Analyst: Tigers land possible fifth starter for Upton

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — By most accounts, the Tigers didn’t get a future star in exchange for star slugger Justin Upton — but they still made out pretty well, or at least as well as they could’ve.

The Tigers on Thursday afternoon acquired right-handed pitching prospect Grayson Long from the Los Angeles Angels and a player to be named, likely a low-level minor-leaguer, for Upton just hours ahead of baseball’s waiver trade deadline.

Depending on the scouting service you trust, Long was either the eighth-, ninth- or 10th-best prospect in a poor Angels farm system. Baseball America had him ranked eighth in its midseason list, which came out in July.

A third-round pick in 2015, Long, 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, projects by some to be a back-end starter. With a limited arsenal, others see him as a prospect who, while starting most of his minor-league career, could have a bigger impact as a reliever in the major leagues.

“Maybe fifth starter,” ESPN’s Keith Law told The Detroit News. “Looks the part, but stuff is ordinary.”

Long, 23, is a three-pitch pitcher with a fastball that runs low 90s, a slider and a change-up. He can get the fastball up to mid-90s on occasion, and certainly would be able to do that more if he were to shift to reliever.

Tigers deal Justin Upton to Angels slotted Long at No. 12 among the Tigers' top prospects.

Long, a Houston native who played college ball at Texas A&M, reached Double-A Mobile this season, and there he had 111 strikeouts to 38 walks in 121.2 innings. He allowed just 100 hits. For his minor-league career, which included stops at rookie ball and low- and high-A ball, he has 217 strikeouts in 218.1 innings, to go with a 3.05 ERA and 1.209 WHIP.

He will start at Double-A Erie with the Tigers, though Erie has just five games left in the season. He is a candidate to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. He pitched there last season.

Long is the latest infusion into a depleted Tigers farm system, which also got a reload via trades of J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila.

But like with the returns in the other trades, Tigers general manager Al Avila again was being instantly panned on social media by fans who believe he didn’t get enough for Upton.

But the Tigers might have done as well as they could’ve. With Upton having an opt-out in his contract following this season, there’s a good possibility he informed the Tigers of his desire to opt-out — meaning, they dealt him now so they could get something in return, rather than watching him walk in the winter without getting anything.

If Upton, 30, expressed a desire to honor the final four years and $88.5 million of his contract, Avila would’ve been much more inclined to hold onto him, wait till he opts in, and then explore a trade during the offseason, when the return would’ve been much greater.