The next Big Three: Detroit’s Fulmer, Norris & Boyd

Michael Fulmer,

Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd form the youthful core of the Tiger rotation.

Allow me a bit of premature excitement.

My Detroit Tigers have three young pitchers who could form the best trio the franchise has had in their rotation in a long, long time. Currently they are the envy of almost every team in baseball, and one of them is most likely to win the Rookie of the Year Award and might even get serious consideration for the Cy Young Award.

Furthermore, in a few years, maybe even as soon as 2017, the three may receive the ultimate respect afforded to young pitching teammates: the group name. “Fulmer, Norris & Boyd” could follow in the footsteps of “Hudson, Mulder & Zito” and “Prior, Wood & Zambrano” or (going way back to the 1980s), “Gooden, Cone & Fernandez.”

Now, of course this trio is still very green. They have, at this writing, combined for fewer than 90 starts in the big leagues. But…so far so good. And to think, a year ago they all belonged to other teams. Thanks Dave Dombrowski.

Fulmer, Norris & Boyd

23-year old Micheal Fulmer is the prized pitcher of the trio, at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work out. Fulmer was acquired from the New York Mets in the deal that sent Yoenis Cespedes to that team at the trade deadline in 2015. The Mets have great young pitching of their own, much of it at the big league level, but also more in their farm system. Fulmer sort of got mixed up in that, and with so many other fine young pitchers in Mets’ uniforms, he was included in a list of players submitted to the Tigers as they negotiated that deal last summer. Dombrowski astutely plucked him from that list of prospects and now the big righthander from Oklahoma City is angling for rookie honors, flirting with leading the AL in ERA, something no Tiger pitcher has done since Mark Fidrych exactly 40 years ago. At times, Fulmer, who looks like a big cuddly bear, has been nearly unhittable. In five of his starts he’s allowed three hits or fewer. He has the most electric fastball of the three young hurlers and he has the ability to overpower enemy batters. He’s close to being a legit ace right now and the Tigers are taking precaution with the big guy, limiting his innings by skipping his spot in the rotation now and then.

The bearded misfit Daniel Norris is a former Toronto prospect who was acquired in the David Price trade. Before coming to Detroit, Norris was known as “the van guy” because he lived in his van during spring training with the Blue Jays. Norris is one of those guys who gets labeled as being “odd” because he sees the world differently. The 23-year old is a renaissance man (not unlike Barry Zito of Hudson/Mulder/Zito fame in Oakland — also a southpaw) who doesn’t care about fame or money. He loves baseball and he prefers the simple life, but he’s also intensely competitive and a great athlete. In his first big league at-bat last season he socked a home run at Wrigley Field. Ever the original, Norris still has that van, prefers to wear blue jeans and plaid shirts, and he’s admitted to shaving his beard with an axe. Fidrych would have loved this guy. You can imagine Norris and The Bird sitting around a campfire pounding Budweiser and talking about the art of pitching, or maybe rock music.

Southpaw Boyd also came from the Jays in the Price deal. He’s the oldest of the three pitchers, at 25. He’s from the west coast, Washington to be exact, and he loves the outdoors. Boyd is the softest tosser of the three, relying heavily on his excellent slider, which Cole Hamels called “devastating.” Boyd has been compared to Cliff Lee, who wasn’t too shabby.  Most Tiger fans probably know a lot less about Boyd, who wasn’t originally in the rotation when the 2016 season started. But with his success the last four weeks, it doesn’t seem as if Boyd is going anywhere.

Three young pitchers, each under the age of 26, each acquired by outgoing GM Dave Dombrowski, each already making an impact for the Tigers as they chase a playoff spot in 2016. In this case, those deals might prove to be the gift that keeps on giving.

Other great young Tiger pitching trios

When have the Tigers have three young pitchers like this at the same time? It’s been a long time. You’d have to go back to just before World War II, when Dizzy Trout, Hal Newhouser, and Virgil Trucks were all coming through the Detroit farm system and making their way into the Tiger rotation. World conflict kept them from being in the rotation together however until after WWII, but when they teamed up they were formidable, earning the nickname “TNT.”

A good comparison may be the trio that arrived in Detroit in the mid-1950s: Jim Bunning, Frank Lary, and Paul Foytack. Righthanders all, that trio combined to win 322 games in their eight years together from 1956-63. But that trio didn’t arrive at exactly the same time.

No, there hasn’t been this much buzz about a young Detroit starting rotation in decades, if ever. Some experts are pointing to the three as an example of how an established team can quickly retool their core through clever trades. And teams are paying attention to the talented threesome. Earlier this season when Detroit GM Al Avila inquired about New York’s Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees wanted Fulmer and Norris in return.

The Tigers have control of those three young arms until 2022, giving them a lot of time to build around these starting pitchers. Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann can serve as elder statesmen, tutoring the young trio as they mature at the big league level, but eventually, perhaps soon, the trio may get marquee status on the team.

The time may come when we speak of the Detroit rotation as “Fulmer, Norris & Boyd, and then a void…”