Don't Hold Your Breath This Spring For Tigers' Big Three

If they're high in the rankings, they're lower on the ladder. 

Will Burchfield
January 29, 2020 - 11:53 am

If Tigers fans had their way, the team would come north this spring with a rotation featuring the Big Three. Same for Ron Gardenhire. 

But before they get to Detroit, it's almost certain Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal will stop in Toledo. 

"We’ve got some pretty good ones going to Triple-A Toledo," Gardenhire said. "(The fans) will be pretty happy down there. They’re going to see some pretty good pitchers, whether I want them to be there or not." 

Gardenhire's position is easily understood. Mize, Manning and Skubal are three of Detroit's top four prospects, and three of the top pitching prospects in the game. Among righties, Mize and Manning rank No. 1 and No. 7, respectively, according to MLB Pipeline. Skubal ranks No. 4 among lefties. 

You don't have to look too far into the future to see them headlining the Tigers rotation. Alex Faedo and Joey Wentz could be part of that picture as well. We got a glimpse of what it might look like when the quintet came together last season with Double-A Erie. 

"The whole group pushes each other," said Mize. "Matt is a tremendous athlete, he’s super talented. Alex is a great teammate, Tarik works hard, Joey was a great new addition. It’s just, the whole group we have is awesome. We kind of learn from each other and feed off each other, and watching those guys go out and succeed is great to be a part of." 

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All five of them will be in big-league camp with the Tigers this spring. In theory, one of them could pitch so well he demands a spot in Detroit, like 19-year-old Rick Porcello in 2009 or 23-year-old Justin Verlander in 2006. But those teams were division-winners. These Tigers have little reason to call on a young arm so soon. 

"If you were to fast-forward it, maybe, yeah. But where we're at right now, I would say no, probably not that great of a chance," said Al Avila. "I think it would be our preference for them to start in Toledo, have good years in Toledo. Hopefully we have a good start, our young players do well and at some point during the season we can bring them up and they can get some experience."

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On top of the larger situation, Detroit's rotation looks set heading into spring: Matthew Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann, Spencer Turnbull, Daniel Norris and the recently-signed Ivan Nova. Veteran Zack Godley is first in line after that. And in terms of prospects with a chance, Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser, who took their lumps in Triple-A last season, likely lead the way. 

Suffice to say, a lot would have to go wrong for the Tigers -- and even more would have to go right for Mize, Manning or Skubal -- for one of the Big Three to start the season in Detroit.

"The following spring training," said Avila, "it's a whole different ballgame." 

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The good news for Tigers fans is that we should get a peak at the trio later this season, health and performance willing. Some big-league experience will be to their benefit. And in the off chance one of them does force the club's hand this spring, it doesn't sound like the Tigers will be swayed by issues of service time. 

"I'll be perfectly honest with you, I've never really been too concerned about service time," Avila said. "For me, it's all about when the team's ready to win and the guy's ready to come up and help us win. Holding a guy back because of service time, I've never been taught that way by my predecessor and I don't work that way."

Dave Dombrowski made that clear with Porcello and Verlander. It's much easier for Avila to take that stance now, with the Tigers still a couple years away from legitimate contention. Maybe we'll find out if he means it if Riley Greene rips the cover off the ball in spring training in 2022. For the time being, Avila can comfortably wait out the rebuild as we fix our eyes on the farm.

There will be plenty to see in Toledo, if it looks anything like Erie did last year. 

"We had a lot of fun, and I think that’s because we won a lot of games," said Mize. "The more we can do that together and realize that (winning) is the ultimate goal, to experience that together and understand what that’s supposed to look like, I think that can only be positive for the future.

"I’m not sure where we’ll be assigned this year, but if we’re together, if we’re not, I’m looking forward to winning either way."