Detroit Tigers: Hidden Reliever Gems in the Farm System

Detroit Tigers pitchers go through drills Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.Spring Training
Detroit Tigers pitchers go through drills Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.Spring Training /

In February, we released our top 20 Detroit Tigers prospects which included detailed breakdowns of the 20 best prospects in the system.

Now, it’s time for us to explore the remainder of the Detroit Tigers farm system and highlight some of the interesting names from beyond the top 20 (see what I did there). The “Beyond the Top 20” series will breakdown some of the prospects who missed our list but deserve some further discussion.

In this article, we are going to dive into some of the notable relief arms in the system that didn’t make our Top 20 list. Relief pitchers have the dubious distinction of being both the most volatile and fastest-moving prospect position group. The volatility means teams need strong depth in order to build a bullpen from internal pieces.

The speed component means teams can get surprise contributors. The Detroit Tigers, specifically, have done a respectable job of building a stockpile of arms that have the potential to contribute to a successful bullpen. Many times pitchers who have violent deliveries and big fastballs project to be relief pitchers in the majors. This is certainly the case in the Tigers’ system. The names highlighted below all show big velocity.

Zack Hess – Hess is a pure power pitcher who has transitioned to a full-time relief role since being drafted by Detroit. His arsenal includes a high octane fastball that touches 97 along with an above-average slider. Both pitches appear capable of missing bats and he has struck out over a batter per inning in college as well as during his limited time as a professional. Adding to the difficulty for hitters when facing Hess, is his height and maximum effort delivery which adds deception. He does also have a changeup however it lags well behind his other two offerings and it may be unnecessary in the bullpen. Commanding his arsenal is still a work in process but it’s possible he develops average control. Hess has garnered a fair amount of hype this spring as some believe he has a chance to break camp with the big league club. The most likely scenario though sees him pitching in a high leverage role at Toledo with a potential debut later this summer.

Alex Lange – Our Kellen Gove has an excellent scouting report on Lange included in his roster preview article which can be found here.

Jason Foley – Another tall relief pitcher who has a chance to spend time in Detroit this season. Foley’s profile is led by his power fastball which can touch triple digits and is consistently in the upper 90s. He currently lacks a secondary offering to pair with his fastball. He throws both a slider and a changeup but neither is currently average. He is generally around the strike zone and projects to have an average command/control profile. Foley’s biggest issue at this point in his career is how hittable he has been so far in his career. Despite the velocity, his fastball is rather flat and his delivery doesn’t include much deception (the exact opposite of Lange and Hess). If he couldn’t throw his fastball by minor league hitters that will only become a bigger concern at the major league level. Foley looked good in his first spring outing but like Hess, it seems likely he starts the year in Toledo.

Wladimir Pinto – Much like the names above him, Pinto’s calling card is his fastball velocity and he routinely sits in the upper 90s. Unlike the pitchers above him, however, Pinto has a much more compact build (listed below six feet tall). His best secondary offering is a respectable frisbee-like curveball which will show as an average pitch. The biggest issue for Pinto is he currently does not possess the ability to control, much less command, his arsenal. His walk rates have hovered around five per nine innings during his time in the minors. Pinto will start the season pitching in a high-leverage bullpen role for either Erie or Toledo depending on how the big league bullpen comes together.

Gerson Moreno – Moreno has excellent stuff. His fastball is a real weapon that sits in the upper 90s and has solid life. He pairs it with a mid-80s slider that flashes above-average but does lack consistency. Moreno has generated lots of strikeouts posting double-digit strikeouts per nine in each of the past three seasons. He does also have a projectable changeup since he maintains his arm speed well on the pitch but it needs to develop to be useable at higher levels. The biggest issue for Moreno is his inability to locate his pitches and his walk rates have been even higher than Pinto’s. Also important to note, Moreno had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and didn’t pitch much in 2019 (6.2 innings). He has pitched at Double-A in parts of two seasons but the lack of innings the past couple of years could see him pitching almost anywhere in the system to start the season.