Prospect Garrett opening eyes out of 'pen

Righty taking advantage of fresh start this spring

March 5th, 2019

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Reed Garrett walked back into the Tigers' dugout after a dominant inning of relief Monday, having retired the established portion of the Cardinals' lineup in the game Detroit would win, 9-5. He found John Hicks, who caught his bullpen sessions back home in Virginia.

"After he came out," Hicks said, "[Garrett] said, '[Paul] DeJong's had my number my whole career.' And I was like, 'Well, if you throw 97 [mph] on the black inside, he ain't going to have your number anymore.'"

Garrett was a right-handed sinkerball-throwing starter struggling at Double-A in the Texas Rangers' farm system three years ago. But he was a hard-throwing reliever when the Tigers surprised many by selecting him in the Rule 5 Draft last December.

He's now one of the quiet bright spots at the Tigers' camp, and potentially the next good arm in the Detroit bullpen. What happened in between was a relative transformation that explains how the Tigers were able to snag him.

After Garrett posted a 4-9 record and 6.24 ERA as a swingman at three different levels in 2016, he changed things up. He straightened up his arm angle, moved to Dallas to work out with the Rangers' strength and training staff, and ate.

Boy, he did eat.

"It was crazy. I was making myself sick, I was eating so much," Garrett said. "My wife is really into nutrition, so she helped me kind of figure out the different nutrients and stuff that I needed to get. Along with her and the strength staff, they helped me figure everything out."

By his account, the 6-foot-2 Garrett ended the 2016 season at 185 pounds. By the time he reported to Spring Training in '17, he weighed in at 217.

After a rough turn in Double-A Frisco's rotation, he moved to the bullpen. And suddenly, things clicked.

"I was probably [throwing] 93-95 [mph] as a starter and still couldn't get through the second and third time in the lineup," Garrett said. "I moved to the bullpen at the beginning of May or whatever, and I finally settled into my role about June and July. From then on, I was a late-inning reliever. I didn't have to try to conserve anything and my velo went way up and I felt like I knew what I needed to do."

Garrett posted a 3.31 ERA, with 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a .235 opposing batting average out of the bullpen in 2017. He followed that up in '18 with a 2.04 ERA, 8.9 K/9 rate and 21 saves between Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock. The transition took.

"Every day coming to the ballpark as a reliever, you have to be ready to go," Garrett said. "And that works better for me, because it's not like I have four days before my start where you either have to dwell on it or figure out what you need to do. Now it's like, 'All right, I'm going to digest it, learn what I need to do and go for the next time.'"

After the Rangers left the former 16th-round Draft pick off their 40-man roster, the Tigers snatched him up, hoping for enough upside from the 26-year-old to develop him further.

One of Hicks' friends noticed the pick. Garrett grew up in Henrico, Va., and had mutual friends with Hicks. They exchanged numbers, Hicks offered to catch him.

Even since then, Hicks said, Garrett has improved.

"He's looked really good," Hicks said. "I've faced him in live [batting practice] and [his fastball] was 95-96 [mph], and then he threw me a split on the inside part of the plate at 90 [mph] that just fell off the table. And I said, 'That's the nastiest pitch I've ever seen.'"

Garrett has allowed two runs on four hits over four innings in four appearances this spring, walking two and striking out three. The question is whether he has shown enough for the Tigers to carry him in what is looking to be a cluttered bullpen.

The Tigers must carry Garrett on their 25-man roster for the season to retain his rights, or offer him back to the Rangers. Unlike outfielder Victor Reyes last year, the Tigers can more easily carry a reliever as a Rule 5 pick, since they can pick and choose their spots to use him. Detroit once carried three Rule 5 picks in the bullpen in 2003.

"It's cool to get a new look," Garrett said. "Obviously you're going through something where somebody wants you and is taking a chance on you. That's a really good feeling to know that somebody else out there believes in you and wants to give you a shot."