Detroit Tigers: Future Rotation Can Be Elite

June 1, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer (32) throws in the first inning against Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
June 1, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer (32) throws in the first inning against Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Detroit Tigers minor league teams haven’t exactly produced a wealth of Major League talent in years past. Some top prospects haven’t panned out. Now, Detroit has a potentially elite future rotation.

Detroit Tigers prospects haven’t exactly been the gold standard of farm systems in recent history. The Tigers seemingly haven’t had an elite farm system in years thanks to Dave Dombrowski’s preference to deal prospects for upgrades to the Major League roster.

While a number of deals have worked out brilliantly for Detroit – the trades for Miguel Cabrera and Doug Fister have certain, fleecing-like qualities to them—there have been some botched transactions as well. The Devon Travis/Anthony Gose swap comes to mind, as do ill-fated deals for Jose Veras, Jarrod Washburn and Aubrey Huff.

Things are different now under Al Avila. Dombrowski’ successor made a number of low-risk, high-reward deals in his first offseason in charge. Avila turned Ian Krol and mid-tier prospects like Chad Green, Javier Betancourt, Luis Cessa and Gabe Speier into Major League contributors Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson and Cameron Maybin.

Avila also held onto the team’s brightest prospects, specifically those who earn a living as starting pitchers.

Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris all stayed in the Detroit organization this offseason, and look to be part of the team for years to come. 

Fulmer has rivaled Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Verlander in terms of being the team’s best pitcher. The rookie is 6-1 with a sparkling 2.83 ERA and has struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings. In addition to racking up the strike outs, Fulmer has also shown the ability to induce a significant number of ground balls. So far this season, the former Met farmhand has forced at least seven ground balls in six of his eight starts.

The rookie clearly has the look of a future ace. His fastball and slider have always been plus pitches, but the addition of an effective changeup has taken Fulmer’s game to a different level.

In addition to the 23-year-old, Detroit could have another ace-like arm in recently selected first-round pick Matt Manning. Like Fulmer, Manning has a blazing fastball and some lethal off-speed stuff. Should he sign with the Tigers, the draftee would give Detroit two high-upside starters to build around.

This is all without mentioning Daniel Norris, who also has the potential to be an impact arm who pitches towards the top of the rotation. He’s been up and down so far with Detroit (a 5.12 ERA in Triple-A this season), but the left-hander flashed his tremendous upside down the stretch last season with a 1.76 ERA and just two walks in his final 15.1 innings pitched.

If Norris can pitch to his ability and upside, he would give Detroit an extremely promising three-headed monster in the rotation.

Norris joined the Tigers organization in the David Price deal. He wasn’t the only pitcher to come back from Toronto in the transaction, as Matt Boyd came to Detroit as well. Boyd has been a dependable presence in the rotation since being promoted from the minors. He’s posted a 3.38 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 21.1 innings pitched. 

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While the Washington native doesn’t profile as the same flame-throwing kind of pitcher as Fulmer or Manning (FanGraphs has his fastball sitting between 90 and 91 miles per hour) Boyd’s ability to mix different pitches and keep hitters off balance will help have a long career. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the pitcher routinely log 10 wins a season throughout his career on winning Tigers teams.

Rounding out the group is Beau Burrows. With Fulmer now in the big leagues for good, Burrows may be the team’s best pitching prospect still in the minors. At just 19-years-old, the right-hander has started his career in excellent fashion.

Over parts of two seasons, Burrows owns a sparkling 1.85 ERA 20 appearances, 18 of which were starts. The 2015 first-round pick also has tallied 68 strikeouts—compared to just 23 walks—in 77.2 innings pitched.

The Detroit Tigers are set for the future with a rotation that will likely be headlined by Michael Fulmer, Matt Manning and Daniel Norris. Matt Boyd and Beau Burrows would end up as the fourth and fifth starters in this scenario, but both have the potential to be much more than back end of the rotation pitchers.

This all without mentioning recent fourth-round draft pick Kyle Funkenhouser, a starting pitcher who was previously drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round of the draft but elected to stay in school. Funkenhouser clearly has the talent worthy of a first-round pick, and could factor into the rotation picture before all is said and done.

Next: Matt Manning Scouting Report

Any way you slice it, the Tigers have developed a borderline elite rotation for the future. None of the aforementioned six pitchers were in the Detroit organization when Opening Day 2015 rolled around. The Tigers have done well to lay the foundation for the next 10-15 years in the rotation, now they just have to watch the pitchers develop.