Detroit Tigers Top 20 Prospects: No 7 Joey Wentz
Welcome to the first-ever installment of the Motor City Bengals Top 20 Detroit Tigers prospects. The MCB staff has compiled our prospect lists and we will be releasing our consensus rankings, along with a breakdown of each player, in a series of articles in the coming days. In this article, we look at Joey Wentz, our number seven prospect.
Joey Wentz’s Background
Joey Wentz burst onto the prospect scene in 2015 after winning the Junior Home Run Derby at the MLB All-Star Game. Yes, he won the Junior Home Run Derby… as a hitter. The story gets better, too. By several accounts, Wentz smashed his longest homer of the night a staggering 543 feet. For reference, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit the longest bomb of the 2019 MLB Home Run Derby a mere 488 feet.
Surprisingly, Wentz only moonlighted as a hitter while resting his dead arm, before returning to the mound where he was a top-tier draft prospect. Scouts praised his advanced pitchability and saw the potential for three average to above-average pitches. In fact, his senior year at Shawnee Mission East High School in Kansas City, Wentz went 9-0 and struck out 112 batters without giving up a single run the entire season. His pre-draft baseball career was about as legendary as it can get.
Wentz ended up getting picked in the second round by the Atlanta Braves in 2016. Braves scouting director Brian Bridges told MLB.com that Wentz, who is 6’5 210 and a great athlete, might as well have been created in a lab. Bridges said, “If you draw a picture of what they should look like, he’s that guy.”
Wentz rewarded the Braves for their confidence, pitching well across his three years with the organization. In 2017, he made 26 starts for Class A Rome, registering a 2.60 ERA and striking out 10.4 hitters per nine innings. However, he was hampered by injuries the following year and only threw 67 innings.
In 2019, Wentz was dealt to the Detroit Tigers with Travis Demeritte in exchange for reliever Shane Greene. In his five appearances for AA Erie after the trade, Wentz appeared on the fast track to Detroit. He showed impressive polish, striking out 13 batters per nine innings while only walking 1.4, both elite ratios. Then he started to feel pain in his elbow and is now on the long and growing list of pitchers who have needed Tommy John surgery.
Wentz underwent surgery in March of 2020, putting him on track to return to some sort of action this summer.
Joey Wentz’s Strengths
As the Atlanta Braves noted when they drafted Joey Wentz, he has the perfect blend of size and athleticism to be a successful starting pitcher. Even though he has struggled with injuries thus far in his career, his frame and delivery lead some scouts to believe he’ll be able to handle a full starter’s workload once he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Wentz commands the baseball in the strike zone as well as any pitcher in the Detroit Tigers system. He has shown the ability to move his fastball in and out to both righties and lefties and does a great job burying off-speed pitches at the bottom of the zone. His command has always been a strength, but following the trade to Detroit, it became elite in a small sample size.
His best pitch is his changeup, an offering that received a 60-grade by FanGraphs. The changeup has good late life fading away from right-handed hitters and has the potential to be a legitimate out-pitch at the MLB level. Wentz does well to command it down in the zone and uses it to set up his fastball late in counts. If Wentz is able to continue striking out more than a hitter per nine innings as his career progresses, the changeup will be the reason.
Joey Wentz’s Weaknesses
As is too often the case with prep pitchers, Wentz has struggled to stay healthy thus far in his career. In 2018, an oblique issue nagged him all year, causing his velocity to fluctuate throughout the season. Now, his recent Tommy John surgery adds another layer of uncertainty. Many pitchers are able to return from TJ unscathed, but Wentz already had trouble maintaining his fastball over the course of the season, so it’s fair to wonder what he will look like on the other side of a long recovery.
When the fastball is at its best, it sits 92-94, but even then it lacks the movement and downward plane that you would expect from a 6’5 pitcher. He is not going to blow the pitch by MLB hitters but instead may need to pitch off of his changeup and use his fastball to generate whiffs at the top of the zone.
Wentz has flashed a plus curveball in spurts, most notably in his time with Erie after the trade. However, the pitch often lacks sharp bite and seems to flatten out a bit as it enters the hitting zone. Fangraphs is optimistic that Wentz can develop the curveball to be an average pitch, even if it grades out a tick below average right now.
Our Take on Joey Wentz
Despite grabbing all kinds of headlines as a prep prospect leading up to the MLB draft, Joey Wentz is far from flashy on the mound. His fastball isn’t a game-changer, but he commands it well and has shown the ability to use his offspeed pitches to help it play up. His changeup has the chance to be a legitimate out pitch at the big league level and should help him compete every start even if his fastball isn’t at its best.
Due to his ideal frame, it’s easy to imagine Wentz as a rock-solid workhorse #4 starter on a good team. However, the durability concerns and recent Tommy John surgery, along with his history of inconsistent fastball velocity cloud his profile. Assuming all goes well with his rehab, Wentz should find his way to the Tigers pitching staff before too long and should give the team a chance to win when he takes the mound.