With a full season as a reliever under his belt, Alex Lange looks to refine his command and control on his way to pitching in the Detroit Tigers bullpen in 2021.
Alex Lange was a late first-round pick by the Chicago Cubs in the 2017 MLB draft. Coming off a 150 strikeout season and College World Series appearance at LSU, Lange was highly regarded for his mid 90s fastball and a power curve that outweighed concerns about his high effort delivery and inconsistent command. Lange developed as a starter in the Cubs organization for a few seasons following the draft before eventually being traded to the Detroit Tigers with Paul Richan for Nick Castellanos at the Trade Deadline in 2019. After the trade was completed, the Tigers announced that Lange would transition to a relief role, where his stuff would play better and give him a chance to reach the MLB in short order.
Alex Lange would have been eligible for the recently completed Rule 5 draft, but the Detroit Tigers chose to add him to the 40-man roster over other options like Wenceel Perez, Elvin Rodriguez, and Will Vest. The decision to protect Lange speaks volumes about the Tigers’ belief in him as an MLB-caliber reliever that can help them sooner rather than later. Lange still has all three of his minor-league options remaining should he play for the Tigers and later need to be sent back down.
Lange has a relatively simple repertoire- a fastball with decent late life that sits 93-95 mph but can touch 96, a slurvy curveball that has the chance to be good with some refinement, and a changeup that has developed substantially since he was drafted. In the limited video we have seen of Lange since the end of the 2019 season, it seems as though he has moved away from the changeup and focused on the fastball/curve combo as he has transitioned to full-time relief.
Though Lange has cleaned up his delivery significantly since he was drafted, the same concerns that made him fall to the end of the first round remain. He has a maximum effort delivery that leaves no room for added fastball velocity and raises concerns about his ability to hold up over a full season, even in a middle relief role. His delivery does add some deception, as he hides the ball well before exploding to the plate.
From a pure “stuff” perspective, Lange has what it takes to be a low-leverage middle relief option for the Tigers right now. However, his control has been all over the place since he came to Detroit and he needs to show major command improvement for his stuff to play in the MLB. In 2018, Lange looked like he was on his way toward developing plus control, walking only 2.9 hitters per nine, but he faltered in 2019, walking 4.5 hitters per nine innings and was even worse in that regard after the trade to Detroit. After a year at the alternate site to focus on his control out of the bullpen, he will need to show that 2019 was a blip on the radar.
Even if Lange shows a renewed ability to avoid handing out free passes, he needs to refine his command as well. We have yet to see him locate his fastball on the corners of the plate consistently and, instead, it bleeds over the heart of the plate too often. When he spikes his curveball in the dirt as a chase pitch, it has sharp bite and great depth – we saw him fool a few Tigers hitters with that pitch in Spring Training last year. Relying on the curve in the dirt is not enough though; Lange needs to do a better job of throwing the pitch for strikes early in the count. He has struggled to use the “get me over” curve to his advantage and, even when he does throw a curve in the zone, it flattens out and loses its sharp break. This becomes even more crucial for his success if he did indeed decide to scrap his changeup.
The opportunity is certainly there for Lange to pitch his way into the Detroit Tigers bullpen at some point in 2021. The organization has shown their belief in him by adding him to the 40-man roster and now it’s up to him to refine his command and control to get MLB hitters out.