Spot start for Tigers prospect gives teams a look

The Tigers pulled a surprise move by tabbing prospect Drew VerHagen over Robbie Ray to start the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against Cleveland. For VerHagen, it’ll mark his Major League debut barely two years after the Tigers drafted him out of Vanderbilt. For scouts, it’ll be a chance to see just how close one of Detroit’s most appealing pitching prospects is to Major League ready.

While former Tigers top pick Jake Thompson has generated more buzz on his way up the system, including a mention in the Astros trade talk memos from last summer, VerHagen has built a resume on a relatively fast track up the organizational ladder. He’s a groundball pitcher rather than a strikeout artist, but his ability to keep the ball in the park — just nine home runs allowed in 237 2/3 innings over the last two seasons — compares favorably to Thompson.

“Good sinker, poised and competes, works easy and sneaky,” one AL talent evaluator summarized.

The Tigers have more intriguing pitching prospects at their lower levels, but for teams seeking a pitcher who can make the jump relatively quickly, VerHagen could be an option.

It would not be the first time a Tigers prospect has gone from starting in Detroit to being traded out of Detroit in the same month. Jacob Turner made two turns through the rotation in July 2012 before the Tigers traded him in a package to the Marlins for Anibal Sanchez. Charlie Furbush made a pair of early July starts for the Tigers in 2011 before being dealt to Seattle in the package for Doug Fister.

To call Saturday a showcase start might be overstating it. With Robbie Ray struggling, VerHagen was the best option the Tigers had, though they could have called up Kyle Lobstein to do the same thing. Still, even if it’s a secondary reason, it’s an opportunity for teams to get a look.

Jason Beck

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