June 8, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Tigers relief prospect Angel Nesbitt has been devilish on opposing hitters

Angel Nesbitt has a 0.81 ERA in 23 games at Single A Lakeland. (Twitter)

Sometime soon, Angel Nesbitt will get his orders from minor-league headquarters. Report to Erie. There’s nothing left for you to achieve here at Lakeland.

And there really isn’t.

Nesbitt, 23, is the best reliever throwing a baseball in the Tigers system beneath that gateway to the big leagues, which is Double A. Numbers tell just a portion of the story.

Nesbitt, a right-hander, is 2-0, with an 0.81 ERA in 23 games at Single A Lakeland. Opponents are batting .198. He has 36 strikeouts in 33.1 innings and has walked eight, allowing 23 hits.

It is his last 10 games that make clear why Nesbitt is not long for the Florida State League and figures soon to be seeking quarters at Erie: No runs allowed in those 10 games, four hits in 12.1 innings, 19 strikeouts, one walk. Opponent batting average: .098.

“The numbers are impressive, but his stuff is equal to that,” said Mike Maroth, the former Tigers left-hander who is Lakeland’s pitching coach. “Probably the best thing about him I’ve seen is his consistency and command — with all pitches.

“And not just his fastball. He has a slider he can throw for strikes and a change-up he can throw for strikes and command. And he has an occasional cutter. He’s just consistent every time out.

“He’s been on the mound 20-some times and every time out we know what we’re gonna get from him. He throws strikes.”

Nesbitt by no means is a human news bulletin. He has been among the more intriguing of Detroit’s young relievers since he was signed in 2009 out of that Tigers prospect reservoir, Venezuela.

This year has seen a 6-foot-1, 237-pound pitching project add finesse to his deep menu, all while maintaining loyalty to the pitch that best explains his big-league potential.

“He rarely throws a fastball under 95 (mph),” Maroth said. “He usually sits 96 to 98, and it comes out very easy. If you didn’t have a radar gun, you could see he throws hard, and pretty effortlessly.

“He looks like he’s not trying to throw hard and then you look up and see 97 on the gun.”

Most relievers are two-pitch specialists. Nesbitt, evidently, believes that’s nonsense.

“He’s got a change-up and a slider that’s equally effective on lefties and righties,” Maroth said. “He’s got a slider he uses more against righties. And they’re all quality secondary pitches for him that really make that fastball work.

“What you like is that he’s aggressive. He throws the ball over the plate. He commands the ball well. When he goes out there, a lot of times, he has 10-pitch innings. He’s not afraid to attack the strike zone with any of his pitches.”

Lakeland’s trademark is pitching rather than offense or position-player prowess. Jake Thompson (6-1, 1.65 ERA) is the best of the hotshots from the Flying Tigers rotation, but others have been helping out, including left-hander Josh Turley (5-0, 2.08), a 16th-round pick in 2012 from Baylor who is not from the Nesbitt-Thompson fraternity of hard-throwers.

His secret is that, as Maroth says, he “pitches.” And among the selections tossed by Turley, 23, is a developing knuckleball.

“He’s got five pitches,” Maroth said, chuckling at a man who can bewilder hitters with a package that includes a fastball no speedier than 90 mph. “He just started throwing this knuckleball that he played around with in spring training. We encouraged him to throw it in games, and he can actually throw it for strikes.

“It will definitely move. He doesn’t use it a lot. He mixes it in with four others he throws for strikes. All of his pitches he can throw in the zone. When you think of Josh Turley you think of a pitcher.”

That, of course, is what the Tigers front office appreciates thinking about endlessly: pitching. If not Turley, another gent from Lakeland is on their mind as mid-season promotions are mulled. The name “Nesbitt” is somewhere high on a team’s short list.

Lynn.henning@detroitnews.com
Twitter.com/Lynn_Henning