By: Kurt Snyder
Spring training for me is something to get over with. I love when it arrives, but can’t wait until it’s over. Let’s get ready for the season, work on what needs work, emerge healthy and head north for real games and “tall buildings” like Jim Price likes to say.
Pitching and injuries garner the most attention for fans and members of the media. And of course in Detroit, don’t we all have, shall I say, a soft spot in our heart for the bullpen? There are 4 pitchers, none of them starters, who I will be keeping track of this spring; 3 of which are slam dunks for Opening Day; Mark Lowe, Justin Wilson and Francisco Rodriguez. The most intriguing one on the outside looking in? Michael Fulmer.
Last year, I became a fan of the New York Mets towards the end of the season and into the playoffs. And it’s because of the emergence of young pitchers from their minor league system. The kind of young talent we have been starving for in Detroit.
Noah Syndergaard and Jacob DeGrom are incredible talents and will be cornerstones of the Mets rotation for years to come. Standing beside Matt Harvey, they give the Mets a formidable staff capable of taking them to the cusp of the World Series again in 2016.
So, when the Tigers traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets at the deadline last year, it got my attention. Knowing the kind of pitchers the Mets have been cranking out of their system, I was immediately excited about a guy they did not want to give up, but did.
In his bid to make the 2016 Tigers, Michael Fulmer didn’t have to wait long, appearing in the team’s first spring training game on Tuesday. He didn’t disappoint; an important first step for an important Tiger pitcher.
The outlook for the Tiger pen is so much more refreshing this year than it’s been in the past. Last season, the Tigers threw dice all over the mound like a back alley craps game. They were banking on Joe Nathan coming off a horrible 2014 season. They had Joakim Soria who most could see taking over the closer role at some point. Then we added Joba Chamberlain. And we ran with it …rolling the dice all the way to April, when the wheels fell off right away.
Successful playoff teams of the past all have one thing in common. Their bullpen depth just seems never-ending. One after another, quality arms come running out of the pen to the mound, all with definitive roles, all with big arms and great stuff. The Tigers have a real shot at that kind of depth this season.
Tiger fans have had to find their religion all too often when that bullpen door opened. We never knew what we were going to get. There was talent supposedly, but intestinal fortitude? Not so much. Our own broadcasters often gushed over the likes of Al Al and Ian Krol; 2 pitchers mercifully gone from the Tigers’ roster.
Al Avila slammed his fist on the table and said enough is enough. The bullpen needed to fly up the list of priorities. No more patchwork, no more gambling. Build the pen. Make it a strength, because if it isn’t, we will spend more seasons waiting for the dam to break beyond the leftfield wall.
And we have to hand it to Al Avila, who grabbed what looks to be real nice talent slated for key late inning bullpen roles. But as my dad always said, you can never have enough pitching. It’s why the Tigers will watch closely, guys like Michael Fulmer, Bobby Parnell, Shane Greene and Drew Verhagen. The Big 3, Lowe, Wilson and KRod will dominate a lot of the headlines this spring, but it’s encouraging to know that the bullpen story doesn’t stop with them.
Pitching depth? Who would have thunk it? It’s an intriguing time for the Tigers bullpen. Shoot, I can’t help but wonder when Anibal Sanchez will find himself in the pen before he leaves Detroit. His dominance in Baltimore hasn’t quite left my brain.
So, maybe this year, the Tigers will be the team with a never-ending supply of talented bulldogs marching out of the pen, taking turns putting their opponent to sleep.
I know, I know. I need to take a pill. But hey! Who’s to say a man can’t dream a little while he sleeps through Spring Training?