The first round of cuts from the Detroit Tigers’ big league camp was only two players, but it’s a sign of things to come for most of the players remaining.
The Tigers announced on Friday morning that two players are departing from major league camp, right-handed pitcher Beau Burrows and outfielder Jacob Robson. Burrows, who was added to the 40-man roster this offseason in order to protect him from Rule 5 draft eligibility, was optioned to Toledo. He will presumably be placed in the Triple-A rotation after a troubled year there in 2019. Robson, who was a non-roster invitee, was simply reassigned to minor league camp. He’s one of a glut of outfielders who will be playing to earn his spot in the organization.
Neither of these moves comes as much of a shock. Both players were considered long shots to make the Opening Day roster with the big league club thanks to a severe loss in momentum last season. Burrows spent the entirety of the 2019 season in the Mud Hens rotation, where he genuinely struggled for the first time in his career. He played to the tune of an ERA well above 5 and FIP suggests he was even worse. His strikeout rate held to career norms but his walk rate increased significantly and he allowed too many home runs.
That doesn’t tell the whole story, though. The International League was a launching pad last season, and offense reigned all over the league. Burrows missed a significant amount of time win injury as well – fist biceps tendonitis wiped out two months near the beginning of the year and an oblique strain his campaign in August. If Burrows is healthy in 2020 and pitches closer to the level that he’s shown in the past, he’s likely the first of the major starting pitching prospects to debut in the majors this summer.
Robson simply didn’t have a clear path to the 26 man roster and his chances were more than likely squashed into nothing when he was struck on the cheekbone by a line drive while standing the dugout during a game. He suffered a concussion and was unable to play while in the precautionary 7-day recovery protocol. He already faced an uphill battle if he was going to leapfrog the eight outfielders already on the 40-man roster and the loss of playing time sealed his fate.
He was less than impressive in 2019, but it was the first time in Robson’s career he’d ever been a below-average better according to wRC+. He’ll likely be returning to Toledo to try recapturing some of the magic that caught Tigers fans’ attention during his first go-around in with the Mud Hens. He already shows the patience and speed that was so sorely lacking in the major leagues last season, but his bat is devoid of power and he’s 25 years old.
The Tigers left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft and he went unselected, indicating that Detroit isn’t the only team who believes that Robson might have a difficult time rounding out his development into a fourth outfielder. That’s especially the case because he’s lost a step since turning pro and isn’t a 70-grade runner anymore. He’s very close, but that final leap is the most difficult one and he isn’t primed to make it successfully yet.
After the departure of Burrows and Robson, there are 67 players remaining in big league camp.