Detroit — The question isn’t so much why the Tigers’ are transitioning right-handed pitching prospect Sandy Baez from starter to reliever, it’s what took them so long to do it?
The Tigers’ Double-A affiliate Erie announced Thursday that Baez, 24, was moving to the bullpen — a move orchestrated by the general manager Al Avila and vice president of player development David Littlefield.
“He performed well in relief when he came up to Detroit,” Littlefield said. “And he’d done well in the bullpen in spring training. He has a great arm and he’s got some weapons. We just think that with the way things are right now, we’re going to try him in the bullpen and see how things go.”
Baez, who as an emergency call-up pitched 4.1 innings of no-hit relief June 4 against the Yankees, has scuffled as a starter at Double-A. He was 1-7 with a 5.31 ERA and a 1.467 WHIP in 15 starts.
Those numbers are not indicative of his skill-set. As a starter, his fastball velocity was averaging 94.7 mph. That will play up toward 96 mph in shorter innings out of the bullpen. He also has a slider and split-fingered pitch.
From an organizational point of view, Baez’s quickest path to the big leagues is as a reliever.
The Tigers sent Warwick Saupold back to Toledo on Wednesday night and purchased the contract of right-hander Victor Alcantara. Right-handers Drew VerHagen and Johnny Barbato are on the disabled list.
Closer Shane Greene is also on the disabled list.
Beyond that, seven of the club’s top 10 prospects are starting pitchers, including No. 1 prospect Franklin Perez, who is finishing his rehab starts and could be in the rotation at Erie soon.
Given all those variables, moving Baez to the bullpen is a no-brainer — for the Tigers and for Baez.