7 Detroit Tigers pitching prospects who are off to strong starts this season

Tigers dipping into pitching depth with Beau Brieske, Alex Faedo making MLB debuts

Wilmer Flores (left), Joey Wentz (middle), and Garrett Hill (right) are three of the best pitching prospects in the Detroit Tigers' system. (Getty Images)

DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers are having some trouble with the starting rotation at the major league level, but in the minors, many of their top prospects are off to strong starts this season.

Less than a month into 2022, three-fifths of the Tigers’ starting staff -- Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tyler Alexander -- is already on the injured list.

Meanwhile, Eduardo Rodriguez, who was signed as a free agent this offseason, has been well below average, with a 5.33 ERA and a (much more concerning) 6% swinging strike rate.

The organization’s pitching depth is already being tested. Beau Brieske was thrust into the MLB rotation with just two Triple-A starts under his belt. Alex Faedo, who is 15.2 minor-league innings removed from a two-year absence, will join the Tigers for his major league debut Wednesday.

That old saying, “You can never have enough pitching” -- this is what they’re talking about.

The Tigers can’t afford any more pitching injuries because even though they have several solid prospects, most of them are still in the lower levels of the farm system.

Joey Wentz

  • Current team: Toledo Mud Hens (Triple-A)
  • Stats: 4.02 ERA, 1.149 WHIP, 15.2 innings, 18 strikeouts, nine walks

Like Faedo, Wentz is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery, though he did return in time to make 18 starts across Single-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie last season.

Wentz showed solid strikeout numbers in 2021, but walked more than five batters per nine innings -- an unsustainably high rate. So far this year, he’s dealing with the same issue.

A first-round pick of the Braves in 2016, Wentz was traded to the Tigers in 2019 for Shane Greene. He hasn’t been very dominant in his last two starts, getting just 14 swinging strikes on 163 pitches (9%).

Wentz is in the process of putting his injury in the rearview mirror for good, but he still doesn’t look quite ready for an MLB promotion.

Garrett Hill

  • Current team: Erie SeaWolves (Double-A)
  • Stats: 2.50 ERA, 0.944 WHIP, 18 innings, 29 strikeouts, seven walks

Most Tigers fans probably haven’t even heard of Hill, but he put himself on the map by striking out 99 batters in 75.2 innings across High-A West Michigan and Double-A Erie last season.

The 26-year-old is a former 26th round pick -- which largely explains the lack of buzz surrounding someone with excellent career minor-league numbers. In 255.1 innings, Hill owns a 2.54 ERA, 1.093 WHIP and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

Hill’s first four starts have been outstanding this season. He’s allowed just five runs in 18 innings while sporting a 20% swinging strike rate.

He’s already much older than the average Double-A player, so it’s probably time for Hill to make the trek to Toledo.

Reese Olson

  • Current team: Erie SeaWolves (Double-A)
  • Stats: 4.03 ERA, 0.896 WHIP, 22.1 innings, 30 strikeouts, four walks

Olson is nowhere near as old as the average Double-A player, but that hasn’t stopped him from getting off to a dominant start.

The 22-year-old came to Detroit in the Daniel Norris trade with Milwaukee last season. After joining the organization, Olson got promoted to Erie and struggled for five starts.

But it’s been a different story so far this year. Olson has 30 strikeouts and just four walks through 22.1 innings, with a WHIP south of 1.000. His 15% swinging strike rate suggests a promotion to Triple-A could be in the cards this season.

Wilmer Flores

  • Current team: West Michigan Whitecaps (High-A)
  • Stats: 1.29 ERA, 0.643 WHIP, 14 innings, 27 strikeouts, one walk

Another player whose prospect status is rising almost entirely due to production, Flores has been the organization’s most impressive pitcher so far this season.

Through 14 innings, Flores has allowed just 10 batters to reach base, and he’s struck out nearly three times that many. His combination of a 16% swinging strike rate and a nearly 2:1 ground ball to fly ball ratio is proving deadly.

He just turned 21 years old in February, but the Tigers still might have to promote Flores sooner rather than later if Single-A hitters can’t even offer him a challenge.

Ty Madden

  • Current team: West Michigan Whitecaps (High-A)
  • Stats: 2.00 ERA, 0.722 WHIP, 18 innings, 18 strikeouts, four walks

Fans were ecstatic when Madden fell to the Tigers’ second first-round pick in 2021. Detroit happily took him at No. 32 overall and got to work on a potentially troublesome delivery that scared off other MLB teams.

The early returns are positive. Madden has allowed only four earned runs (all on solo homers), nine hits and four walks through 18 innings. Batters are whiffing on 15% of his pitches.

Madden’s fastball can reach up to 98 mph, and as a three-year college starter, he should be able to move through the organization quickly, if the results justify it.

Dylan Smith

  • Current team: West Michigan Whitecaps (High-A)
  • Stats: 3.21 ERA, 0.857 WHIP, 14 innings, 19 strikeouts, three walks

Another possible pitching gem from the Tigers’ 2021 draft class, Smith was the team’s selection in the third round after he struck out 113 batters and walked just 20 in 98.1 innings during his final year at Alabama.

So far, Smith is doing in the minors what he did at college: missing bats without issuing walks. He owns a 17% swinging strike rate and has thrown 70% of his pitches for strikes overall.

Jackson Jobe

  • Current team: Lakeland Flying Tigers (Single-A)
  • Stats: 3.00 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, six innings, seven strikeouts, two walks

Jobe is the team’s highest-ranked pitching prospect now that Mize, Skubal and Manning have graduated. The Tigers are clearly taking a cautious approach with the 19-year-old.

Detroit passed up on some elite hitting prospects to take Jobe with the No. 3 overall pick in 2021. They fell in love with his deep arsenal and famous bat-missing slider.

Jobe has pitched six innings across three starts so far, and most recently allowed two earned runs in three innings on Sunday.

Overall, he’s striking out about a batter per inning with a 13% swinging strike rate. It’s hard to take much from six innings, but what’s important is that Jobe is getting his feet wet in professional ball. It’ll be years before Tigers fans see him in the Old English D.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.