Detroit Tigers: Fifth Starter Watch, First Edition

Jay Wierenga@@JayWierengaCorrespondent IMarch 1, 2012

DETROIT - SEPTEMBER 01: Jacob Turner #50 of the Detroit Tigers pitches in the first inning against Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park on September 1, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. The Royals defeated the Tigers 11-8.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

It is finally March, and for those of us that have been eagerly awaiting the start of the MLB season, that means that baseball is finally here!

For Detroit Tigers fans, the anticipation has been almost unbearable.

Last year, the Tigers were only a couple of games away from the World Series.

And although we were initially hit by a freak injury to second-best hitter Victor Martinez, the front office more than made it up to us with the signing of prodigal son Prince Fielder.

There are lots of questions surrounding this year's team. Will Brandon Inge win the second-base job, can Miguel Cabrera play third base effectively, will the top of the rotation be as dominant as they were last year?

But to me, the most interesting question surrounds the final rotation spot.

What makes this such an interesting question is that it can be tangibly measured by us as fans. We will have a chance to watch plenty of the footage during the spring, but more than that we can actually see their progress in the box scores.

We will have a front row seat in what has been declared an open competition.

For the next four weeks, I will be exploring this competition with breakdowns of all of the contenders.

First, here are said contenders.

Jacob Turner, RHP, 20

The odd-on favorite to win the job, Turner is, without a doubt, the most highly touted of the group.

He has very good stuff, which includes a very good four-seam fastball that reaches the mid-90s.

He also has a good curve ball that doesn't exactly break 12-6, but it does have good velocity and movement.

His two-seam fastball is still a work in progress, but his change-up shows potential.

The real wild card in his arsenal is a new slider he is working on in order to keep right-handers honest.

Turner needs to throw strikes, plain and simple. Given the success that Rick Porcello had after getting brought up at the same age, it shows that the Tigers will give him the gig if he performs.

Duane Below, LHP, 26

Below was a pleasant surprise for the Tigers last year.

He provided a very solid left handed pitching option for long relief, and also got a few spot starts.

Below is your typical left-handed soft-tosser.

He needs to have pin point control with his fastball in order to make his curve and change-up effective.

He will never blow anyone away with his velocity, but the history of baseball is littered with successful pitchers that couldn't light up the radar guns.

Below has two things going for him right now. One, the Tigers really would like to have a lefty in the starting rotation.Two, he already showed that he can play at this level.

Adam Wilk, LHP, 24

Wilk, like Below, is not going to blow you away with his fastball.

In fact, Wilk tosses a little softer.

But he makes up for it with amazing control and the ability to throw a number of different pitches to different locations.

Wilk also has value as a reliever, and if he doesn't win the competition he will still probably make the team.

Casey Crosby, LHP, 23

Crosby is the exact opposite of Wilk and Below despite throwing from the same side of the mound.

Crosby has a big arm, capable of hitting the mid to high 90s with his four-seam fastball.

However, his other pitches have been very inconsistent over the last couple years, something that could really hurt his chances at the next level.

Personally, I want to see more from Crosby before I get behind him as a candidate.

Power left-handers are interesting, but few have panned out for Detroit. Remember Wilfredo Ledezma? How about Andrew Miller?

But I certainly will be pulling for Crosby.

Andy Oliver, LHP, 24

Oliver has had a rough run over the last couple years.

He was a high draft pick in 2009, and was put on the fast track for Detroit.

Despite a solid start, he has largely regressed, and a player that looked like a lock for the rotation only two years ago, appears to be a long shot to make this year's roster.

He has a strong arm, and while he isn't quite on Crosby's level speed-wise, he has good stuff.

But he just can't find the strike zone, and until he does, he will be on the outside looking in.

Drew Smyly, LHP, 22

Some people already consider Smyly to be the favorite, and it is easy to see why.

He has a nice blend of speed and technique, with what I hear is the makings of a nice cutter.

If southpaws like Below and Wilk are soft tossers and Crosby and Oliver are burners, Smyly fits nicely right in between.

He doesn't have a lot of experience, but he just might be the dark horse in this group.


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