By: Kurt Snyder
Isn’t it fascinating how injuries can change the whole dynamic of a baseball team?
Out of the spring, fans and media alike seemed comfortable with the top of the rotation. Verlander was coming off a resurgence of sorts the last 2 months of the 2015 season, while Jordan Zimmermann was a no-nonsense free agent addition the Tigers needed to boost a weakened rotation still reeling from the loss of Max Scherzer and David Price. I think we can all agree that Jordan had a fairly successful April.
But then the optimism starts to wane when discussion reaches Anibal Sanchez and all his troubles the last couple seasons. He’s looked better of late but still has much to clean up to be part of that Big Three at the top of the rotation.
Beyond those 3, things begin to get muddled. And the Tigers recipe for success may include ingredients hiding in the back of the fridge. Before the season, the general feeling among the masses was that if all went according to plan, Mike Pelfrey and Daniel Norris would round out the rotation.
Norris had shown the Tigers enough in 2015 to pencil him into their rotation in need of fresh talent. Pelfrey was brought in with the hope that his career was on the upswing as he got further away from Tommy John surgery. But you could hear a collective gasp when he landed a two-year contract with the Tigers. And let’s face it, prior to arriving in Detroit, he hadn’t set the world on fire and his numbers surely didn’t make it difficult for the Tigers to land him. Who really wanted this guy? There couldn’t have been much competition for his talents.
But we are going to have to be patient. We can’t make long term assumptions on an April’s worth of success or lack of it. The first month of 2016 has provided great angst for fans. Concern has reached every corner of the roster, mostly settling at the feet of Justin Upton and Mike Pelfrey.
A lineup swap of Upton and JD will get most of the credit for the resurgence of the Tiger bats this week. It seems to have sparked the lineup at the right time as the resurgence has reached the likes of Miggy and VMart as well.
But what does the future hold for the Tiger rotation? What happens if Mike Pelfrey continues to struggle? Michael Fulmer is one of those rare talents who may never leave the starting rotation. Remember, this is a highly regarded talent from the Mets system that produced Harvey, Syndergaard and DeGrom; all young stars sitting at the top of their rotation. I would imagine without the Cespedes trade, Fulmer was considered to, someday soon, be part of their top 4.
Fulmer arrived on the scene Friday as the next man in line for the Tigers. With Norris starting the season on the disabled list, Shane Greene earned a spot in the rotation with a great spring after proving to the Tigers that his injury woes were behind him. But then came the blister; a seemingly small injury, but never for a pitcher, sending him to the disabled list.
And suddenly we have an intriguing development. Fulmer did not disappoint on Friday and given his talents, I doubt the Tigers were surprised. He looks like a pitcher ready for the next level. Big arm, great stuff and a composure that showed he’s ready for the bright lights of the big leagues.
But it’s the same level of comfort that Daniel Norris had at the end of the last season when he was acquired from the Blue Jays. He seemed ready and a spot in the 2016 rotation was his to lose.
So, what will the emergence of Fulmer mean for Daniel Norris? What will it mean for Mike Pelfrey? Does Greene’s blister eliminate him from future consideration? Do the Tigers send Fulmer back to the minor leagues when Norris is ready to return? I know it’s one start, but Fulmer’s performance had to definitely make Al Avila take pause.
The Tigers may have a good problem here. It was exciting when Norris, Boyd and Fulmer arrived at the trade deadline last season. But who imagined that 2 of the 3 could possibly be fighting for the rotation this soon? Daniel Norris is very close to returning and Michael Fulmer, after one start has shown what a big puzzle piece he could be.
So it’s a topic that is surely going to continue to simmer. Keep an eye on this situation. Will youth be served or will money and investment rule the day?