Hard-throwing right-hander Erick Fedde had Tommy John surgery, but still might be considered by the Tigers in next month's draft. (UNLV athletics)
The big leagues have been dealing in 2014 with a medical reality that might as well be regarded as a plague. Dozens of pitchers on 25-man rosters and working in the teams’ farm chains have visited the surgeon for ligament-replacement procedures.
The list of those who have had Tommy John surgery, as the operation is commonly known, extends to some of this year’s elite draft picks, college right-handers such as East Carolina’s Jeff Hoffman, as well as Erick Fedde of Nevada-Las Vegas, who is believed to be one of the “eight or 10” players the Tigers are considering.
David Chadd, the Tigers director of amateur scouting, acknowledged the “eight to 10” number Saturday without offering clues on who, or in what order, those prospects might appear on a Tigers board that is still being fine-tuned ahead of the June 5-7 big-league draft.
Neither will Chadd talk, directly, about Fedde, who unlike Hoffman could be available when the Tigers select No. 23 in the draft’s first round.
But Hoffman is projected to be a top-12 pick and Fedde is expected to go later in the first round. That both pitchers had elbow ligaments replaced this month speaks to big-league clubs and their acceptance of Tommy John realities and to the way in which pitchers tend to rebound after a year or so of healing.
“It just depends on the (draft) board,” Chadd said during a phone conversation. “If there’s a big separation in ability (a recovering pitcher’s talent is superior to healthier options), depending upon what the medical staff says — I’ll just say they’re not ruled out.
“You have to know how serious a particular case is and what the doctors say. You have to dig into all that. It takes 12 months away from their development, and that’s a lot. But if the ability is there, you have to consider that player.”
Wait time not a deal-breaker
The Tigers always have position prospects in mind when their early draft turns arrive. And they always seem to opt for the commodity that has best explained their turnaround under Dave Dombrowski’s front-office watch.
Fedde in that context makes sense. He is 6-foot-4, 180 pounds, throws in the mid-90-mph range, with a biting slider and, this month’s trauma aside, has the size, delivery, and power the Tigers tend to embrace.
Any team grabbing him, or Hoffman, loses an immediate year of training time. But that year of recovery must also be put into perspective.
Most college pitchers already have approached an innings ceiling by the time they’re drafted and work only a few games at the short-season Single A outposts once they have signed.
By time they have finished their rehabilitation and dealt with a setback that generally shelves them for 12 to 15 months, they typically return to old, or even stronger, form. At that point the Tommy John experience begins for them and for the club employing them to disappear in the parties’ rearview mirrors.
The Tigers still could go in any number of directions when their first-round slot arrives late on the evening of June 5.
They would consider Tyler Beede, a right-hander from Vanderbilt who has had some control issues in 2014. But, as in the case of Hoffman, it’s fairly certain Beede will be gone by the time Detroit chomps on that No. 23 overall pick.
They might also lasso an Atlanta-area prep right-hander, Spencer Adams, who, no surprise, is 6-3, 170, and who can probably be talked out of his University of Georgia scholarship by way of a lovely first-round paycheck.
Still scouting hitters
Otherwise, the Tigers appear to be serious about position players: Casey Gillaspie, a switch-hitting first baseman from Wichita State; A.J. Reed, a heavier slugger (left-handed hitter) from the University of Kentucky who also happens to play first base; and perhaps Kyle Schwarber, another left-handed hitter who catches for the University of Indiana and who might end up in left field in the big leagues.
Of course, the idea that a man named Miguel Cabrera is contracted to play first base — and, eventually, to probably land at designated hitter — in Detroit for the next decade might make a first-round grab of a first baseman seem curious.
It depends on the hitter, of course, just as it depends upon a particular pitcher’s overall talent score, even if that pitcher has recently had an elbow ligament replaced.
The Tigers like pitching. More accurately, they love it. Each and every year, given the choice of a bat or an arm, they tend to prefer the rotation horse who can help anchor a staff in Detroit or become a delectable piece of future trade bait.
And even if they must wait a year for that pitcher to deal with his Tommy John timetable, the Tigers will shock no one on June 5 if another high-profile starter is headed, eventually, for Detroit’s minor-league hatchery.