year-old career minor league reliever?–Why, he’ll fit perfectly into the Tiger bullpen!”

Sure enough, it looked like the wags were right as spring training unfolded in Lakeland.

To put it gently, Wilson did not distinguish himself.

Competing for a spot in a porous Tiger bullpen in dire need of stability, Wilson promptly pitched himself off the staff under the full glare of the Florida sunshine.

In 6.2 innings he yielded 10 hits, good for an 8.10 ERA and a 1.95 WHIP, punching his ticket to AAA Toledo in the process.

But Wilson tweaked his approach, pitched five effective April innings for the Mud Hens, and was summoned to Detroit later that month when the mercurial Ian Krol was demoted.

He hit the ground running in Detroit and hasn’t stopped since.

In 24 games, he’s virtually duplicated his stellar performance for the Red Sox last year.

He’s carved out a tidy 1.70 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP, while logging 37 innings of work. Along with lefty Blaine Hardy, Wilson has given manager Brad Ausmus a solid seventh inning (and sometimes eighth) inning option.

He relies primarily on three pitches, both a two and four-seam fastball at 92-94 mph and a quick slider which runs about 87 mph.

Though not a strikeout pitcher, Wilson has helped his cause by limiting free passes and inducing a lot of weak contact.

All in all, Wilson has recovered nicely from a turbulent spring and is quietly accumulating impressive numbers in the Tiger bullpen.

The Bottom Line

It’s a long way from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, where Alex Wilson was born, to the pitching mound at Comerica Park.

You might say he took the Great Circle route.

But eventually he made it, if only as a late addition in a trade where he was not the prime target.

As a result, Alex Wilson the afterthought has moved to the forefront of the Tiger bullpen.

Next: Throwing under the bus, frustrations, J.D. Martinez soars