Prospect Wentz's comeback year ends early

September 16th, 2021

Tigers pitching prospect ’s first season back from Tommy John surgery is over, a week earlier than his team. The big left-hander will not pitch in the final week of Double-A Erie’s season, which ends on Sunday.

The 23-year-old southpaw isn’t injured, but fatigue and innings led the Tigers to shut him down one start early.

“Joey’s had a complete season for him,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said Thursday. “Joey had done everything we asked him to do. We do think fatigue had set in a little bit, as we expected, so we proactively ended his season without the last start.”

Thus, Wentz’s first full season in the Tigers' system ends with 18 starts and 72 innings between Low-A Lakeland and Erie, where he showed the typical ebbs and flows of a pitcher coming back from reconstructive elbow surgery. While he walked 41 batters, a rate of 4.1 walks per nine innings that’s a full walk over his career rate, he also showed flashes of why he was a Top 10 prospect in a pitching-loaded system before dropping to 13th on the Tigers' prospect rankings, per MLB Pipeline.

Wentz didn’t top five innings or 85 pitches in any of his starts due to restrictions. That gave him the incentive to be efficient, but for a pitcher who thrived on command and movement more than velocity, it wasn’t that simple. Three times, he threw four-plus scoreless innings with one hit allowed, including twice at Double-A with six strikeouts over 63 pitches in each outing. However, he walked four batters in one outing and three in another, running his pitch count up to 79 pitches each time.

Wentz tied a season high with seven strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings of two-hit ball in his next-to-last start for Erie on Aug. 31. A week later, he allowed two runs on four hits over 4 1/3 innings at Altoona, walking one and striking out three.

The sum effort should put Wentz, acquired two years ago from Atlanta in the Shane Greene trade, in position to vie for a call to Detroit and a big league debut at some point next season. In fact, he could be a big part of Detroit’s pitching depth next year with out for most if not all of next season and ’s future uncertain while he gathers medical opinions on his sore elbow. Fellow prospect Alex Faedo will also be working back from Tommy John surgery next year after undergoing the procedure in December 2020.

Wentz will be in Major League camp as a member of the 40-man roster.

Double-A manager to join Tigers staff
Though smaller rosters limited September callups this season, there’s one more promotion to come from Double-A Erie. SeaWolves manager and longtime Minor League skipper Arnie Beyeler will join the Tigers' staff as an extra coach for the final couple of weeks after Erie’s season ends.

Teams are allowed one extra coach for September under current rules. In past years, Triple-A coaches would get promotions, but with the Triple-A season running as long as the Major League schedule this year, Mud Hens manager Tom Prince and his staff will be busy.

Manning trusts Garneau
Rookie starter worked with catching prospect from Double-A Erie in 2018 and ’19 to the alternate site in Toledo last year and at Triple-A early this season. But with Rogers out, the young right-hander has developed a rapport with veteran backup , 11 years his elder.

They were teammates in Toledo this year during Manning’s early-season struggles with the Mud Hens. Through three starts together in Detroit, Garneau has brought out some of Manning’s stingiest pitching. Opponents are batting .208 (11-for-53) with no home runs, seven walks and 14 strikeouts during those outings, including six innings of two-hit, one-run ball against the Brewers on Wednesday.

Manning said he only shook off one of Garneau’s pitch calls, then went with whatever he called the rest of the way after that shake resulted in a hit.

“He’s very experienced. I love throwing to him,” Manning said. “I feel we have a good relationship building, and I feel very comfortable when he’s leading the way.”

Garneau was behind the plate for Manning’s previous start in Pittsburgh, where Manning had three strong innings before a comebacker off his left knee ended his outing early. The two tried to build off that outing Wednesday.

“When he establishes his zone, establishes his fastball, man, he’s going to be tough to hit,” Garneau said. “I think he’s starting to realize how good he actually can be.”

That said, Manning has had better secondary pitches his last couple of starts, including a more effective curveball.

“The kid has unbelievable stuff,” Garneau said. “And once he starts believing in himself and the confidence that you see after that, it just steamrolled for him, and that got us going.”