Erie, Pa. — With many of their top prospects at Double-A Erie and the parent club playing through the season with the worst record in Major League Baseball, the Tigers are in a holding pattern.
The Tigers front office, led, by general manager Al Avila, doesn’t want to rush the rebuilding process by pushing prospects through the system too quickly. At the same time, they’re likely two years from contending.
They have something building in Erie, where many of their top prospects are leading a playoff push, including pitchers Casey Mize (No. 1), Matt Manning (No. 2), infielder Isaac Paredes (No. 4) and pitchers Tarik Skubal (No. 8) and Alex Faedo (No. 10).
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Mize opened some eyes with a no-hitter earlier this season and Manning leads the Eastern League in strikeouts (137) and WHIP (0.98) in 22 games and 130 innings pitched. He’s tied for second in wins (11) and third in ERA (2.77). Faedo is seventh in the Eastern League in WHIP (1.14) and third in strikeouts (130) but has given up 17 home runs.
They’ve established a winning culture in Erie, pushing the SeaWolves to first place in the Western Division of the Eastern League, with only 13 games left in the season. The plan looks to be to keep most of the group together and work their way through the minor league system.
“It’s very important because not only do we want this group of guys to be in Detroit, but we want this group of guys to be playing for the American League Central,” manager Mike Rabelo said. “When you win, you’re used to winning and you expect to win and you’re mad when you don’t win.
“I’m not the guy who makes the moves but it’s pretty obvious some of these guys are going to be (in Detroit) sooner than later and some of these guys are going to have an impact. The pitching is the easy thing to talk about. Those guys are really good and they’re a major piece of this rebuild. They’ll be there pretty soon.”
Playing winning baseball has helped build some excitement in Erie, both win fans and within the Tigers organization. Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson, special assistants to Avila, were working with the players and have gotten good reviews on their depth of talent with the SeaWolves, with the pitching group.
“The more the merrier — you can’t have enough (prospects). I hope they all make it, because the percentages probably say they all won’t, whether it be because of performance or injury,” Trammell said. “That’s why you want as many as you can. We had Faedo, Manning and Mize. Where did Skubal come from?
“That’s the kind of thing you’re looking for from an organization, to have a 9th-round pick who hadn’t been on the radar until now.”
What the pitchers have noted is that there isn’t a cutthroat competition between them to step over one another on their way to the major leagues. Each feels support from the others and that leads to a winning culture.
“Success is contagious. Those guys go out and perform well and that blends into what the guy up the next day is going to do. Seeing somebody do well makes you want to do that your time out and help the team win,” Mize said. “Being able to watch them compete and perform well has been awesome for me and my whole staff. Hopefully, we can continue to do that.”
Manning sees excelling across the board as a benefit, helping them relax and not have to look over their shoulders and worry about what their teammates are doing.
It’s an unusual situation, but it works for them.
“We’re just being ourselves and enjoying our time together. We’re not stressing about making the big leagues. We know what the situation is and we’re not competing with each other; we’re helping each other and rooting each other on,” Manning said. “When you have three other guys like that and you know they have your back and want you to do well, you can be yourself and go put up results.
“They drafted all of us and they have prospect rankings and we’re all aiming to be in Detroit — not one at a time, but to all come up together and keep what we have here. There’s no other people I’d rather be pitching with, than the guys I have here. It’s honestly the best situation.”