Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 4/1/12

The Detroit Tigers gave the 5th starter job to Drew Smyly, sending a message that it’s not about minor league options and roster manipulation; it’s about putting the best baseball team on the field in 2012.

Indeed, the promotion of Smyly is merely the latest in a long run of decision made by the Tigers’ front office that puts a premium on production, and the hopes of an eventual World Series championship.

Drew Smyly

Last winter the Tigers gave 3 years and $16M to Joaquin Benoit to be a setup man. That just isn’t done. The early returns have been favorable on that move. GM Dave Dombrowski shook the 2011 offseason notions of adding an Adam Dunn, Carl Crawford, or Jayson Werth, and instead nabbed their man in Victor Martinez.

When Victor Martinez went down with a torn ACL this offseason, Owner Mike Ilitch opened up the wallet and pulled in Prince Fielder for 9 years and $214M. Nothing will stand in Ilitch’s way.

The roller coaster and highly drafted player known as Ryan Perry was traded away for Colin Balester this winter. Perry already finds himself in the Washington Nationals’ minor league system while Balester will break camp as the Tigers’ primary long reliever.

Public perception existed at the start of the offseason that the 5th starter job was Jacob Turner’s to lose. Well, he lost it, and the Tigers didn’t fight it. Andy Oliver showed a spark and unexpected ability to command the strike zone that has long been missing. But once he became the frontrunner in the race he lost his way, started walking batters like usual, and is once again in AAA.

The battle eventually wore down to two candidates, Duane Below and Drew Smyly. Below spent significant time with the Tigers last summer and held up well. Given his more seasoned resume it seemed as though he might get the nod over Smyly, who had minor league options to burn.

Some will say that Smyly got the gig because the rest of the contenders couldn’t get the job done. Perhaps that is cutting the 22-year old short. Smyly pitches with poise and was the only man who took his shot and ran with it.

Bringing the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year into the mix officially takes Rick Porcello off the hook as the youngest pitcher on the team. Don’t be surprised if Smyly outperforms him though.

The most comprehensive ranking of mlb prospects is mlb.com’s top 100. Drew Smyly checked in this season at #82 while Turner was ranked 15th. Here is the scouting report mlb.com put forth:

Smyly is the prototypical advanced college lefty, one who relies on pitchability more than pure stuff. He has a four-pitch mix — fastball, cutter, curve and changeup — all of which are at least Major League average. He throws a lot of strikes and has a good amount of deception, keeping hitters off-balance well. If he can stay healthy — he has some injury history — he’s a fast-tracker who should be ready sooner rather than later.

Well, they nailed the ‘fast-tracker’ part. The thing that sets Smyly apart from Porcello is his ability to strike batters out. He punched out 130 in 126 innings between A and AA ball in 2011 while only walking 36. Smyly will make one start for AAA Toledo as the Tigers won’t need a 5th starter until April 12th in a home game against Tampa Bay, which will be the rookie’s major league debut.

It is that ability to consistently throw strikes that truly separated him from the pack. Jim Leyland and Dombrowski covet power arms like Oliver and Turner, but they also realize that pounding the strike zone is truly invaluable. They have their main in Smyly.

In a season of legitimate hope like this one has become, Tigers fans should take great comfort in knowing that the team is favoring results over contracts and value over hype.

One of the last roster decisions to be made involves the fate of longtime fan favorite Brandon Inge. Do you really think the Tigers are going to let his $6M salary stand in the way of doing the right thing?

Just ask Drew Smyly.

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