The Detroit Tigers kick off their spring training slate of games today with an exciting look. Batting 3-4-5 will be Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Victor Martinez. Sitting in the 8 and 9 slots are Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos. Despite all of that, it is the guy taking the mound who will probably garner the most attention.
Rick Porcello was supposed to be traded months ago, wasn’t he? Yet here he remains. I doubt it’s a coincidence that the Tigers are running him out there on Day 1. Scouts from other teams in need of starting pitching are sure to be in attendance and trying to decide if the 24-year old can eventually live up to the hype.
It’s hard to bag on a guy who has started 120 games and just turned 24, but a few problems persist. Porcello still lacks true strikeout ability and is fresh off of a 1.53 WHIP in 2012. He gave up an alarming 226 hits in 176.1 innings of work. It has been well-documented that he is a groundball pitcher and likewise, that the Tigers are most certainly not a groundball defense.
The funny thing about strikeouts is that you don’t need a defense behind you, just a catcher. And that’s where Drew Smyly comes in. Not only does he fill the left-handed void in the rotation but he can rack up the punchouts at a similar rate to the rest of the rotation, a trait that management loves about him.
Anyone who thinks that Porcello has an edge over Smyly at this point is suffering from a severe case of Inge-itis or perhaps needs a Raburn-ectomy.
This much is true – the Tigers are still intent on finding a trade partner for Porcello. Even as the season opener looms just 6 weeks away the Tigers’ roster could still be in a state of flux.
The idea of Smyly starting the season in the minors is simply unfair. He is above that now. The notion that either one of the two is best suited for a bullpen role is possibly true but also not the astute way to handle a young pitcher who has almost exclusively worked as a starter since they first started throwing in little league ball.
Could you imagine having to tell Porcello, a 24-year old with a decent resume, who is working his way up the arbitration pay ladder, that he is going to be pitching out of the pen? Oddly enough, both pitchers have shown good stuff in brief stints in the bullpen but to move either one to that duty would be an injustice.
Ballplayers only get one, maybe two, shots at a big free agent deal in their usually short careers. Porcello is nearing his first crack at it and that path would be derailed by a shift to the pen. This is the point in an organization’s roster managing in which they must weigh the best 25-man unit available to them and the best interests of the players themselves.
I’m not sure that anyone will question that both Porcello and Smyly are among the 12 best Tigers pitchers, especially if Porcello was in a long relief role. Heck, he might even have Jim Johnson-type of upside. Johnson is a groundball specialist who was a lights out closer for the Orioles last season. Working in relief would allow Porcello to crank the fastball up to 96 MPH or so and eliminate the need for a stellar breaking ball that a starter so desperately requires.
One major issue is that the potential fill-in starter list gets thin very quickly assuming Porcello does get moved. Names such as Duane Below, Luke Putkonen, Kyle Lobstein, Casey Crosby, and others would likely prove to be stop gaps at best.
The theme all offseason has been that the Tigers are trying to win at any cost. One exception might apply and that is in regards to how they should handle the young careers of Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly.
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