MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Tigers pitching prospects use instructs as springboard to AFL

Tigers pitching prospects use instructs as springboard to AFL

For most of the Tigers prospects currently participating in instructional league play, action runs through Saturday in Lakeland. A trio of pitchers, however, used their time as a springboard to more fall baseball.

Spencer Turnbull, Adam Ravenelle and Zac Houston all got work in at instructs to prepare them for the Arizona Fall League, which opened play on Tuesday. And all three looked sharp as they got their work in before heading westward to play for the Mesa Solar Sox.

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Of the three, Turnbull is the lone starting pitching prospect. The Tigers' No. 28 prospect is making his second trip to Arizona, having thrown well there a year ago to make up for a season greatly shortened by a shoulder issue. While he missed a month of the 2017 season as well, he did throw 112 innings and make 21 starts while reaching Double-A. This time, pitching in Arizona could get him ready to contribute in Detroit in 2018.

"He was really sharp," Tigers director of player development Dave Owen said about Turnbull's time at instructs. "He had a good mix of his fastball, slider and changeup. His slider had good depth to it."

Ravenelle actually can one-up Turnbull, as this marks year number three in the AFL for the right-handed reliever. His first trip was in 2015 following his first full season that was interrupted by injury. Then he pitched his way to Double-A in 2016 and the hope was that his AFL stint that fall would ready him for the big league bullpen. It didn't work out that way as he had a very uneven return engagement in Double-A. Maybe the third time will be the charm, as no one doubts his pure stuff in short relief.

"He's a fastball-slider guy and he was sharp, too," Owen said. "He was three up and three down."

Houston isn't on the Top 30 currently, but after his first full season after the Tigers took him in the 11th round of the 2016 Draft out of Mississippi State, he likely will be in 2018. There's work to be done command-wise, his 4.7 walks per nine ratio serving as proof, but he also struck out 14.1 per nine while pitching across two levels of A-ball. The AFL will help get him ready for the upper levels of the Tigers' system in 2018.

"He's got a funky jump out at you delivery," Owen said. "His fastball was really overpowering against Braves instructs team.

"They all looked like they are ready to go. Hopefully it continues in Arizona."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.