- Tigers right-hander Bruce Rondon is embracing a new role in the Detroit bullpen, writes MLB.com’s Jason Beck. Rondon has been entering games mid-inning and often working more than one inning and is thriving without the label of “future closer” being associated with him for the time being. Rondon was sent home early last season due to his “effort level” and questions surrounding his maturity, but manager Brad Ausmus sees a completely different person in 2016. “He’s definitely matured since the end of last year, no question,” said Ausmus. “He seems to have a better focus. At this point, really, when he’s asked to pitch, he takes the ball, doesn’t complain. He’s been a model citizen so far.” It’s a small sample, but Rondon is averaging 98.5 mph on his fastball and has allowed just one run with a 7-to-2 K/BB ratio in seven innings since being recalled from Triple-A. Even if his stellar results don’t continue, the gains he’s made in terms of maturity seem to bode well for his future with the club.
- The Tigers have signed fourth-rounder Kyle Funkhouser for $750K, significantly above the pick value of $526,200, as Callis tweets. The Louisville righty was a first-round pick by the Dodgers last season, but he opted not to sign after sliding down draft boards. The righty suffered diminished velocity this year, resulting in his stock dropping still further — MLB.com’s scouting report notes that he threw 88-92 MPH with secondary stuff that was weaker than it had been previously. Callis notes, though, that Funkhouser’s stuff improved as the draft approached.
The Tigers and No. 9 overall draft pick Matt Manning have agreed to terms, reports MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo (via Twitter). The high school right-hander out of California will receive the full slot value of $3,505,800, according to Mayo.
Entering the draft, Manning was a consensus Top 15 prospect, with ESPN’s Keith Law rating him ninth on his final Top 100 ranking. Mayo and colleague Jim Callis rated Manning 11th in the draft, as did Baseball America on their Top 500 ranking. Athleticism runs in Manning’s bloodline, as his father, Rich, had a brief NBA career from 1995-97. Law notes that Manning needs a good bit of development but is “so athletic” that he’s well worth the associated risk. Manning himself was set to play both basketball and baseball at Loyala Marymount but will forego that commitment to begin his pro career with the Tigers. BA praises his 6’5″, 195-pound projectable frame and a fastball that sits 96-97 mph and is said to have reached 99 mph. Like BA and Law, Callis and Mayo feel that his secondary pitches — a curveball and changeup — need some work but have the potential to be above-average offerings.
The Tigers haven’t had a selection as high as ninth overall since 2009, when they also took a high school right-hander (Jacob Turner). Despite their No. 9 overall selection, the Tigers have a small draft pool this season thanks to the fact that they parted with their second pick in order to sign right-hander Jordan Zimmermann to a five-year deal and their third pick to sign Justin Upton to a six-year deal. (The top 10 selections in the draft are protected, so the Tigers retained the No. 9 pick despite signing a pair of qualifying offer free agents.) Those losses left the Tigers with a pool of $5,424,300, and they’ll have $1,918,500 to allocate to the remainder of their picks in rounds four through 10 (plus any over-slot deals for players selected beyond the 10th round).
Here are the day’s minor moves:
- Third baseman Casey McGehee has been optioned to Triple-A by the Tigers after clearing waivers, the club announced. He accepted the assignment after being designated recently, with the club electing not to remove him from the 40-man roster. After a single plate appearance during a brief pit stop in Detroit, the 33-year-old will remain available should another need arise at the major league level. McGehee is off to a strong start at Triple-A, with a .323/.370/.440 batting line through 270 plate appearances.
- The Twins have released lefty Dan Runzler, per an announcement from the club’s Triple-A affiliate. Now 31, Runzler showed promise early in his career with the Giants but could never sustain enough control to stick at the major league level. Between 2009 and 2012, he put up 72 1/3 innings of 3.86 ERA pitching from the pen, with 9.7 K/9 against 5.5 BB/9. Runzler was carrying an 18:16 K/BB ratio in his 21 2/3 Triple-A frames at Rochester, with 14 earned runs charged to his ledger.
- Bruce Rondon is showing renewed life for the Tigers, who have held out hope for the fireballing reliever for some time. As Aaron McMann of the Detroit Free Press reports, manager Brad Ausmus says that reports have been positive for the oft-maligned 25-year-old. Improved attitude, a streamlined figure, and a refined delivery have brought promising results at Triple-A. Now, he’s back in the majors for another chance at making good on his talent.
