Furbush aims to continue rise into Tigers' staff
After skyrocketing through Minors, shot at bigs on tap in spring
DETROIT -- Charlie Furbush rocketed through the Tigers' farm system last year, all the way from Class A ball to Triple-A Toledo. Could he top it in Spring Training by making the jump to the big leagues?
The Tigers aren't ruling it out. Instead, they're ready to give the left-hander a chance to prove himself.
"I think he's a guy that has a chance to come to camp and battle for a spot on our staff," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said at last week's Winter Meetings. "[That] might be pushing him a little bit, but he's got good stuff."
For someone who has flown under the radar among the deep ranks of Tigers pitching prospects, it's quite a statement. But Furbush's 2010 season opened that many eyes.
While the Tigers have stockpiled pitching talent through the First-Year Player Draft in recent years, including current top prospects Jacob Turner and Andy Oliver from the 2009 Draft, Furbush has never been lumped among them. He has never ranked among the organization's top 20 prospects, according to Baseball America, though that could change this offseason after his success last season. Though he was a fourth-round pick in the same '07 Draft that produced Rick Porcello, his highest ranking was 21st the next winter after a 6-1 stretch in the Gulf Coast League and Class A West Michigan.
Furbush lost the 2008 season to an elbow injury that eventually led to surgery, then came back with an underrated campaign at Class A Lakeland despite a 6-7 record and 3.96 ERA.
The Tigers had him return to Lakeland for the start of 2010. He wasn't there long.
Again, Furbush finished just under .500 at Lakeland, but his pure pitching numbers were stellar, from a 3.39 ERA to 109 strikeouts over 77 innings. Ninety of those strikeouts came in his first 10 starts for the Flying Tigers. That earned him a midseason promotion to Double-A Erie, a move which was not at all a surprise.
"While I was working my way back, I had to learn to settle for just being as good as I could be on that day," Furbush told MiLB.com at the time. "But this season, I'm back to full go, and it feels good. I'm letting the leash go and showing them what I've got."
Furbush stepped up to the Eastern League and treated it much the same. He lasted seven innings in three of his five SeaWolves starts, pitched six innings in each of the other two, struck out 37 batters over his 33 1/3 innings and overcame five home runs to avoid the pitfalls of facing more experienced hitters.
With the Mud Hens in dire need of pitching depth in the season's home stretch and Furbush far from overwhelmed at age 24, the lefty got another promotion in August. That was a bit more of an awakening, with a 6.29 ERA and nine home runs allowed over nine Hens starts, but he still had his moments. And he still made an impression on then-manager Larry Parrish, who likes his deceptiveness and his pitchability.
"He had a real fine year for us last year," Dombrowski said. "He was out some before that, and he really bounced back and was dominating in A-ball for us and Double-A, and then [he] moved up the ladder. He continued to pitch well. He was second in professional baseball in strikeouts last year at the Minor League level.
"He has a solid breaking ball and a changeup. His fastball moves above-average. He's got a feel on the mound. We like him."
It was far from a case of overpowering hitters. Furbush's fastball sits a little above 90 mph, topping out slightly above that. But he throws it from a 6-foot-5 frame that gives hitters a tough time recognizing the pitch as the ball comes out of his hand.
"I don't know exactly what it is that I do, but everyone has always told me it's hard to pick up the ball out of my hand," Furbush said. "It's nothing I do on purpose; it's just the way I throw."
It's the kind of deceptiveness that some in the organization believe lends well to relief. And in an organization that has plenty of starting candidates but far less depth in lefty relief, it might be his best way to get to Detroit.
"That's something we still have to talk about, but I mean, we've never been against [taking] young pitchers," Dombrowski said. "And he's not 19. Furbush is 24, 25. If we got to Spring Training and our best club is with him in the bullpen and [manager Jim Leyland] wanted to take him, I'd say, 'Go take him.'
"Those are conversations we still have to have, but we've never been against that."