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Detroit Tigers: Michael Fulmer Can Revitalize Pitching Staff

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Mar 11, 2016; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer (32) throws in the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2016; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer (32) throws in the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /
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Detroit Tigers fans haven’t seen the team start a top pitching prospect in some time. That will change when Michael Fulmer makes his Major League debut on Friday against the Minnesota Twins.

Detroit Tigers starting pitching has always been a strength. From Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer to Doug Fister and David Price, the team has always employed elite starting pitching. Generally, that talent has been acquired after developing the majors. Scherzer, Fister, Price and Anibal Sanchez were all brought in via trade, while recent addition Jordan Zimmermann was a free agent signing.

Since Verlander, the only legitimate top pitching prospects to debut for the team were Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly.

On Friday, the Tigers will start a pitcher who—when all is said and done—has a chance to be better than both Porcello and Smyly. That pitcher would be Michael Fulmer.

MLB.com’s Jason Beck reported that fellow starter Shane Greene will head to the disabled list to make room for the top prospect. The reporter tweeted, “Shane Greene to 15-day DL, Fulmer called up, Tigers confirm. Fulmer starts Friday, no commitment beyond that yet. Greene to miss 2 starts.” 

Acquired along with Luis Cessa for Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline last season, Fulmer has the chance to be a frontline starter. Ranked by this very publication as the team’s best prospect, the right-hander has exciting potential.

MLB.com writes that Fulmer’s “slider is a swing-and-miss pitch.” Additionally, his heater “easily reaches the mid-90s.” Throw in a curveball and a changeup that he can throw at hitters, and you have a Major-League ready pitching arsenal.

Potential Impact

We’ve seen top prospects like Carlos Correa, Kyle Schwarber and Steven Matz make an impact on pennant races last season. Fulmer could have a relatively similar impact to the Tigers. Detroit has been struggling where starting pitching is concerned—that much is true.

Jordan Zimmermann has been superb, and Justin Verlander seems to have turned things around after a poor start, however after that there have been problems. Greene, Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey have all been up and down so far with little consistency.

Should Fulmer perform, it would give Detroit three dependable starters. That in and of itself makes the Jekyll-Hyde tendencies of Greene, Sanchez and Pelfrey much more manageable.

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What’s more, Fulmer’s potentially electric stuff should give the rotation a boost.

Sanchez’ strikeout numbers have improved somewhat since last season—his strikeouts per nine innings have gone up from 7.9 to 8.5—but he’s still allowing too many base runners to touch home. In 18 innings, the former Marlin has allowed 25 hits, nine walks and 16 runs.

Greene and Pelfrey aren’t exactly strikeout machines either. Greene’s swing-and-miss stuff looked good in Pittsburgh, but he owns an uninspiring 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings on the season.

In other words, when he has a bad start, the strikeouts tend to dry up. Pelfrey’s strikeout per nine inning numbers are even less inspiring. In fact, the numbers is a little more than half of Greene’s output. Mike Pelfrey has struck out 3.8 batters per nine innings—that simply isn’t going to cut it for an entire season at the Major League level.

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Needless to say, Fulmer’s potential to strikeout batters will be welcomed in the Detroit Tigers rotation. The prospect struck out 125 batters in 124.2 innings pitched in the minors last season, and already has 20 in 15.1 frames at Triple-A this year. He’ll be bringing his blazing fastball and nasty off-speed pitches to a Major League stadium near you in the coming weeks.

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