For the second year in a row, the question of who the Tigers' fifth starter will be is a pressing issue in the minds of all serious tigers fans. As it stands right now, there are six youngins who could make the starting spot. Let's take a look at each of them, and we'll reveal who we think should get the top spot!
1. Jacob Turner
Probably the most well-known name on the list, Jake is also the youngest player that could make the starting rotation. He is known as the top prospect in the Tiger's minor league system and one of the top 30 prospects in the entire minor league. However, in the three games that Turner started in the bigs last year for the Tigers, he was kind of a failure. He got one loss, but had an ERA of 8.53. Granted, last year he was just a baby, but he'll still be very young this year too. We think he should probably stay in the minors for at least the first half of the season to build up his confidence before coming up to the majors again. To have the starting job after having a few shaky outings last year probably wouldn't do good things for Turner, and it definitely wouldn't do good things for the Tiger's win/loss ratio.
2. Drew Smyly
Smyly has a lot of things going for him, including the fact that his last name is "smiley." The tall kid from Arkansas played well with the Seawolves last year, starting in 7 games and finishing with an ERA of 1.18. He's also a lefty, which would add balance to the starting five. (Max Scherzer is the only southpaw.) The negatives for Smyly are that he's never played in the Big Leagues before, which is a serious concern, as we really can't trust him with a starting job if he's never faced Major League bats. Also, although Turner may be the youngest, Smyly will only be 23 at the beginning of the season, so he's just a Tiger cub as well. We see him more in relief this year, and maybe coming up in the latter half of the season if serious problems occur with our chosen starter.
3. Andy Oliver
We say "no" to Andy, but we understand why he has his fans. He has been the most "tested" candidate, starting 26 games in the minor leagues and appearing in two games in the majors with one start. This is a plus, because he's used to the pressure of being a starting pitcher. However, he hasn't exactly been the most reliable pitcher, sporting a 4.71 ERA in the Toledo and a 6.52 ERA in his two appearances with the Tigers. Experience means nothing if you can't execute, and we're not so certain Andy is big league material, as much as we hate to say it. If he performs well in Lakeland this Spring, then good for him, but the three of us are thinking that 2012 is not his year.
4. Casey Crosby
In our opinion, kind of a long shot. The tall 24-year-old from Illinois is about as seasoned as Oliver, starting 25 games on the Seawolves with a 4.10 ERA. However, everything Oliver has done, Crosby has done a little worse... he played in AA instead of AAA, and although his average is a little better, he may not have faced the bats Oliver did. Also, Crosby has never seen the bigs, and unless you're phenomenal (a la Rick Porcello) it's very hard to trust a young kid with a starting position without ever testing him at the Major League level first. The same goes for Crosby as did for Oliver. If he does well, great, but he probably won't be starting this year.
5. Adam Wilk
Adam played five games in the bigs last year in relief, but we don't remember it too well. Maybe that's a good thing, because after he left we weren't screaming in pain and frustration. He had a 5.24 ERA in the majors, which isn't great, but it's better than the guys we've listed before him. Also, in the minors, he started 18 games and had an ERA of less than 3.30. We still think Wilk is a long shot, but expect to see him in the relief rotation at least sometime this year.
6. Duane Below
Michigan's Pride Duane Below is our choice for the starting gig. Duane has proven himself the most out of all the candidates, he's a lefty, and he's the only one of the candidates older than 25. Age shouldn't matter that much, but with it comes maturity and composure, age helps (sometimes), and, as we all know, that's super important on the mound. He started 18 games in Toledo and had a 3.13 ERA, and he played in 14 games in the big leagues (starting 2) with an ERA of 4.34. He had a record of 0-2, but don't let that fool you. Below came into some games in dire circumstances and showed incredibly composure for a minor leaguer. He played in some pretty tight games and often came through for the team. We remember being very impressed by his performance in the major league. If he can perform in Spring Training, we think Below will get the job over the more high-profile turner.
Actually, Leyland will probably just shuffle them around all year like he does with his batting lineup, so we don't know why we're thinking so hard about this stuff anyway. Whatever the case, it's sure to be an interesting off-season as these six pitchers battle for that starting spot!