Remembering the debuts of top Detroit Tigers pitching prospects.
On Monday the Detroit Tigers delighted fans by promoting Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Isaac Paredes. It’s always cool to see top prospect debuts, but there’s something especially fun when those prospects are starting pitchers. Maybe it’s because we get to spend more time with them (provided things don’t fall apart quickly).
While we’re obviously excited to see Skubal and Mize pitch, this also made us want to go back and revisit the arrivals of some other prominent pitchers over the last few decades. Below we’ve listed seven players, the date of their arrival, their age at the time of their debut, and their career minor-league innings to that point. (For comparison’s sake, Skubal is 23.7 with 145 career minor league innings, and Mize will be 23.3 with 123 innings pitched).
To keep this manageable we’ll focus on starting pitchers who were top-50 caliber prospects at the time of their debuts. That means no Joel Zumaya, but also no Casey Crosby or Andy Oliver. Let’s begin all the way back in 2003…
Line: 4 IP – 9H – 6ER – 1BB – 5K
Summary: There is precious little to celebrate from the 2003 Tigers season, but it’s a bit fun to look back on Jeremy Bonderman, who was Baseball America’s 20th ranked prospect heading into the year. Things didn’t go well for Bondo on that cold April debut in Detroit, as one might expect from a 20-year-old who hadn’t pitched above High-A ball. The Twins knocked him around for four innings, but he did show flashes of his impressive fastball/slider combination that made him a fixture of Detroit’s rotation for the next five seasons. Who knows what kind of career he could have had if he wasn’t forced into a terrible situation.
Line: 5.1 IP – 7H – 4ER – 3BB – 4K
Summary: Verlander’s debut came in the night game of an Independence Day doubleheader in Cleveland. In game one the Tribe whooped up on Jason Johnson (3.1 IP, 11H, 7ER, 4K) , and then they jumped on Verlander early in the nightcap. The future Hall-of-Famer gave up three runs on three 2-out hits in the first inning, but he managed to settle down afterward before leaving in the 6th with two men on base. He flashed impressive stuff, though, as you can see in the video below.
RP Line: IP – 0H – 0R – 0K – 0BB – 0K
SP Line: 6IP – 4H – 0ER – 3BB – 2K
Summary: That feeling of excitement and relevance you felt when the Tigers made their announcement on Monday? That was basically the entire 2006 season. The Tigers were legitimate contenders and they brought their top pick up to the majors after just five dominant innings in the minors. His MLB debut was a scoreless inning out of the bullpen, and he threw another 9.1 innings that September, but his debut as a starter was the following May. That night in Detroit 40,816 fans watched Miller ho ld the St. Louis Cardinals scoreless for six innings and pick up his first career win thanks to homers from Gary Sheffield and Magglio Ordonez and three doubles from Placido Polanco.
Line: 7IP – 5H – 4ER – 2BB – 3K
Summary: Jair Jurrjens was a bit of a sleeper who didn’t really make it onto the national prospect radar until after the Tigers had traded him (he ranked 49th on Baseball America’s top-100 list in 2008), but he quickly proved he belonged in the big leagues. As Verlander had done two year earlier, Jurrjens made his MLB debut at Jacobs Field against a quality Cleveland team. He became the first pitcher from Curacao to reach the major leagues, and he threw pretty well, giving up four runs on just five hits over seven innings. The Tigers lost 5-2 though, falling into a tie for first place, and Cleveland soon pulled away to take the division.
Line: 5IP – 9H – 4ER – 1BB – 4K
Summary: Rick Porcello was Detroit’s top draft pick in 2007, and he was considered advanced for a high-schooler, but it was still somewhat shocking when he made the rotation at just 20 years old. Porcello debuted in Toronto against Ricky Romero, a former first-round pick who was also making his MLB debut. It was the first time in MLB history that two first-round pitchers made their debuts against each other, and oddly enough, the second time that happens will be Wednesday night, when Casey Mize squares off against Dane Dunning. In any event, Porcello’s debut went fairly well. He held the Blue Jays scoreless through three innings, but an Adam Lind homer and a Jose Bautista single ended his night in the 5th, and the Tigers eventually fell 6-2.
Line: 5.1 IP – 3H – 2ER – 3BB – 5K
Summary: Plenty of Tigers fans remember the last day of July, 2011. They may not know that exact date, but mention the Carlos Guillen Game, or the Jered Weaver Game, and they’ll know exactly what you mean. But the day before was just as eventful. That night the Tigers traded for Doug Fister, and earlier in the afternoon fans saw the debut of their top prospect. Jacob Turner pitched remarkably well against the Angels that day, and through four innings he had given up just two hits while striking out five. But L.A. took advantage of the rookie, working three walks, stealing five bases, and eventually plating two runs to hand him a 5-1 loss. Turner’s career never quite panned out, but his debut was the first highlight in one hell of a Tigers weekend.
Line: 5 IP – 7H – 2ER – 1BB – 4K
Summary: Prospect arrivals dwindled in the mid-2010s as the Tigers traded talent and lost draft picks in free-agent signings. But things collapsed in 2015, and it was time for some new blood. Fulmer spent 90% of his minor-league career in the Mets system, so Tigers fans didn’t have much time to clamor for him, but it was still exciting to see him make his debut in Minnesota. The Tigers bats gave him some cushion with three runs in the top of the 1st, but Fulmer delivered, too, flashing his mid-90s fastball and above-average slider on the way to a 9-2 win and an eventual Rookie of the Year award.