Position: Left-handed Pitcher
Below is working hard to become the classic feel-good story of the local kid making the local big league team. A native of Britton, Michigan, Below attended Lake Michigan Community College before becoming a 19th round pick of the Tigers in 2006.
Signing quickly, the 6-2, 205 pounder wasted no time getting off to a great start in the Gulf Coast League. In 33 2/3 innings, Below allowed only 27 hits and ten walks while striking out 30 and sporting a 1.60 ERA. He picked up two late-season starts in the NYPL, notching a 3.86 ERA as he battled and adjusted to the stiffer competition.
The Tigers pushed him to low-A West Michigan in 2007 and he responded by putting together a spectacular season that earned him the Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year award. In 26 starts for the Whitecaps, Below posted a 13-5 record and 2.97 ERA. He allowed just 128 hits in 145 2/3 innings and struck out a whopping 160.
Moving up to Lakeland in 2008, it wasn't all as easy as the prior season, but he still struck out nearly a batter per inning over 133 1/3 innings of work, and posted an 8-7 record for the high-A club.
Below's 2009 season was cut short with an elbow injury in the season's second month, shelving him for the entire season. Prior to the injury, Below had posted a 2.70 ERA in eight starts between Lakeland and Erie.
Below was back on the hill in time for the 2010 season and despite some gentle handling, he made 28 starts for Erie with a 4.93 ERA. He showed the best control of his career, dropping his walk rate to 2.6 per nine innings, while still striking out 7.4 hitters per nine.
Below's scouting report has changed dramatically over the last few years. Chalked up by many scouts as a soft-tosser after his breakout campaign at West Michigan in 2007, he is anything but that now. His fastball will show up on radar guns anywhere from 88 to 95 mph, and will generally sit at 90-92. He throws strikes with his fastball, but he must improve his location within the zone.
Below's curveball is one of the better ones in the system, and some scouts indicated they saw flashes of a plus pitch throughout 2010, but it lacks consistency. He can get around his bender sometimes, making it loopy and easily identifiable. When he stays on top of it and snaps it off, it is a good swing-and-miss pitch.
His change-up has some sink and could be a fringe-average pitch with added feel and confidence. At times, Below seems hesitant to throw his change-up in critical situations. The pitch will be essential in keeping right-handers off balance.
Though scouts didn't see much in the way of command in 2010, Below is athletic and should be able to clean up his delivery and repeat it more frequently. He may never have big league average command, but he should be able to locate enough to succeed in the Majors. The second year back from Tommy John surgery should see leaps forward in this area.
There's a wide range of directions Below could go, from a LOOGY to a number four or five starter. Either way, nearly every scout in 2010 sees a Major League future for Duane.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG AA
His 2009 Tommy John surgery is the obvious red flag in this section, though his rapid recovery and return to game action was absolutely jaw dropping. Less than a year after surgery, he was back on the mound and pitching in games at the Double-A level. The Tigers were extremely careful with him last year, keeping him on tight pitch counts. There was no hint of excessive soreness or lingering injury. He still needs to be watched closely, but they should cut him loose a bit this year and let him get back to his work horse ways.
Below will remain at the upper levels of the system, starting the season in either the Erie or Toledo rotation. Added to the 40-man roster this off-season, he could see Detroit at some point in 2011 if the team needs an arm and he is pitching well.
Nearly two years removed from surgery, Below's stuff should be all the way back and he could be a big time breakout candidate for this season. If he throws more quality strikes, there's a chance he could solidify his future as a back end starter that eats innings and can miss his share of bats.
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