Prospect of the Day: Michael Fiers, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers turned to rookie Michael Fiers on Tuesday to fill a hole in the starting rotation. Fiers responded with seven strong innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers, allowing one run on five hits, walking nobody while fanning three. Fiers is an under-the-radar prospect, but his performance record is excellent and he deserves more chances to show what he can do.
Fiers was a very successful pitcher at Nova Southeastern University in Florida: he went 10-3, 2.65 ERA with a spectacular 145/19 K/BB ratio in 109 innings in 2009, leading NCAA Division II in strikeouts. Despite the gaudy numbers, he was just a 22nd round pick as an old college senior (already 23 on draft day). His bonus was more symbolic than substantial at $2,500.
He began his pro career as a roster-filler in the Pioneer League, but was so outstanding that he finished the summer in the Florida State League, posting a 1.33 ERA with a 59/5 K/BB in his first 41 pro innings. Fiers began 2010 with a return to Brevard County and continued to pitch well, posting a 3.47 ERA with a 94/23 K/BB in 93 innings. Promoted to Double-A in late July, he had no problems against faster competition with a 3.69 ERA and a 36/9 K/BB in 32 innings.
Fiers opened 2011 in the Huntsville bullpen, but moved to the starting rotation in June and continued to dominate, earning his way to Triple-A in early July. There, he shut down the difficult Pacific Coast League with an unreal 8-0, 1.11 mark in 65 innings for Nashville. He saw two innings of work with the Brewers last September. Overall, Fiers went 13-3, 1.86 with a 132/36 K/BB in 126 innings last season, with just 83 hits allowed.
In 347 career minor league innings, Fiers has a 2.80 ERA with a 370/91 K/BB and just 262 hits allowed.
So, with such a terrific performance record, why haven't you heard of this guy?
Fiers is a 6-3, 195 pound right-hander, born June 15, 1985. As you may surmise, he doesn't throw hard, especially for a right-hander, topping out at 92 MPH but working more frequently in the 86-89 range. The fastball plays up, however, thanks to a deceptive over-the-top delivery. He also has a diverse arsenal of secondary pitches, including a very impressive changeup, an effective slow curve, and an adequate slider. He mixes his pitches effectively and has a good feel for his craft.
Scouts have generally seen him as a utility pitcher, a back-end-of-the-bullpen type. However, Fiers has successfully resisted all attempts to confine him to relief, and it is hard to argue with the results. His lack of plus velocity gives him little margin for error, but so far he's made it work. He could end up being a useful inning-eating starter, at least in the short run (perhaps similar to Josh Collmenter last year) but even if he shifts to the bullpen, Fiers has already proven to be a great return on a $2,500 investment.
For historical interest, here are my game notes from seeing Fiers pitch in Triple-A, once in August 2011 and another in April 2012.
Fiers is an older prospect at age 26. He has a pronounced over-the-top delivery. His fastball is average at 88-92 MPH, but it has unusual movement. He mixes in an average, at times flat, slider in the low-80s, along with a mid-70s slow curve. He has an outstanding changeup with tailing action in the mid-upper-70s. All four pitchers are delivered from exactly the same angle and tempo, making his stuff play up.
Fiers was having trouble with his location in Sunday's game against Omaha. Although he fanned three and allowed just one unearned run in 5.2 innings with two hits, he walked four men. However, he worked out of the jams, and overall I saw enough positive stuff out of him that I think he can contribute in the majors as a fifth starter or long relief type
April 28, 2012:
Starting pitcher Michael Fiers looked very similar against Iowa compare to last year when I saw him pitch against Omaha. 85-89 with his fastball, mixed in a slow curve, a harder slider, and an effective changeup from an over-the-top delivery. He has good feel for pitching but little margin for error. He also has a nice pickoff move, catching two runners in this game. He could be a useful utility pitcher for the Brewers, working as a fifth starter or reliever, despite the lack of a big fastball