The Toledo Mud Hens, Triple-A Affiliate to the Detroit Tigers, could have a rotation with a unique combination of top prospects and big league experience
Many Detroit Tigers fans have opined the club might be willing to deal from their pitching depth to acquire a bat, but so far that hasn't happened and the club may enter spring training with pitching depth at the top that the club has not seen in at least a decade.
Recent signings of Matt Boyd and Michael Lorenzen compliment fellow veterans Spencer Turnbull and Eduardo Rodriguez as arms that figure to be penciled in as the season begins, assuming health. As for who claims the fifth and final rotation spot is slightly ominous, but Matt Manning should ultimately have an inside track at winning the job considering his strong finish in 2022.
The bullpen will be much of the same, even with the departures of Jimenez and (presumably) Andrew Chafin: Soto, Lange, Vest, Foley, Cisnero, R. Garcia, Alexander, and new Rule 5 guy Mason Englert. There is the possibility some of these arms ultimately end up in the bullpen, and injuries are never an issue of 'if' but 'when' with pitchers--but assuming this framework holds true, this is what the Toledo Mud Hens rotation could roll out:
1. LHP Joey Wentz
Wentz is not far removed from some command and velocity issues. Still, since his return from Tommy John surgery, the lefty has been strong--posting a 3.03 ERA in seven big league starts in 2022 followed by three starts in the Arizona Fall League in which he did not allow any runs: 12 IP, 2 H, 4 BB, 14 K. His recent performance should give him a legitimate chance at cracking the opening-day roster, but if he does not, it's a great 'ace' for the Toledo staff.
2. RHP Alex Faedo
Alex Faedo was another casualty to the injury-laden 2022 season for Detroit Tigers pitchers, but as of December 5th according to the team, Faedo was throwing from 90 feet symptom-free and is expected to be ready for Spring Training (hip). Faedo, like Wentz, has 12 big league starts and really pitched better than his 5.53 ERA suggests, especially early in his career. Like Wentz, Faedo would be a top-of-the-rotation arm in Toledo and would be on the presumed short-list of call-up options in the event of injury.
3. RHP Beau Brieske
Brieske also carries some big-league experience and big-league success with him if he ends up in Toledo to start in 2023. The righty pitched to a 4.19 ERA in 15 starts in his rookie season while supplying a rock-solid 0.7 bWAR before being shut down due to bicep tendinitis. The metrics weren't so kind to Brieske last season, but his feel for pitching and command of his secondaries would allow him to carve through Triple-A hitters with relative ease.
4. RHP Wilmer Flores
Flores, brother of Giants infielder Wilmer, ranks as the third-best prospect in the Detroit Tigers' system and despite being just 21, the right-handed UDFA in 2020 has already logged over 80 innings in Erie. For the Seawolves, Flores had a 3.01 ERA across 19 starts while striking out 95 batters. Before his promotion in 2022, Flores started five games for the West Michigan Whitecaps where he had a 1.83 ERA and struck out 35 in just 19.2 innings of work. Considering his age coupled with the depth above, it's possible Flores doesn't see Detroit in 2023, but the Mud Hens would certainly welcome his anchoring presence toward the back of their rotation next season.
5. RHP Reese Olson
Strikeout artist Reese Olson figures to be ready for Toledo entering a season in which he'll turn 24 toward the middle of the year. Acquired in the Daniel Norris trade with Milwaukee, Olson has spent the vast majority of his tenure with the organization at Erie. In 2022, Olson supplied a 4.14 ERA while striking out a whopping 168 in just 119.2 innings. Most believe Olson is ultimately destined for the bullpen but will get every chance to start just like we have seen with the arms above. The right-handed pitcher out from Georgia ranks as the 10th-best prospect in the system, according to MLB Pipeline.
This rotation could do some serious damage in the International League, and it even ignores the likes of Garrett Hill and Ty Madden, both of whom could easily find their names into this mix, too. The Tigers are additionally expecting Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal both back at some point, which would further complicate this logjam that already exists at the top of their minor league system. Nevertheless, great problems to have for the Detroit Tigers and a great prospect for the Toledo Mud Hens in 2023.