What Do Young Pitchers Mean For The Tigers’ Winning Chances in 2021?

Want something that will worry you more than your teenage kids? Try unproven young pitching.

In 2021, the Detroit Tigers will have not one, not two, but most likely three young pitchers in their starting rotation. New pitching coach Chris Fetter will need to wear his hat low to keep from pulling his hair out.

The Tigers Young Starting Pitchers

Ever since they squandered a chance to grab a playoff spot in the final weekend of the 2016 season, the Tigers have been in retool mode. At the trade deadline in 2017 they traded ace Justin Verlander to Houston, and by the following spring, their roster was stripped of most of the big league talent. Ever since, the team has been trying to bring along young players, pointing to a time when they can compete again.

With several promising (even heralded) young arms in their organization, the time to compete may be soon. The Detroit Tigers have three starting pitchers who rank in the top 25 pitching prospects in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus.

Last season, two of those three young pitchers debuted with Detroit: Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. Combined they made 14 starts in the Covid-shortened 2020 season. Their success was mixed, but mostly fell on the side of “To Be Determined.”

Mize is a 6’3, 220-pound righthander from Alabama. He pitched college ball for Auburn and was selected #1 overall by Detroit in the 2018 MLB Amateur Draft. To say expectations are high for Mize would be an understatement.

According to Baseball America, Mize can pump his fastball up to 97 miles per hour, but the pitch usually rests somewhere in the 93-94 MPH range. His most exciting pitch is his splitter, which is ranked as the best off-speed pitch among MLB prospects. His split-finger pitch drops sharply in the last foot as it reaches home plate. 

From the left side is Skubal, a wiry southpaw who stands 6’3 and weighs 212 pounds. He hails from northern California, near San Francisco, but grew up in Arizona. He pitched collegiately for Seattle University, and the Tigers selected him in the 9th round of the 2018 MLB Amateur Draft.

Skubal has developed quickly in the Tigers organization. In his first season as a professional, he pitched only two games at rookie ball before jumping two rungs of the ladder to Detroit’s top Class-A team. The following season he posted a 2.42 ERA in 24 starts and struck out 179 batters in only 122 ⅔ innings split between Class A+ and Class-AA. He never even stopped to taste Triple-A ball and was in Detroit’s rotation last year after impressing team officials in spring training. In his brief audition last season, Skubal looked more poised than Mize, with a mid-90s fastball and his signature offspeed pitch: a nasty curveball.

The third pitcher who will most likely earn a spot in Detroit’s rotation for the ‘21 season is Matt Manning, who would be a rookie. While Mize is coveted, Manning has emerged as the real prize in the Tigers farm system.

Manning was drafted in the first round (9th overall) in the 2016 MLB Draft out of Sheldon High School in Sacramento, California. He’s grown to 6’6 and weighs 195 pounds. He’s a leggy right-hander with a great big league body, and he features two MLB-caliber pitches: his upper-90s fastball and a curve that breaks sharply at the plate. He’s working on a changeup to complement his primary pitches.

Manning was only 18 when he made his pro debut in rookie ball, and it took a season for him to acclimate to facing tougher opposing batters. But he’s now considered the #2 prospect in Detroit’s organization, and he has 70 professional starts under his belt. In 2019 he went 11-5 with a 2.68 ERA in 24 starts for Erie (Class-AA). He’s expected to start the 2021 season at Triple-A, though there’s a chance he could crack the rotation out of spring training. Even if Manning doesn’t go north with the Tigers to open the 2021 season, he’s a lock to be in Motown at some point, probably as early as May.

With Mize, Skubal, and Manning, Detroit will have a fresh-faced, low-experience rotation this season, but they are the envy of many a general manager in Major League Baseball. Young pitching can be frustrating, but it can also be fun to watch “green” pitchers learn how to win at the big league level. 

How Will Young Pitching Impact The Tigers’ Chances in 2021?

The Tigers are pegged to be near the bottom of the AL Central division this season. They have the unproven, untested young arms, and a lineup filled with lots of question marks. It’ll be fun to witness the maturity of Mize, Skubal, and Manning, but there will be lumps to go along with any highlights. In a best-case scenario, the Tigers pitching develops quicker than most experts think, and the team finishes in third place. 

A quick look at Tigers futures bets shows DraftKings has the team at +6000 to win the AL Central. They are -112 to win 68.5 games. FanDuel has the Tigers at +5500 to win the division and +6000 to capture the American League pennant.

Which Teams Can Be Beaten by Young Pitching?

Are there certain types of lineups that are prone to struggle against young pitching? Yes, and thanks for asking.

Often, free-swinging power-hitters have difficulty facing pitchers that are unfamiliar. There’s a lineup like that in the Tigers’ own division: the Minnesota Twins.

The last two seasons the Twins have finished at the top of the AL Central, mostly on the strength of a muscle-bound lineup of big home run boppers. In 2019, the last full season, the Twins hammered 307 home runs. That’s absurd, and it’s a record. It should also scare the sanitary socks off most of the young Tigers pitchers, not to mention the veteran pitchers.

But there’s a funny thing about big-swinging, hard-hitting home run smashers: they frequently struggle when they match up with pitchers they don’t know. The Twins will face the Tigers 19 times in 2021. If Mize, Skubal, and Manning are in the rotation, that will likely lead to 10-12 starts by the Tiger “Kitties” against the Twins.

Swing as they might, the Twins could catch a lot of air against Detroit’s peach-fuzz threesome in 2021. Something to watch for as we track the Tigers in division play this season.  

About the Author

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He enjoys writing, running, and lemon bars. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters and usually has an orange cream soda nearby.