The Detroit Tigers are in rebuilding mode. “Future Friday” is a segment where we examine the bevy of prospects in Detroit and their future impact in the Motor City.
The Detroit Tigers have traded away a lot of veteran talent over the last year. In addition to the prospects acquired in these deals, Detroit has plenty of their own draft picks climbing the system ladder.
Lefty Tyler Alexander was originally drafted in the 23rd round of the 2013 draft by the Detroit Tigers out of Carroll High School (TX). Instead of signing, Alexander elected to go to TCU. He helped the Horned Frogs reach the College World Series in both of his seasons in Fort Worth.
The Tigers picked Alexander again after his sophomore year, this time in the second round. Alexander signed, and reported to Short-Season Connecticut for his professional debut.
Alexander dominated his first summer in pro ball, posting a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts. The lefty also racked up 8.0 K/9, and a microscopic 0.595 WHIP. That year, he was named a Mid-Season New York-Penn League All-Star and a Short-Season All-Star by Baseball America.
The southpaw reached full-season ball for the first time in 2016. He skipped over West Michigan and began the year at High-A Lakeland. Alexander was up to the challenge. In 102.0 innings, he threw up a 2.21 ERA and continued to allow few base runners.
Alexander was named a Mid-Season All-Star and earned a promotion to Double-A Erie for the final month of the season. The lefty made six starts for the SeaWolves, put up a 3.15 ERA, struck out 34, and walked only four. Following the season, Alexander was named a MiLB.com Organizational All-Star.
First Bump in the Road
Last year, Alexander struggled for the first time as a professional. He spent the entire year with Erie, pitching in 27 games, with 26 starts. Despite posting his highest strikeout rate since 2015, Alexander’s ERA shot up to 5.07.
Alexander has never had a walk rate higher than 1.5 BB/9 in the minors, so control wasn’t the problem. As I highlighted in the Tigers minor league preview, Alexander’s spike in ERA seems to be, at least partially, due to bad luck.
The 2017 season saw Alexander give up a .356 BABIP, more than 50 points above his previous career-high. His strand rate also dipped to a career-low 62.8%. The strand rate was also well off his career norms, at 10 percent below his previous low.
Part of that can be chalked up to bad luck, but the types of balls being hit off of him matter, too. As he’s climbed the minor league ladder, Alexander has seen a disturbing trend arise. In his first summer, he induced ground balls at a 65.6% clip, with a 9.7% line drive rate.
Each season since, the ground ball rate has gone down, while the line drive rate has increased. Last year, the southpaw induced ground balls at a 39.2% rate, while his line drive rate jumped to 25.6%. More line drives led to more hits, which led to more runs and a higher ERA.
What Lies Ahead
Alexander is slated to make his 2018 debut for Erie Monday night at Altoona. The 23-year old is the 19th-rated Detroit Tigers prospect according to MLB Pipeline as the season gets under way.
Alexander isn’t known for having overpowering stuff, so he will have to bank on his control and smarts to get outs at the highest levels. A bounce back from last year’s struggles should see him promoted to Triple-A Toledo at some point. Even a September call-up to Detroit is not out of the question.