Detroit Tigers Top 20 Prospects: No. 7 Joey Wentz

Detroit Tigers pitcher Joey Wentz throws in the bullpen.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Joey Wentz throws in the bullpen. /

We move along on our Detroit Tigers prospect ranking with our seventh-best prospect in the system: LHP Joey Wentz

The latest player in our Detroit Tigers prospect ranking series is lefty Joey Wentz, who returned midway through the 2021 season after recovering from a Tommy John surgery that wiped away his 2020.

There has been debate among the best pitching prospect in the Tigers system since the departures of Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning from prospect status (although with the arrival of Jackson Jobe, that should be put to rest for a while). Wentz, though, checks in as Detroit’s second-best arm in the entire system for our ranking.

Joey Wentz background

Joey Wentz was regarded as one of the top prep arms in the draft in 2016, but the class was loaded with high school talent. High-school pitchers Ian Anderson, Riley Pint, Matt Manning, Braxton Garrett, Jay Groome, Forrest Whitley, and Cole Ragans all went before Wentz, who ended up getting drafted 40th overall by the Atlanta Braves.

Wentz’s first three seasons went about as well as one could imagine: ERA’s of 3.68, 2.60, and 2.28 across his first 242 innings of pro ball. The 2019 season brought a snag to Wentz’s development, with questions creeping in about his arsenal and lack of velocity. Those question marks were reflected in his performance as well; with a 4.72 ERA in Double-A before a trade with the Detroit Tigers sent him and Travis Demeritte to the Motor City in exchange for right-handed reliever Shane Greene.

The concern over velocity seemed to straighten out after arriving in the Tigers’ system. Wentz’s former high 80’s fastball went to the low 90’s, and as his velocity went up, so did his performance. Ultimately, Wentz pitched to a 2.10 ERA with the Double-A Erie SeaWolves across his last five starts of the season.

Unfortunately, Tommy John caught up to Wentz, just as it catches up to many pitchers today. The good news is that the left-hander’s velocity is back into that low 90’s range, averaging 91.9 mph in his rehab appearances in Lakeland.

Unfortunately, the former success was not present. Wentz gave up three home runs in just 18.2 innings at pitcher-friendly Low-A Lakeland. After moving back to Erie, he averaged 5.6 walks per nine innings pitched; a number that had been in the 3’s four straight seasons before surgery.

Joey Wentz’s strengths

Wentz was thought of as a touch-and-feel, old-school lefty who would be able to weave his way in and out of a lineup thanks to his advanced four-pitch mix and feel. As mentioned above, though, his command hasn’t been a recent strong suit for him — a fact that could very well be chalked up to rust.

Wentz’s changeup is his biggest weapon, and his willingness to throw it to any hitter in any count keeps hitters from sitting on it. It is his primary secondary offering next to his curveball and features enough tumble for hitters to swing over it, although his 83 mph average is maybe a smidge harder than the ideal velocity for the pitch.

Joey Wentz’s weaknesses

The fastball is pretty pedestrian in today’s game, although guys like Tyler Alexander continue to show how southpaws can survive in a more limited velocity band. For Wentz to do that, though, he’ll need to improve upon his inconsistencies returning from surgery. It does typically take pitchers a couple of years before they return to their former selves, so I wouldn’t be ringing any alarm bells as a Tigers fan for Joey Wentz’s development.

The 2022 season will be key  for Wentz in that, if he can return to form, he should see big league time. He’ll be entering his age-24 season and will likely start for Triple-A Toledo to begin the year, assuming health. That leaves him a roster move or injury away from a call-up, and his 40-man roster status will give him an edge in getting the call too.

Our take on Joey Wentz

I do believe Wentz improves his control numbers in 2022 and ultimately pitches for the Detroit Tigers at some capacity. Injuries are a given with any staff and the need to interchange arms has become crucial in the game today. Being that is the case, Wentz will have a great opportunity to find Comerica Park; an opportunity that I believe he seizes.

Wentz’s long-term role, however, remains in question. While he does still have a chance to man the back-end of a rotation, it is equally likely that Wentz is Tyler Alexander 2.0 — a crafty lefty who can give multiple innings out of a bullpen or start for a club in a pinch.

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