How Alex Faedo reclaimed his place in Detroit Tigers' rebuild — with help from Michigan
Forgive yourself if you’ve forgotten about Alex Faedo.
He fell off the map in 2018, his fastball velocity hovering around 90 mph, his right arm still a bit rusty from a nearly nine-month layoff after the World Series. It was Faedo’s first professional season.
He was 22 years old.
“That was like the development aspect,” he said last month. “Like, ‘Hey, we’re trying to work on something. We know you’re not getting the results you want, but keep working on these few things.’ ”
That year, Faedo visited Ann Arbor with other top Tigers prospects to be evaluated by the University of Michigan’s sport science team, as part of the team’s effort to better implement biomechanics into their player development analytics.
There, the U-M staff stuck little foam dots all over Faedo’s body, measuring the movements in his delivery and the range of motion in his lanky, 6-foot-5 inch frame. Faedo took notes and, “I took that into the offseason and just kind of rolled with it,” he said.
A little over a year later, Faedo has returned to form. His fastball velocity is back in the low-to-mid 90s, he’s found another weapon to face hitters and will likely open the 2020 season at Triple-A Toledo, just one call from Detroit.
Pitching in the shadows of righty top prospects Matt Manning and Casey Mize and surpassed in hype by lefty Tarik Skubal, Faedo took a quiet stride in 2019, posting a 3.90 ERA and 1.11 ERA in 22 starts for Double-A Erie, striking out 134 batters in 115 1/3 innings.
“I did learn a lot through that,” he said. “I learned that I’m not a guy that does very well when I take that much time off. I feel like I was way behind when I got to spring training my first year, but you know, it’s just a learning experience.
“So last year, I started getting ready a little bit earlier and I felt like myself and then this year, even better — I started earlier and just kept my arm moving, not necessarily throwing more bullpens — so this year, I feel really great.”
Faedo’s workload as a junior at Florida gave the Tigers little choice in shutting him down — he threw 123 2/3 innings, including many high-leverage outs through the end of the College World Series in late June — and now, he’s appreciative they did, for how healthy he feels going into a potential stepping-stone season.
Faedo made three appearances with the Tigers this spring, allowing two runs on five hits in 3 1/3 innings. He struck out five batters and was pleased with one pitch in particular — his change-up — when speaking on March 12, a day before his scheduled appearance against the Yankees was postponed, along with the rest of spring training due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“There were some really good changes I threw last Saturday, which I was really excited about,” he said. “They’re still hard — I’m trying to slow them down — but last year was one of those things where I’d have a good game throwing change-ups and then when we look back on it, we’d be like, ‘Man, that’s kind of hard.’ ”
Faedo’s foremost goal this season is refining that change-up, which he felt took big strides in 2019, especially against lefty hitters.
“We want to slow it down so we can get more swing and misses,” he said. “More of a separation on my pitches.”
Faedo struck out plenty of batters last season — 10.5 per nine innings — and throws with deception in his delivery. Though some talent evaluators think his optimal role may be in relief, former SeaWolves manager Mike Rabelo — now the Pirates’ assistant hitting coach — sees him in a starting rotation for one simple reason.
“He’s going to give you innings, man,” Rabelo said. “He’s going to give you innings and that dude is not scared of contact. And I’ve said this forever — there’s a lot to be said about that.
“Because I’ve seen pitchers that, you know, they tip-toe around the strike zone and Alex is not going to do that. He’s going to come right at you and force contact. And he’s not scared of whoever’s in that box.”
Faedo, now 24, is a former first-round pick, too. He wasn’t taken at No. 1 overall like Mize, not even in the top 10 like Manning. An unspectacular first season from a first-rounder is a far less glamorous story than a ninth rounder coming out of nowhere like Skubal. And by the time he may firmly enter the conversation for a big-league call-up this year, the Tigers will likely have another shiny new toy to show off in the form of another No. 1 overall pick.
Once thought of as a potential fast-tracker before the Tigers’ rebuild began, Faedo now fills out the back of the organization’s top-10 prospects.
But he’s still here and could show up before any of the rest.
“I’m just trying to compete in the next game,” he said. “So, tomorrow, I get to pitch tomorrow. I’m going to try to put up some zeroes, but I don’t want to look that far into the future. I know that’s something everyone says, but I mean, there’s some guys that I guess can be talented enough to be like, ‘Hey, this is what I think I can be right now.’
“But I just want to focus on tomorrow and you know, just putting up zeroes when I’m in the ballgame.”