The Tigers announced today that they’ve selected the contract of right-hander Dustin Molleken from Triple-A Toldeo and designated veteran infielder Casey McGehee for assignment in order to clear a spot on the active roster. Additionally, Detroit announced that it has transferred right-hander Drew VerHagen from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day disabled list as he deals with thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder.
[Related: Updated Detroit Tigers depth chart]
McGehee, 33, appeared in just one game with the Tigers and logged one plate appearance upon having his contract selected over the weekend. Prior to his promotion from the minors, he’d been enjoying a nice season with Toledo, hitting .323/.370/.440 with 17 doubles and four homers in 270 plate appearances.
In 2009-10, McGehee looked to have cemented himself as a fixture in the Brewers’ lineup, but his production fell off substantially in 2011-12. After forgettable tenures with the Pirates and Yankees in 2012, he took to Japan and revived his career with a brilliant 2013 season, during which he batted .292/.376/.515 with 28 homers. That performance earned McGehee another crack at the Majors, and he capitalized with the Marlins in 2014, batting .287/.355/.357 while serving as Miami’s primary third baseman. That success, however, was followed by renewed struggles in 2015 between the Giants (who acquired him in an offseason trade) and a second stint with the Fish. After a combined .198/.264/.274 showing between the two teams, McGehee took a minor league pact this winter.
It’ll be interesting to see if McGehee’s strong minor league production this year earns him a look elsewhere. Even if the veteran is unclaimed on waivers, he has enough service time to refuse an outright assignment and seek a new opportunity with a club that offers perhaps a clearer path to a big league role. Speculatively speaking, the Mets could use some depth at the infield corners, and the Royals, too, have seen their starting third baseman go down with a season-ending injury.
As for Molleken, the promotion to the Majors represents the culmination of 13 seasons worth of perseverance. The Canadian-born righty was a 15th-round pick of the Pirates all the way back in 2003 but has yet to throw a pitch in the Major Leagues. The Tigers are his fifth MLB organization, and he’s also spent parts of two seasons in Japan pitching for the Nippon Ham Fighters as he’s continued to pursue the big leagues. Molleken has a 4.32 ERA with 8.8 K/9 against 4.3 BB/9 in parts of six Triple-A seasons and has posted some of the best ERAs of his career across the past two seasons, during which time he’s logged a mark of 3.46.
The latest installment of “Knocking Down the Door” includes three players who were part of high-profile trades within the last 11 months, a pitcher trying to become the next in a long line of great homegrown Giants to reach the majors, and MiLB.com’s 2015 Offensive Player of the Year.
Carlos Asuaje, 2B, San Diego Padres (Triple-A El Paso): Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra were the key pieces in the offseason trade that sent Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox. Some experts, however, considered Asuaje as an underrated prospect who could make an impact in the Majors in 2016.
With second baseman Cory Spangenberg not expected back anytime soon—he’s been on the disabled list since April with a strained quad and his recovery has been slow—the Padres’ best opportunity to find out if the 24-year-old Asuaje is capable of becoming a big league regular could be now.
The left-handed batter, who has played primarily at second base this season, has 15 hits in his last 41 at-bats to boost his batting average to .329. His 26-to-33 walk-to-strikeout ratio should also be intriguing for a Padres offense that is third in the Majors in strikeouts and 26th in walks.
Jeff Hoffman, SP, Colorado Rockies (Triple-A Albuquerque): This may not be the year that the Colorado Rockies will contend for a playoff spot. But they’re a team on the rise with Jon Gray starting to pitch like a top-of-the-rotation starter, third baseman Nolan Arenado looking like a perennial MVP candidate and rookie shortstop Trevor Story on pace for 40 homers.
The farm system also has several young pitching prospects who are moving up the ladder quickly. None is closer, or probably as good, as Hoffman, a former first-round draft pick who was the centerpiece of last season’s Troy Tulowitzki trade with the Blue Jays.
In yesterday’s start, the 23-year-old right-hander showed why he is so highly regarded, allowing two earned runs over seven innings while striking out 11 without issuing a walk. It was the sixth time he’s completed seven innings this season, which is quite a feat in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Adalberto Mejia, SP, San Francisco Giants (Triple-A Sacramento): In a span of five seasons from 2005-09, the Giants’ farm system produced three frontline starting pitchers—Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner—who went on to help the team win three World Championships.
