The Tigers are one of the teams seen to be on the rise heading into 2022, in no small part because of a cavalcade of promising rotation arms that have begun to establish themselves in the big league rotation. Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal are three of the most impactful variables that might make the difference for Detroit in 2022. The pedigree of these three are well known, and their arrival in the Majors long-anticipated. Manning was the ninth overall selection of the 2016 draft, and Mize followed two years later going first overall. Skubal was the unheralded of the three, a former ninth round pick who rose to prospect prominence prior to the 2020 season.
But in the year between the Manning and Mize selections, the Tigers spent another first-round pick on a college righty whose road to the Majors took on a more circuitous route. After leading the University of Florida to a National Championship, Alex Faedo went 18th overall to the Tigers in the 2017 draft, signing for a $3.5MM bonus, barely less than it took to sign Manning the year prior. Faedo was a high character right-hander who looked like a future rotation piece based on the strength of his slider.
The gaudy strikeout numbers that Faedo posted in college didn’t translate to pro ball, however, and after making an appearance on top-100 prospect lists prior to the start of his professional career, Faedo soon after fell from the national spotlight. His fastball lost a tick or two of velocity, his change-up never fully developed, and the slider lost just enough effectiveness to dim his prospect star. He remained among Detroit’s better looking prospects, however, with Baseball Prospectus pegging him as the 10th, 6th, and 11th-ranked prospect in the Tigers’ system prior to the 2019, 2020, and 2021 seasons, respectively.
He finished the 2019 season in Double-A having recaptured some of the swing-and-miss that had eluded him in his first couple of seasons on the farm. He made 22 starts for the Erie SeaWolves that year, posting a 3.90 ERA in 22 starts covering 115 1/3 innings with a career-best 28.3 percent strikeout rate. He was expected to compete for a rotation spot at some point in 2020 despite not having tossed an inning in Triple-A, but a bout of COVID-19 delayed his season, and then forearm soreness led to Tommy John surgery, which ended it. Faedo hasn’t pitched since that 2019 campaign, but he’s on his way back. Faedo started throwing bullpens in his recover from Tommy John on January 11th, which should put him on track for game action sometime in March, per Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press (via Twitter).
The lost time means the Florida native still hasn’t pitched above Double-A, and at 26 years old now, his days as a top prospect are behind him. But expect the Tigers to push him once he’s proven healthy. If he can get himself back up to speed, Faedo could absolutely become a factor somewhere on the roster for the Tigers.
Even before the injury, Faedo had yet to establish a third pitch, so it could be that he eventually makes his bones out of the bullpen. A fastball that reached 95 mph as a starter could play up out of the bullpen, and he certainly wouldn’t be the first former prospect with a slider-forward arsenal to become an impact bullpen arm. Perhaps that’s not the result the Tigers or Faedo hoped for when he was a first round pick back in 2017, but in 2022, the Tigers are going to need some farmhands to pop in unexpected places in order to make a real push for contention. If Faedo can earn his keep on the 26-man roster at some point in 2022, both team and player ought to be encouraged. That’s still a long ways off, but with his first bullpen sessions in the rearview, consider the first hurdle crossed.