DETROIT — The Tigers’ quest to build a World Series contender on the strength of their young pitching now includes a College World Series-caliber pitching coach. Chris Fetter, who helped lead the University of Michigan to the College World Series title series in 2019, will become new manager A.J. Hinch’s
DETROIT — The Tigers’ quest to build a World Series contender on the strength of their young pitching now includes a College World Series-caliber pitching coach. Chris Fetter, who helped lead the University of Michigan to the College World Series title series in 2019, will become new manager A.J. Hinch’s pitching coach, sources told MLB.com.
MLB.com’s Jon Morosi first reported the hire Friday morning. The Tigers will also promote Juan Nieves from Triple-A Toledo to serve as assistant pitching coach, according to a source, as first reported by The Athletic. The Tigers have not confirmed either move.
Fetter could be the most important hire of Hinch’s coaching staff as he tries to lead Detroit back into contention. The Tigers have the makings of a potentially dominant rotation, with three of the top 42 prospects on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list. Casey Mize (No. 5) and Tarik Skubal (No. 42) made their Major League debuts this summer and ended the season in Detroit’s rotation. Matt Manning (No. 20) is expected to make the jump at some point next season along with former first-round pick Alex Faedo; both were shut down late this season with forearm tightness.
Veteran pitching coach Rick Anderson guided Mize and Skubal into the Majors this summer and coached all of them in Spring Training, having served as the Tigers’ pitching coach the previous two and a half seasons under Ron Gardenhire. Fetter will now be tasked with helping them take the next step.
The Tigers are the latest team to turn to the college ranks for a pitching coach. The Twins became the first Major League team to hire a pitching coach directly from college when they hired Wes Johnson from the University of Arkansas two years ago. The Tigers tapped into the college pipeline a year ago when they hired former USC head coach Dan Hubbs as their director of pitching development.
College baseball, Hubbs explained last Spring Training, has long focused on getting more out of current talent rather than simply acquiring the best talent. That put major college programs on the forefront of pitching analytics and technology, such as Rapsodo machines and high-speed cameras.
“Before, it was two diametrically opposite games,” Hubbs said of the pro and college games during an interview in February. “The knock on college was that they’re always trying to reinvent the wheel. And now pro ball is becoming that, where now it’s more progressive. It’s more [about], ‘What can we do to make every single guy better?’”
That approach also apparently appealed to Fetter. Hinch didn’t confirm the hires during his previously scheduled segment on MLB Network’s Hot Stove show Friday morning, but explained the thought process.
“I believe in creative hirings,” Hinch told MLB Network. “I believe in trying to pair people up and trying to advance us. We have to get the pitching right in Detroit. When you look at the pitching depth of prospects and the development that needs to happen at the Major League level, it’s going to determine what the next three, five, seven years of Tigers baseball looks like. That pitching is the No. 1 priority for me.”
Fetter has been a coveted coach the last couple offseasons after his success in the same role at Michigan. The Yankees interviewed him for their pitching-coach position last offseason. The White Sox were interested in adding him to Tony La Russa’s staff in Chicago, according to Morosi.
The Tigers offered not only the opportunity to work with a bevy of talented pitchers, but to do it within commuting distance from his home in Ann Arbor, Mich.. Fetter has spent the past three years at his alma mater after serving as the Dodgers’ pitching coordinator prior to that.
Fetter also has a history with Hinch, having pitched in the Padres’ organization from 2009-12. Hinch was in San Diego’s front office as assistant general manager and scouting director from ‘11-14. Tigers assistant GM Scott Bream was a Padres scout and special assistant in ‘11-12.
The Tigers are also joining the trend of hiring an assistant pitching coach rather than a bullpen coach, a reflection of the increased duties and shared responsibilities that often go on now. In that sense, Nieves’ pro experience complements Fetter’s resume. Nieves has been a Major League pitching coach in Boston (2013-15) and Miami (‘16-18) before serving as the Mud Hens’ pitching coach last year. With the Minor League season cancelled by the COVID pandemic, Nieves returned to Toledo this summer to coach at the alternate training site, where he worked with all four aforementioned Tigers pitching prospects.