LAKELAND — “I know he’s on the back fields.”
That’s what every other person told me when I told them I was looking for Alex Faedo, the former Alonso High and University of Florida pitching star.
On the big field, Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, the big club, the Detroit Tigers, prepared to play the St. Louis Cardinals in a spring training game. On the back fields, practice for Detroit’s minor leaguers was more than an hour away. The Show is further away than that.
“I’m fine with that,” Faedo said. “This is my show right now.”
Faedo, 23, is beginning his second season as a professional, and, as with last season, the 6-foot-5 righthander will begin in the minors, probably Double-A ball. He is riding the learning curve, listening to coaches, nodding.
This is no Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh. No Crash Davis needed to reel in Faedo. Faedo comes reeled in, low key, as he always was in Gainesville, where he helped the Gators win the 2017 national championship and was named Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series.
“He’s got everything in check all the time,’ said his father, Landy, who coached his son at Alonso. “That’s just him.”
After Faedo was picked 18th overall in the 2017 draft, after he banked a $3.5 million signing bonus, and after the Tigers shut him down given his college workload, Faedo headed for high-A ball in Lakeland last season, then jumped to Double-A Erie (Pa.), going a combined 5-10 with a 4.02 ERA across 121 innings.
“I’m going to do whatever the front office tells me,” Faedo said, sitting at a picnic table near the minor-league clubhouse. “The only thing I can control is the effort I bring.”
He hasn’t splurged much with that bonus, though he bought himself a condo in Tampa. He commutes to spring training.
“It’s a nice place on Harbour Island,” Faedo said. “It’s more of an investment. The property value is doing really well.”
It’s too soon to assess Detroit’s investment in Faedo. There is no right or wrong way or clock to reach the major leagues. It was noted that Faedo’s velocity was down last season, from his mid-90s fastballs at Florida. And that he gave up 15 homers in 60 innings at Double-A, where he was 3-6 with a 5.55 ERA. One baseball magazine lists Faedo as the 10th best prospect in Detroit’s system.
“He gave up some long balls, but he did some nice things,” said A.J. Sager, the roving pitching instructor for the Tigers. “Double-A is a tough league, especially for someone two, three months into his professional career.”
“I didn’t miss any starts,” said Faedo, who made 24 of them. “I was reliable for my team every five days. I feel like I’m in a pretty good spot. I don’t think there are too many people who finish their first season in Double-A.”
Faedo has worked three scoreless innings this spring. He is healthy. And that’s what matters at this point, forget the majors, forget Triple-A, at least for now.
“I don’t even look at the numbers,” Faedo said of his velocity. “I’m not worried about giving up home runs. If you look at the Eastern League, it’s a hitters’ league with small parks. This is just about trying to get better as a pitcher.”
“He’s a bright kid with good self-awareness, A-plus makeup,” Sager said. “He seemed to take the right things out of his outings, the good and the bad. After the homers, he kept throwing strikes. Sometimes, when you’re young, when you give up homers, you stop throwing it over. We didn’t see that with him. He has a fastball, slide, change-up – and there’s belief. He has belief in his stuff. That goes a long way.”
The slight buzz in Tigers camp this spring is for right-hander Casey Mize, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. Mize, who starred at Auburn, signed for $7.5 million, is in Detroit’s big-league camp, separate clubhouse, separate world. Faedo knows him from SEC baseball.
“He’s one of my better friends,” Faedo said. “I was in big league camp last year like Casey. We don’t compare each other. We help each other.”
They all have the same goal. There’s no rush, Faedo said.
“I try not to get ahead of things. I guess even keel works right now.”
Faedo helps all the first-year players he can. They swap college stories, but not for long.
“This is a new journey,” he said.
In June 2017, he appeared at Comerica Park in Detroit after he signed. He liked what he saw in that big outfield.
“It’s a pitcher’s park,” Faedo said. “Yeah, I’d like to get there. Who wouldn’t? I don’t know anyone who is still playing baseball at this age who doesn’t have that dream.”
On the big field, The Tigers and Cardinals warmed up. Around the same time, players floated onto the back fields. More practice.
Contact Martin Fennelly at email@example.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly