Detroit Tigers: What to do with Drew VerHagen


The Detroit Tigers have five out-of-options players on their roster. One of them, Drew VerHagen, will need to prove he belongs in the big leagues.

Five Detroit Tigers are out of options heading into 2018, meaning they have to make the 25-man roster out of camp or else risk being lost on waivers to another ball club.

For four of those five players, that should not be an issue. Dixon Machado and Leonys Martin are expected to hold down starting spots at second base and center field, respectively. Mike Fiers will be in Detroit’s starting rotation when the season begins. John Hicks is facing some competition for the backup catcher role, but is expected to be on the team at the start of the year.

That leaves right-hander Drew VerHagen, who is facing a tough battle for a spot on Detroit’s roster in 2018.

Background on VerHagen

VerHagen was originally acquired by the Tigers in the fourth round of the 2012 MLB draft out of Vanderbilt. The right-hander pitched well down the stretch in 2012, and made it all the way to Double-A in 2013. He posted a 3.00 ERA in 12 starts at Double-A that season, looking every bit the part of a quick to the show college draftee, exactly what the Tigers had envisioned.

VerHagen spent almost all of 2014 at Triple-A Toledo. While his 3.67 ERA and 1.29 WHIP weren’t bad, his 5.14 K/9 and 4.10 xFIP told a different story. Still, the Tigers promoted him for one start at the end of the year, a five inning, three ER loss.

After making 20 appearances in 2014, all as a starter, VerHagen was transitioned to a bullpen role in 2015. He made 20 appearances in the minors and 20 more in the big leagues. With the Tigers, VerHagen posted a tidy 2.05 ERA in 26.1 innings. Again, however, his peripherals painted a different picture. He had an ugly 13/14 K/BB ratio in those 26.1 innings, and a 4.35 FIP. The move to the bullpen was supposed to help VerHagen garner more strikeouts, but he was still allowing too much contact to be effective.

The injury bug bit VerHagen in 2016, as he labored through 19.2 innings on the season. 19 of those innings were with the Tigers, where he posted an unsightly 7.11 ERA with a 4.74 K/9.

The Tigers evidently changed their tune in 2017, plopping VerHagen in the Triple-A rotation. Back as a starter, VerHagen posted a 4.90 ERA with an improving 6.38 K/9 across 19 starts.

Then, VerHagen was promoted to the Tigers where he was primarily used as a reliever. VerHagen appeared in 24 games with the Tigers, two as a starter. He posted a 5.77 ERA but a 6.55 K/9, his highest since 2015.

What’s Next?

Well, the Tigers have continued to flip-flop VerHagen’s role during his time in the organization. It seems very clear that he will not be a starting pitcher for the Tigers, so his best shot of making the team is out of the bullpen.

Presently, only Shane Greene, Alex Wilson and Daniel Stumpf seem like locks for a spot in the bullpen. The other four spots are being fought for by a multitude of different arms. Warwick Saupold, Blaine Hardy, Chad Bell, Enrique Burgos, Johnny Barbato, Victor Alcantara and Joe Jimenez have all thrown a fair amount of innings in spring training in the hopes of cracking the team out of camp.

Likewise, one (or more) of the pitchers competing for a starting rotation spot could find themselves in the bullpen come opening day. Buck Farmer, Ryan Carpenter and Daniel Norris seem unlikely to make the starting rotation, and any one (or all) of them could find themselves in the bullpen.

So where does this leave VerHagen? Likely, on the waiver wire. A 27-year-old pitcher who has thrown 84.2 innings across four big league seasons isn’t exactly a necessity. VerHagen’s 4.89 ERA (5.31 FIP), 5.53 K/9 and 1.49 WHIP make him even more expendable.

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Ultimately, there’s a good chance VerHagen clears waivers and can be re-assigned to Triple-A, without a spot on the 40-man roster.

Let us know what you think. Should VerHagen be given a chance in the bullpen this year? Or should they expose him to waivers and risk losing him?