No pressure, Buck Farmer. Your only tasks Wednesday, when you make your major league debut for the Tigers against the Pirates, are:
• Help right the ship for a team with World Series expectations that is suddenly looking up in the American League Central standings to the Royals;
• Eat some innings for a pitching staff reeling from a 19-inning loss Sunday to the Blue Jays and a one-inning start by Justin Verlander on Monday;
• Provide some stability in a rotation that might lose Verlander (who's having an MRI exam on his shoulder) and Anibal Sanchez (on the disabled list with a pectoral muscle strain) in a five-day span;
• And do all of this in your third start above Class A, two-thirds of the way through your first full professional season.
Farmer, 23, may be the best-kept secret in the Tigers' system, which continues to produce more than was expected. He spent most of this season as part of a fairly loaded rotation at low Class A West Michigan. The Whitecaps' player-development contract with Detroit expires at season's end, and the Tigers want to keep the affiliate happy. Hence Farmer was part of a rotation that included four other college-draftee starters in lefthander Kevin Ziomek and righties Jonathon Crawford, Chad Green and Austin Kubitza.
Farmer had earned a promotion to Double-A Erie for his last two starts and was 11-5, 2.65 overall with 127 strikeouts and 28 walks in 116 overall innings. He'd thrown well in two starts for the Seawolves, tossing six innings and allowing two innings in each start. But the Eastern League is a pretty long way from the big leagues.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Farmer's durability was viewed as an asset in his amateur days at Georgia Tech, when he averaged just over 109 innings over his last three seasons. Ranked No. 92 on the BA 500 in his junior season in 2012, Farmer fell to the 15th round as he allowed 14 homers and worried some scouts with his arm action and mechanics. He was better as a senior and pitched his way into the fifth round, signing for $225,000.
Farmer has the fastball-slider combination to be an effective big league reliever, but his pitchability and fastball command will be tested as he jumps to the major leagues. However, Midwest League managers voted him as having the Best Control in our recent Best Tools survey.
He pitches with an above-average fastball, at times sitting 91-95 mph, at others sitting in the 89-92 range with more sink. He’s even touched as high as 97 mph this season. His slider was a plus pitch in college and has been more inconsistent and average as a pro. It's been good enough to impress MWL managers, though, who voted it the league's Best Breaking Pitch in our Best Tools survey. He's had some success with a sinking changeup as well, though it can be firm in the mid-80s.
Farmer mostly pitched off his fastball in the low minors, so he'll have to have his good slider against the Pirates, even with their lineup likely to be without injured starters Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker. He also has made a point of using his changeup regularly in recent starts.
What To Expect
Farmer can't be expected to singlehanded salvage the listing Tigers, who have lost three straight and six of their past eight to fall behind the surging Royals. But the Tigers have few other internal options and are hoping Farmer can fulfill his back-of-the-rotation projection sooner than later. His promotion to Double-A already had indicated the Tigers saw him as closer to the majors than his peers at West Michigan; his promotion for Wednesday's start is an unexpected vote of confidence.
If Farmer can provide the Tigers five or six innings in his first start, general manager Dave Dombrowski will have to consider his start a success. Farmer isn't likely to stay in the rotation any longer than he has to, but if he pitches well, a September stint in the big league bullpen could follow.