The Detroit Tigers bullpen is almost an entirely open competition
There are 30 pitchers in the Detroit Tigers Spring Training camp. Virtually every spot in the bullpen is up for the taking and will be among the most interesting position battles of the preseason. With Joe Jimenez and Buck Farmer having the most big-league experience, they are fully expected to make the team. After those two the rest of the pen is a question mark. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that will be a weakness. There are a ton of talented players available that could make Detroit’s bullpen one of the leagues’ best.
Because of the shorter spring training, teams are going to start the regular season with a 30-man roster. The roster will then be reduced by two players every other week so the Tigers’ bullpen battles may very well continue into the season’s early weeks.
The Biggest Hurdle
Deciding who will open the season in the pen when Detroit visits Cincinnati may become a matter of logistics. The Tigers are faced with a 40-man roster crunch that could make it difficult for non-roster invitees to make the team.
At least a couple of Detroit’s top starting pitching prospects are expected to debut this summer so there will already be some shuffling of the current full roster. That will be disappointing to two of Detroit’s newest players. Dario Agrazal had his contract purchased from Pittsburgh but was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for starting pitcher, Iván Nova. Shao-Ching Chiang is another new Tiger that has big-league potential but he might have to spend some time in Toledo until a roster spot opens up for him as well.
Detroit’s sole Rule-5 pick should make the team
Rony Garcia was Detroit’s only Rule-5 draft selection this year, so he must stay in the majors or be returned to the Yankees. In a short season with a larger roster, there is almost no way that Detroit won’t stash him in the bullpen even if they believe that he could be a starter in the long term.
Bryan Garcia is another near-lock to make the team. Before having Tommy John surgery he was considered to be Detroit’s closer of the future. He made his debut last season and pitched in seven games. He struggled with control issues and walked five batters in just 6.2 innings. His stuff looked good though. He struck out more than a batter an inning in both the Minors and in his short stint with the Tigers.
Detroit Tigers Starters that could convert to relievers
This is the most interesting question for Detroit’s pen, which starting pitchers can convert to relievers? We saw Daniel Norris find success as an opener last year. Now that he has been diagnosed with Covid-19 he may not have enough time to get fully stretched out before opening day. If he doesn’t make it back in time to fit into the rotation, he could return to his opener role where he registered a 3.33 ERA over his last 9 appearances.
Two former Top-100 prospects that have seen injuries slow their career trajectories could join Norris in the pen this season. Beau Burrows and Franklin Perez, if converted to the pen, have the potential to be late-inning relievers as early as this season. They are both on the 40-Man roster already which could give them a leg up in the competition too. Perez especially needs to prove that he isn’t made of glass and what better way to ease him into it than with limited innings in the pen.
According to Chris McCosky, Burrows worked out a mechanical issue this spring and is looking really good so far in Spring Training 2.0. Rick Anderson then told Burrows after his bullpen session that it was the best he’d seen him look. In shorter stints, he might even find some of the 99 mph velocity that caught Detroit’s eye when they drafted him the first round in 2015.
It seems like both Burrows and Perez have been in the minors forever. But Burrows is just a few months older than Casey Mize and Perez is younger. This is their chance to remind everyone that they were once top pitching prospects in the Tigers’ system and that they shouldn’t be forgotten.
Because it’s a short season, all it would take is one hot streak to become a wildcard contender. If there is any chance that Detroit could make a playoff push, Tarik Skubal, Alex Faedo, and Matt Manning could join the big league club even if there isn’t a rotation spot available. The Tampa Bay Rays did this in 2008 with David Price. He came up late in the season and was electrifying throughout the playoffs out of the pen. Having those three pitchers join the bullpen would turn Detroit’s consistently weak relief corps into a pen reminiscent of the 2014-15 Kansas City elite bullpen.
Detroit Tigers 2020 Bullpen Depth Chart Final Predictions
Closer: Joe Jiménez
Opener: Daniel Norris
Setup: Buck Farmer
1. Bryan Garcia
2. Rony Garcia
3. Anthony Castro
4. Beau Burrows
5. Gregory Soto
6. John Schreiber
7. Franklin Perez
8. Tyler Alexander
9. David McKay
10. Jose Cisnero
The Detroit Tigers’ 2006-2014 dynasty ended without a World Series ring. A lot of the blame for that can be put on the bullpen, or lack thereof. But this season the bullpen could be Detroit’s biggest strength heading into the season. There are a lot of unknowns with this crew but their raw talent is off the charts. They alone might be able to keep Detroit competitive in most games. At the very least they won’t make fans want to turn off the t.v. after the sixth inning like they’ve been threatening to do for the last decade.