Like most in the baseball community, Alex Faedo looks upon the Houston Astros with envy. Unlike many outside that system, however, the Tigers' No. 3 prospect looks upon their situation and is filled with hope.
The Astros are defending World Series champions, of course, and have a realistic shot at achieving that goal again, thanks to the best rotation in baseball. The Tigers, in the midst of a rebuild, have a chance to build their own impressive staff, focused entirely around homegrown arms. Five of the club's top six prospects -- Franklin Perez, Matt Manning, Faedo, Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser -- are right-handed pitchers, and they just added another impressive one in Auburn ace Casey Mize with the No. 1 overall pick. There's also 2016 American League Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer, who isn't scheduled to enter free agency until after the 2022 season.
Detroit's rebuild revolves around the mound, and Faedo wants in.
"I got to see Franklin Perez throw in Spring Training right before he went on the DL [with a strained lat], and he was electric," he said. "I can see why we traded for him [for Justin Verlander]. He's got ace stuff. I've seen Mize first-hand beat us [at Florida] in college, and he's also got ace stuff. It's not a problem. It's going to be fun to pitch with those guys eventually, learn from them and hopefully I can help them a little bit too. But I think good pitching ... look at the Astros. Last year they could really swing it, but right now, they have five aces on their team. I think pitching makes a big difference. The fewer runs you give up, the better chance you have, so I'm excited to see what these guys have got."
Faedo remains on track to play his part in a future Major League rotation, as he showed Tuesday night in his Double-A Erie debut. Faedo allowed two earned runs on two hits and two walks while fanning seven over six innings after being called up from Class A Advanced Lakeland over the weekend.
The promotion was certainly earned. The 22-year-old was taken 18th overall in last year's Draft after three seasons at the University of Florida but didn't pitch in the pros last summer after throwing 123 2/3 innings with the Gators. The Tigers moved him to Lakeland to begin his pro career this spring, and he finished with a 3.10 ERA and 1.02 WHIP with 51 strikeouts and 13 walks in 12 starts (61 innings) in the Florida State League. He'd been especially good of late, posting a 1.48 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, .182 average-against and 22 strikeouts over his last five starts (24 1/3 innings). With the FSL All-Star break over the weekend, Faedo received a call in his Tampa home from Flying Tigers manager Mike Rabelo on Saturday, got on a plane to Erie with outfielder Daz Cameron on Sunday and was starting for the Eastern League club on Tuesday in the second game of a doubleheader against New Hampshire. In so doing, he became just the fourth player picked in the first round of the 2017 Draft to see Double-A action this season, following in the footsteps of Kyle Wright, Keston Hiura and Brent Rooker.
Despite the jump, Faedo very much looked like the hurler who had held his own in the FSL. He was efficient, throwing 55 of his 83 pitches for strikes in his six frames. Utilizing scouting reports on New Hampshire hitters given to him by Erie coaches, he also matched a career high with his seven K's. That came against a lineup that not only boasts notable prospects like Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Jonathan Davis and Max Pentecost but also leads the Eastern League in most offensive categories, such as average (.271), OPS (.765) and runs (354). (Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has played a big part in that but was on the DL for Faedo's debut.)
The jump from Class A Advanced to Double-A is often considered the toughest in the Minors, but Faedo, who has shown impressive control along with a plus slider this season, proved he could handle the test right away.
"I guess you just want to make a good first impression," he said. "I'd met a lot of these guys in Spring Training or played with in Lakeland or played against in college. It was nice to all be on the same team for once. I just want to be a good teammate and show I'm ready to compete with them."
It's notable that after playing for just one team in Florida over three years, Faedo is already on his second club in just two over months. Because of the Florida native's college pedigree, he was always tipped as a potential fast mover, if healthy. That's no small "if" after he underwent knee surgery before his junior year in 2017. Faedo has held up well in his first full season, however, and though there have some adjustments to life in the pros, they've been liberating to some degree.
"In college, the coach calls the pitch, which is good because he does a lot of scouting," said Faedo. "But you feel robotic at times. When I first got to pro ball, it's about what I want to throw now. It's not that the other pitch calls were wrong. But now I get to learn to pitch guys, how to set up hitters, sequencing, reading swings, reading how guys are standing. It's a lot more pitching. Not just see the sign, throw the ball.
"I'm trying to mix up my stuff more. I know they want you to pitch off your fastball here. Just trying to throw more quality, locating fastballs to attack hitters. Mixing in my changeup more and not trying to rely on my breaking ball all the time. Pretty normal stuff."
That's not to say there haven't been bumps in the road.
Faedo was considered to have a plus fastball entering his first full season following reports that he'd touched as high as 97 mph during his final spring with Florida. However, he moved back to the lower-90s during his time in Lakeland. Because of the movement of the pitch and Faedo's accuracy, that offering can still be a weapon, but it doesn't jump off the scouting report the way it had for MLB.com's No. 51 overall prospect.
Speaking over the weekend, Tigers general manager Al Avila told reporters that the organization was coming to terms with the velocity dip.
"I can't explain it," said Avila, according to the Detroit Free Press. "We all saw him, obviously, in the College World Series [throwing] in the upper 90s. He hasn't hit that right now."
That's not to say anyone linked to the Tigers is worried.
"The reason I say we're not concerned is because he's got his full arsenal of pitches," Avila said. "He's not walking guys. He's pitching [how] he's always pitched.
"When the velocity does come back, it will make him even more effective. That pinpoint control and that slider and the way he pitches, that's what makes him a real good pitcher."
Faedo disagreed that his velocity was down much at all, saying those upper-90s readings were coming at a time when he was a little amped up in leading Florida to its first-ever NCAA title. At this point in the season and his career, it's a non-issue as far as he's concerned.
"To be honest, I don't think my velocity is any different than it was last year, but I'm not really a guy who stresses over the whole velocity thing," Faedo said. "All I care about is going out, trying to compete and being a good teammate. I want to keep my team in the game, that's all I'm thinking. I think last year when there were more eyes on me, it may have been up a bit, but that also may have been because I was pitching in the College World Series. It's obviously different. But I would think I'm pretty much the same. To me, it's honestly not a big deal."
How much that couple of miles-per-hour difference affects Faedo's outcomes at the higher levels will soon be seen. But with his still-impressive slider and a changeup that he's gaining more confidence in by the start, there's the three-pitch starting kit to keep Faedo in Detroit's future rotation plans for the long term.
"I try not to think about the future too much because it's out of my control," Faedo said. "I mean, it's based on the fact that the better I perform, the better situation I can put myself in. But realistically, I don't make the decisions. I didn't think I needed to be here [in Double-A] by the end of the year. I thought I want to feel I put my team in a spot to win a lot of games, helped my teammates out, be a good guy to be around in the clubhouse. So far, it's gone pretty well I think."