- Tigers right-hander Grayson Long announced on Twitter that, due to “continuous injury,” he’s hanging up the spikes and returning to college to finish his degree at Texas A&M. Detroit acquired Long, now 24 years old, in the 2017 trade that sent Justin Upton to the Angels. The 2015 third-round pick didn’t pitch in 2018 as he recovered from thoracic outlet surgery — a procedure that has become increasingly common among professional pitchers in recent years but comes with a middling success rate, at best. Long showed plenty of potential in his last healthy season, tossing 137 2/3 innings of 3.01 ERA ball with averages of 8.4 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 0.6 HR/9 in 137 2/3 innings of Double-A ball.
Some injury updates from around the game . . .
- Braves righty Mike Foltynewicz, shelf-ridden to began the year, threw 63 pitches in a minor-league game Friday, tweets the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien, who notes that the righty could be activated as soon as April 9. A healthy return for the sudden ace would break up the Braves’ rockpile of young rotation arms, a group that currently includes rookies Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, and second-year man Max Fried, who was curiously deployed in Opening-Day relief.
- More good news on the Atlanta rotation front comes from MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, who tweets that righty Kevin Gausman threw 90 pitches in a minor-league game today and reported no ill effects. Gausman’s slated to take the ball April 5 against Miami as he looks to reprise his inning-eating ways for the fourth consecutive year. The Braves, then, won’t have long to settle on an early-season rotation mix, and top prospect Mike Soroka’s eventual presence will only further complicate matters.
- O’Brien also tweets that the Braves could have late-inning presence A.J. Minter back as soon as Thursday. Minter, 25, threw just 58 carer minor-league innings before a scintillating 2017 debut. He doubled down last season, establishing himself as one of the National League’s top relievers after a 1.4 fWAR performance in just 61 1/3 IP. He’ll be leaned on heavily at the back end of a thin Atlanta ’pen in the early stages of 2019.
- Todd Frazier is almost ready to begin a rehab assignment as he recovers from a strained oblique, per Newsday’s Tim Healey (via Twitter). The Mets third baseman is set to return to game action in the minor leagues within the next couple of days, putting him on track to make his 2019 debut before the end of April. Infielder Jed Lowrie is less far along. As he rehabs from a sprained left knee, Lowrie is traveling with the team, and though the Mets haven’t put a timetable on his return, he was seen this morning taking grounders at third, per Deesha Thosar of the NY Daily News (via Twitter). In the meantime, Jeff McNeil got the start at third base on Opening Day alongside Amed Rosario, Robinson Cano and Pete Alonso in the infield. Today’s lineup will feature McNeil getting the start in left while J.D. Davis gets a turn at third. Let’s check in on some other health-related issues from around the league…
- The centerpiece of the Justin Verlander trade has been shut down for 4-6 weeks with shoulder tendonitis, per Chris McCosky of The Detroit News. Franklin Perez is the Tigers #4 ranked prospect according to Baseball America, #6 by Baseball Prospectus, and #5 by Fangraphs, while MLB.com has the hard-throwing righty the highest at #3. Separate instances of a lat strain and shoulder soreness limited his 2018 to only 7 appearances between two levels, topping out with a 7.94 ERA across four starts for High-A Lakeland – where he hoped to return to start 2019. The 21-year-old Venezuelan boasts a power heater that consistently reached 98 mph when he could stay on the field this spring, but health is the focus for Perez for the time being. Perez is one of three right-handers who make up the core of Detroit’s farm, along with Matt Manning and 2018’s #1 overall draft pick Casey Mize.
- There are no lingering issues with the groin injury that put Alex Cobb on the shelf to start the year. After throwing five innings in a minor league game yesterday, he is in line to start the Orioles’ home opener next Thursday, per Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (via Twitter). Nate Karns will make his Orioles debut on the bump today, and while there’s no strict pitch count, don’t expect Karns to make it much further than the second or third inning, per The Athletic’s Dan Connolly (via Twitter). Karns will play the role of Opener today, with Jimmy Yacabonis expected to see significant work as well.
Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw may not be all that far from returning to the MLB mound, but he has a few more steps to take. As Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register reports on Twitter, the star hurler could soon be cleared for a minor-league rehab assignment — if he’s able to complete a live BP session tomorrow without incident. Supposing things go well and Kershaw is ready to resume competitive action next week, he’ll still need to build up his pitch count before returning to the Dodgers roster. It’s not yet clear how many rehab starts he’d need before being activated.
