Farmer Refines Skills, Bides Time in Toledo

Buck Farmer’s swift rise from A-ball to the Tigers last year produced predictably rough results in the majors. He is slated to make his 2015 MLB debut this Thursday in Anaheim. With his previous experience, and some time to catch his breath in Toledo, what has the young pitcher been doing to ensure future success?

As each minor league season draws to a close, names the winner of its Moniker Madness contest, a celebration of the most entertaining player names in the minors.

Nominees typically fall into two camps. Unique names like Dovydas Neverauskas, Johneshwy Fargas, and Sicnarf Loopstok fit into one group, while unusually descriptive appellations like Rock Shoulders, Houston Summers, and Boomer Potts make up the second.

Buck Farmer, the Georgia-bred right-handed pitcher, whose name evokes images of caribou and cornstalks, fits squarely in the latter group.

But perhaps what’s most unusual about the Tigers’ 2013 fifth-round pick is that by August 29th of 2014, when Brooks Pounders took home that year’s Moniker Madness award, Farmer had already started twice in the majors.

His starts weren’t terribly effective, as he gave up 11 earned runs in just 6 1/3 innings, and was sent down to Toledo after two outings. But given where he was drafted, his rapid ascent from low-A to the majors was nothing short of remarkable.

Only about 33% of fifth rounders ever reach the bigs, so he has already cleared that hurdle. And while it isn’t unheard of for college pitchers to make their big-league debut quickly, they often do so in a relief role.

It is exceedingly rare, however, to see a fifth-round pitcher start in the majors the year after he was drafted. So rare, in fact, that Farmer and Daniel Hudson are the only two fifth-round pitchers to debut that quickly since Dave Stieb did it in 1979.

Back in Toledo to begin 2015, Farmer recently spoke about the challenges of moving so quickly, and how to succeed in his return to the bigs.

“There’s nothing that’s some big secret to getting hitters out from here to the Major League level,” Farmer said. “It’s just being a pitcher...getting ahead, throwing strikes, keeping the ball down, and definitely just working with your fastball, pitching in and out.”

That isn’t to say Farmer is resting on his laurels this season. Even though he currently leads the International League in strikeouts and ranks fourth with a 2.69 FIP, he isn’t terribly pleased with his results.

“I’ve definitely struggled more than I have succeeded,” he said. “Some starts have been good, but I’m not overly happy.”

Farmer’s manager Larry Parrish is a little more positive about his staff ace.

“Buck has been throwing good,” Parrish said. “He’s still learning, but his changeup has really come on and really become a top-notch pitch for him. Now it’s just a matter of pitching ahead, commanding the ball down in the zone, and he should be a big leaguer.”

The improved changeup is a good sign for the Tigers, who wanted Farmer to work on a few specific things this season.

“Refining my offspeed,” he said. “And then still, just working on the fastball. No pitch can ever be too perfect. I love pitching off my fastball and I kind of got away from that last outing. I just need to get back to that and keep throwing strikes with it.”

Farmer’s average fastball velocity in his two MLB starts was 93 mph, second only to David Price among Tigers starters. But the pitch had a tendency to flatten out at higher velocities, so Farmer has taken steps to add another weapon.

“I’ve been throwing a two-seam more this year than I have in previous years because I’m trying to learn it, but it’s not a go-to pitch yet,” he admitted. “It’s still something I’m learning. Something I’m definitely playing with in the bullpen and just getting to know.”

He may be ready for a few starts in the Majors right now, but with Kyle Lobstein's shoulder injury apparently not serious, and Justin Verlander looking to return in the near future, Farmer will likely have the luxury of continuing to refine his game in Toledo in a few weeks.

Perhaps he’ll even stick around long enough to win the 2015 Moniker Madness contest. But as it turns out, there’s nothing terribly unusual about the nickname of 24-year-old George Runie Farmer.

“My entire name is derived from my family,” he said. ”I had an Uncle George, and then I had a Great Grandfather that they called Buck. The only time I’ve ever been called George was on the first day of school.”

“Or if I was in trouble with my Mom,” he added.

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