Standing 6’6 on the mound, Detroit Tigers right-handed pitcher Drew VerHagen has an imposing presence during games.
The 25-year-old pitcher had aspirations of being a starter in the rotation, but after a back injury in 2014, he has become a rather reliable innings-eating reliever. The injury was first thought to be a regular back strain, but turned out to be a stress fracture. The Detroit Tigers brass thought he would only miss a handful of games, but he ended up missing almost half of the season in 2014.
VerHagen was drafted in 2012 in the fourth round of the amateur draft. He attended high school in Heath, Texas where he was a three-year varsity player. He began his college career playing for Navarro College and was involved in their Junior College World Series championship. He attended The University of Oklahoma, playing for one season, before transferring to Vanderbilt University. During his time in high school and at Vanderbilt, he did suffer from injuries.
In 2014, he pitched one game with the Detroit Tigers before suffering from the stress fracture. He reentered the big leagues almost exactly one year later in July when he pitched an inning against the Toronto Blue Jays. His outing was not his best, pitching to seven batters in that one inning, walking four and allowing two runs. The Tigers sent him back to Triple-A Toledo so he could continue to work on his command and speed. He eventually returned to Detroit at the end of August and finished the season with the team.
While 2015 was not a break-out season for VerHagen, he did earn respect for his work on the mound. When he returned to the Tigers in August, he pitched an inning or two in 20 games. He did not allow any runs in 17 of those games. With the revolving door of pitchers in 2015, VerHagen’s consistency was appreciated by the team and the fans. By the time the 2015 season was completed, VerHagen’s statistics were a respectable 2.05 ERA where he allowed 1 home run against 106 batters faced.
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Based on the VerHagen’s numbers in 2015, he does have one weakness to improve upon: bases-on-balls. He tends to be a pitcher who gets ground ball outs – nearly 75% of batted pitches turn into ground balls, but he walks more batters than he strikes out. His fastball tends to reach mid-90s speeds. He does have a curveball that stymies batters with speeds in the mid-70s.
The big question is where will Drew VerHagen end up for the 2016 season. His performances in 2015 points to him earning a spot in the bullpen in Detroit. But, his first performance in spring training was not very good. This matched his first performance with the Tigers in 2015. He might just be the guy that needs a game or two to get his bearings. Without his first performance factoring into his ERA, he would have had a 1.42 ERA in the other 19 games.
According to an article by Anthony Fenech with the Detroit Free Press, VerHagen claims to be feeling good and is ready to be a bullpen pitcher. He has accepted the role, even though his original plans were to be a pitcher in the starting rotation. He spoke about his goals for the 2016 seasons saying: “[A] goal I set for this year, to throw the changeup a lot more. To go into both sides of the plate against right-handers and left-handers.”
If this is the case with Drew VerHagen, his pitching repertoire could get a whole lot more interesting for fans to watch and a whole lot more challenging for batters to hit.