None have arrived since. Adalberto Mejia was making a case, reaching Double-A as a 20-year-old in 2014. But a less-than-stellar season (4.67 ERA) followed by a 50-game PED suspension knocked the left-hander off the prospect radar.
Since returning last June, however, Mejia has been better than ever with only 86 hits and 34 walks allowed while striking out 96 batters in 116 1/3 Double-A innings. He was rewarded with a promotion to Triple-A last week and responded by pitching four-hit ball over seven shutout innings in his debut.
With Cain on the disabled list for a second time this season after re-aggravating a hamstring injury and journeyman Albert Suarez currently filling in, Mejia is putting himself in a position to be next in line.
Daniel Norris, SP, Detroit Tigers (Triple-A Toledo): With an opening in the big league rotation after Matt Boyd was sent to the minors yesterday, Norris’ path to the Majors just became a lot clearer. But his seven shutout innings on Friday likely played just as big a factor as Boyd’s back-to-back poor outings.
While it was expected that the 23-year-old lefty would be in the Majors from the onset of the 2016 season, Norris was placed on the disabled list due to a back injury. Upon activation in late April, he was sent to Triple-A where he struggled over his first two starts. Since, he’s found his groove with a 2.77 ERA over his last seven starts (42.1 IP, 40 H, 14 BB, 44 K.) His next should come in the Majors sometime this week.
A.J. Reed, 1B, Houston Astros (Triple-A Fresno): A second-round draft pick in 2014, Reed has passed every test with flying colors up until now, putting up big numbers at five different levels over a two-year period. His recent hot streak with Triple-A Fresno (11-for-32, HR, 5 2B) now has him on the doorstep to the big leagues.
At the moment, the only player seemingly standing between the 23-year-old Reed and a starting job with the Astros is Marwin Gonzalez, a valuable super-utility man who is out of place as the team’s starting first baseman. Despite a 16-8 run to put them two games under .500, the Astros still have a ways to go to get back into the playoff race. Inserting the left-handed-hitting Reed into the middle of the order could help.
“Knocking Down the Door” is a weekly feature that identifies minor leaguers who are making a case for a big league promotion.
- Mark Lowe signed a two-year, $11MM free agent deal with the Tigers last winter but has struggled horribly in Detroit, posting a 10.71 ERA over 21 innings. There isn’t much the Tigers can do with Lowe, MLB.com’s Jason Beck writes, unless they’re willing to eat the remaining money or if Lowe is willing to accept a minor league assignment.
The Tigers have announced that they’ve designated outfielder Wynton Bernard. The move clears 40-man space for veteran infielder Casey McGehee, whose contract the Tigers selected from Triple-A Toledo. Since they optioned righty Buck Farmer to Toledo yesterday, they had a spot open on their active roster.
The Tigers added Bernard to their 40-man roster after a strong 2014 season with Class A West Michigan, and he held his own last season at Double-A Erie. He has, however, struggled this year in a season split between Erie and Toledo, batting just .229/.294/.323. He does have good speed, with 113 steals in parts of five minor-league seasons. He has never played in the big leagues.
After struggling for the Giants and Marlins last season, the 33-year-old McGehee has fared well with Toledo in 2016, batting .323/.370/.440 in 270 plate appearances. He should provide the Tigers with a right-handed bat off the bench.
Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez left tonight’s action with what has been diagnosed as a non-displaced fracture of the radial neck of his right elbow, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free-Press reports (Twitter links). Martinez will undergo a CT scan tomorrow to further assess the injury, but he’s already headed for the 15-day DL, per MLB.com’s Jason Beck (Twitter link).
Preliminary expectations are that Martinez will miss four to six weeks, though it would appear that we’ll need to await a full assessment before the timeline is fully clear. Youngster Steven Moya will return to the majors to take his place.
[Related: Updated Tigers depth chart]
The injury occurred when Martinez reached out to brace himself as he chased a ball into the right-field corner. He appeared to make contact with the wall at a funny angle, and immediately reacted in pain.
It’s a big loss for the Tigers, who are fighting for position in a tightly-bunched AL Central. Martinez continues to provide big-time offensive production from the heart of the order. The 28-year-old, once a reclamation project, has now established himself as one of the game’s most consistent sluggers who won’t easily be replaced.
Even if Martinez is able to make it back relatively quickly, it seems he’ll be out for most or all of the run-up to the trade deadline. That hurts the team’s chances of staying in the hunt and also may make it tough for the organization to assess its needs, though presumably the Tigers will at least have a good sense by that point of when Martinez will return.