Projecting the Detroit Tigers High-A affilate West Michigan starting rotation

Tigers pitching prospect Dylan Smith goes through drills during spring training minor league minicamp on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022 at Tiger Town in Lakeland, Florida.Tigers3
Tigers pitching prospect Dylan Smith goes through drills during spring training minor league minicamp on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022 at Tiger Town in Lakeland, Florida.Tigers3 /

We continue to project the various parts of the Detroit Tigers minor league system. Today, we focus on the High-A West Michigan Whitecaps.

One of the most enjoyable aspects in going to the minor league games last season between all four Detroit Tigers affiliates was watching prospects quickly make a name for themselves, especially players in the lower rounds of the draft like Garrett Hill and Beau Brieske, just to name a few.

Last season, Whitecaps manager Brayan Pena had to juggle a starting rotation that saw 14 different pitchers start, second only to the 2018 Whitecaps rotation that saw 15 make a start with the last five seasons.

Brieske would end up winning the Detroit Tigers minor league pitcher of the year and Garrett Hill saw time in the Arizona Fall League. The addition of right-hander Reese Olson, although brief, with just two starts, provided Tigers fans the next potential crop of future starters.

The Whitecaps had to overcome the loss of Wilkel Hernandez, who missed the entire season because of an elbow injury after a strong fall instructional fall ball performance in 2020.

For 2022, West Michigan Whitecaps fans should see one of the best starting pitching rotations in sometime based on the potential of the arms.

Plenty of “power” arms

Besides the potential stability of the rotation, the Whitecaps could feature some workhorse starters that will make the radar gun light up. So without further ado, here is what I think will be the starting rotation on Opening Day for the West Michigan Whitecaps based on observations and fit.

  1. RHP Ty Madden
  2. RHP Dylan Smith
  3. LHP Jack O’Loughlin
  4. RHP Wilmer Flores
  5. RHP Keider Montero

Most of the time, college arms like Madden and Smith will start in High-A. As I mentioned in my write-up on Madden, the Tigers recently showed they are not afraid to be aggressive in their assignments.

Dylan Smith, who throws a fastball, slider, change-up, and a curve, was originally drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 18th round in 2018 but turned it down to play baseball and to study mechanical engineering at the University of Alabama.

He has a smooth delivery, and his mechanics are fairly repeatable. With a slider that has good darting action against righties, if his command continues to grow, he might see a call up to Erie by the end of July.

The voice of the West Michigan Whitecaps Dan Hasty spoke highly of left-hander Jack O’Loughlin’s high baseball IQ and it shows as he can change eye levels with a five pitch mix. He finished strong last season for the Whitecaps, posting an ERA of 2.81 in three starts in September.

Flores dominated Low-A last season in just his third season of professional baseball. While there might be some reliever risk, the Tigers will provide him every chance to start.

Keider Montero is just 21 years old so he will have another opporunity in the Whitecaps rotation. He posses a fastball that sits around 93-95 and top out at 96 at times last season. He also has a slider and a curve.

For anyone who lives in the western part of Michigan, this should be a fun season to watch for Whitecaps fans.