More health notes from around the game …
- The Tigers announced Friday that pitching prospect Franklin Perez will miss the first four to six weeks of the season due to tendinitis in his right shoulder. He’ll rehab at the team’s spring facility in Lakeland, Fla. for the time being. The shoulder tendinitis is the latest health-related setback for 21-year-old, who also missed most of the 2018 campaign with lat and shoulder issues. Perez, who threw just 19 1/3 innings last seasons, was one of the key pieces Detroit received from the Astros in the 2017 blockbuster that sent Justin Verlander to Houston. Considered at the time of that deal to be one of baseball’s premier minor league arms, Perez has seen his prospect star dim as injuries have prevented him from taking the hill. Fortunately for the Tigers, he’s still quite young and has ample time to develop, but the ongoing arm issues are a troubling trend.
- There’s an even tougher diagnosis for Marlins prospect Osiris Johnson, as Wells Dusenbery of the Sun Sentinel reports on Twitter. The youngster appears to be sidelined for all of the 2019 season after undergoing surgery for a right tibial stress fracture. Taken in the second round of last year’s draft, the shortstop is considered a high-risk, high-upside talent. He turned in good results at the Rookie level but stumbled in a late promotion to the Class A level. This was to be an important year of development for Johnson, who only turned 18 last October.
- The Tigers have informed righty Spencer Turnbull that he’ll be in the rotation to begin the season, as Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports. He took that job over lefty Daniel Norris, who’ll open the year in the bullpen. Norris will work in a long capacity, with the goal being to keep him stretched out in case a starting spot comes open. Turnbull, 26, earned the nod with an excellent spring showing: 15 frames of 1.80 ERA pitching with 15 strikeouts and just a pair of walks. The former second-round pick reached the big leagues briefly last year, but spent most of his ’18 season at Double-A. He pitched to a 4.47 ERA with 9.6 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in 98 2/3 innings over 19 starts at the penultimate level of the minors.
- JaCoby Jones will start the season on the IL after suffering a left shoulder sprain while diving for a ball on Saturday. Speaking with media (including Chris McCosky of the Detroit News), Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire hinted at a rough 2-3 week timeline for Jones’ recovery, though Gardenhire’s estimate seemed speculative. Jones and Mikie Mahtook were slated to share center field duties for the Tigers, though Niko Goodrum will now see some time in center with Jones out, plus outfielder Dustin Peterson could now factor into Detroit’s Opening Day plans.
After being released by the Tigers yesterday, veteran catcher Bobby Wilson will re-sign with the club on a minor league pact today, according to Jason Beck of MLB.com (Twitter link). He will join the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate in Toledo.
Wilson entered spring training on a minor league deal, hoping to earn a roster spot as the Tigers’ backup catcher. However, he wound up the odd man out with Hector Sanchez, John Hicks, and Cameron Rupp all in the mix for that same role. Wilson, then, was released yesterday after falling short in that position battle.
Today, though, Wilson will be back with the Tigers on another minor league agreement and will begin the season at the Triple-A level. It’s unclear whether there is a realistic path to significant Major League playing time for Wilson, who remains behind the aforementioned catchers on the Tigers’ depth chart.
Last season, the 35-year-old Wilson got his first taste of the big leagues since 2016, when he appeared with the Rays, Rangers, and Tigers. With the Twins in 2018, Wilson posted an underwhelming .178/.242/.281 slash line in 47 games. However, the veteran is respected not for his bat, but his defensive abilities and game-calling.
The Tigers have selected the contract of veteran infielder Gordon Beckham, as per a team announcement. Right-hander Michael Fulmer (who will undergo Tommy John surgery) was placed on the 60-day IL in order to create room for Beckham on the 40-man roster. Infielder Ronny Rodriguez was also optioned to Triple-A.
In another move, the Tigers have also released catcher Bobby Wilson, as per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit News (Twitter link). Multiple Tigers beat reporters noted earlier today that Wilson’s locker at the club’s Spring Training complex had been cleared out. Beckham and Wilson were both in camp on minor league contracts, vying to win jobs on a Detroit team with needs to fill at both the utility infield and backup catcher positions.
Beckham enjoyed a big spring at the plate, and is now set to appear in an eleventh MLB season for his sixth different franchise. Picked eighth overall by the White Sox in the 2008 draft, Beckham has spoken openly about the pressures he faced early in his career to live up to that top-prospect billing, as his career began to move along more of a journeyman path. He even considered retirement if he hadn’t made the Tigers’ roster this spring, though that appears to be a moot point now that he’ll suit up for Opening Day.
Beckham appeared in just 33 Major League games over the last two seasons, spending most of his time in the Mariners’ minor league system. The 32-year-old has a .329/.302/.366 slash line over 3542 career plate appearances, though his biggest role will be to provide backup at second base and third base. (Beckham could also fill in at shortstop in a pinch, with a handful of games at the position over his career.)
With rookie Grayson Greiner in line for regular catching duty in Detroit, the Tigers brought veterans Wilson and Hector Sanchez into camp to provide competition for the backup job, as ostensible backup John Hicks will also be getting some time at first base. Cameron Rupp was also acquired from the Giants a few weeks ago, which seems to have left Wilson out of the mix.
Wilson appeared in 47 games for Minnesota last season, his first taste of big league action since 2016 (when he played for the Rays, Rangers, and the Tigers in an earlier stint). A veteran of nine MLB seasons, Wilson has been known more for his defense and game-calling abilities than his bat, with just a .208/.264/.313 slash line over an even 1000 PA.
- The Tigers “haven’t engaged in any kind of [extension] conversations” with Nicholas Castellanos this spring, GM Al Avila told MLB.com’s Jason Beck yesterday. There’s been no formal offer or even any formal discussions on the matter with Castellanos’ agent, according to Avila, though he said the possibility of a deal is “obviously… in our minds.” Castellanos has expressed a desire to remain in Detroit on a long-term deal, though the rebuilding Tigers will undoubtedly view him as a possible trade asset this summer as well. If the two sides can eventually find a common ground in terms of price, however, Avila said he wouldn’t rule out an in-season extension. “He hasn’t said anything to the contrary,” Avila said of Castellanos being willing to negotiate beyond Opening Day. “I think he would be open to it.”
- The loss of Michael Fulmer to Tommy John surgery has opened up a potential path to the Majors for Tigers right-hander Spencer Turnbull, writes Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. Detroit skipper Ron Gardenhire has previously advocated for Turnbull as a viable rotation candidate, Fenech notes, and the 26-year-old righty could find himself vying with southpaw Daniel Norris for a rotation spot early in the season. The 2014 second-rounder made his MLB debut in 2018, and though he was tagged for 11 runs in 16 1/3 innings, Turnbull only yielded 17 hits and four walks to go along with 15 strikeouts. This spring, Turnbull has held opponents to three runs on 13 hits and a pair of walks with 15 strikeouts in 15 innings. The Tigers also have Matthew Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann, Tyson Ross and Matt Moore lined up for rotation jobs, and it’s possible that Norris (or perhaps Turnbull) opens the year in a multi-inning relief role.
TODAY: Fulmer will indeed undergo the procedure, he tells reporters including Evan Woodberry of MLive.com (via Twitter).
YESTERDAY: Tigers righty Michael Fulmer has received a recommendation that he undergo Tommy John surgery, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports on Twitter. He’d stand to miss the entire 2019 season and in all likelihood a portion of the 2020 campaign as well.
Fulmer’s medical status has been a bit of a mystery of late, but this news comes as a surprise. He had been shut down recently, purportedly to work on mechanical issues tied to his recovery from last season’s knee surgery, but obviously was dealing with something else entirely. Fulmer had shown a worrying loss of velocity this spring after turning in a subpar, injury-marred 2018 campaign.
It’s not yet certain that Fulmer will go under the knife, but that seems to be far and away the likeliest outcome. Per the Tigers, both a team doctor and noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews have already recommended that Fulmer receive a full replacement of his ulnar collateral ligament.
This is hardly the news anyone wanted for Fulmer, who reached his 26th birthday just days ago. Fortunately for the righty, he already agreed to a $2.8MM salary for the coming season. On the bright side for the club, they won the arbitration hearing and thus avoided a larger payout.
In all likelihood, the Tigers will end up paying Fulmer that $2.8MM both this season and next, while hoping he’ll be able to contribute by the middle of the 2020 campaign. Fulmer is controllable in 2021 and 2022 as well. His earning power in those years will depend upon what he’s able to do in ’20; it’ll unquestionably be diminished by the lengthy absence.
The Detroit organization has thus far centered its rebuilding effort on young pitching, with a series of interesting arms moving up through the ranks. It seemed through his first two seasons in the majors that Fulmer might be a veteran anchor for the next great Tigers staff — or, instead, a big trade chip who’d reel in loads of young talent.
That outlook already changed last year, as Fulmer struggled to a 4.69 ERA in 132 1/3 innings. During his excellent debut campaign and solid follow-up effort, Fulmer’s unexciting strikeout numbers were explained away by some. The line was that his overpowering arsenal and ability to induce weak contact made it unnecessary for Fulmer to rack of Ks. The narrative shifted over the course of the 2018 season. Even as hard contact rose (39.5%), his groundball rate (44.2%) and home run suppression (1.29 per nine innings, 14.5% HR/FB rate) dove despite steady 96 mph velocity readings on his fastball.
Perhaps Fulmer would have found his way back to being a high-quality starter had he not encountered knee issues that ultimately resulted in a meniscus procedure. The connection between that joint, his reduced velo this spring, and his problematic elbow isn’t completely clear, but it certainly seems plausible that all are interrelated. He’ll now have a lengthy absence to work through the varying health issues. If all goes well, Fulmer could return to be a quality hurler once more.