Position: Left-handed Pitcher
After a standout season at Lake Michigan College, Below came to the Tigers as a 19th round draft choice in 2006. Duane's '06 campaign at LMC was positively dynamite, as he sported a 7-1 record in 16 starts, with a 1.75 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. In addition, he managed to strike out over 13 batters per nine innings, while maintaining over a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio. For his efforts, Below was named an All-MCCAA 1st Team pitcher, as well as a Region XII All-NJCAA pitcher.
Below didn't waste any time once turned pro, as he stormed through the Gulf Coast League with a 1.60 ERA over 33 2/3 innings of work in his debut. Below allowed only 27 hits and whiffed 30 in that span. After such a strong debut, Below received two late season starts at Oneonta, and while he wasn't as dominant as he was in the GCL, he still posted a 3.86 ERA in nine and one third innings, while striking out eight batters.
As a 21-year old, Below made the jump to the low-A Midwest League for the 2007 season, and he dominated from the start. Below amassed a 13-5 record and 2.97 ERA for the East Division Champions, and despite only throwing roughly forty innings in 2006, Below tossed 145 2/3 innings in 2007. Over those innings, Duane allowed 58 walks and he had bouts of trouble with his command, but he did strike out 160 and allow only 128 hits. Below's win and strikeout totals both ranked first in the Midwest League. For his dominating performance, Below was named the Tigers Organizational Pitcher of the Year.
The Tigers naturally promoted Below to high-A Lakeland for the 2008 season, where Below struggled some as he learned to command his pitches better and work against more advanced hitters. Below finished the 2008 campaign with an 8-7 record and 4.46 ERA over 26 starts. Below continued to strikeout plenty of batters, fanning 126 in 133 1/3 innings of work, but his walk rate jumped from 3.6 per nine innings in 2007, to 4.7 per nine innings in 2008.
A return trip to Lakeland was just what the doctor ordered for Below, as he got back on track to start the 2009 season and dominated over six starts to begin the season. Below posted a 3.14 ERA and struck out a fantastic 38 in just 28 2/3 innings. Below was promoted to Erie for two starts (where he also dominated) before going down with an elbow injury that ended his 2009 season.
Below has improved his stuff across the board since signing in 2006, and he has increased his projection as a result. While his fastball sat in the 86-89 range when signed, Below has seen it climb to the 88-90 range consistently over the last few years, and some in the organization indicate they've seen him hit 92 regularly. His fastball has some good late life and he tends to get a good angle on the pitch, while working low in the zone with regularity.
His fastball is backed up by a curveball and change-up package that keeps hitters off balance. His curveball is one of the system's best and it has true plus potential, and could be a legitimate swing-and-miss offering by the time he is ready for the big leagues. His change-up isn't quite as refined, but it has shown promise, with good arm side fade and some sink. Below can struggle at times with his arm speed on the change-up, but he has made great progress over the last two years.
Overall, Below must improve the command of his entire arsenal, as he can get wild at times and struggle to throw strikes. While he works low in the zone with ease, he tends to struggle locating the ball to both sides of the plate.
Below is an intense competitor and scouts love his makeup on the mound. He excels in pressure situations and he wants the ball at all times. Some coaches have indicated that Below gets too amped up early in games and he has to keep himself under control better prior to his starts, but once he settles in, he can be unhittable.
Below is a good athlete and he gets off the mound well when he needs to. He is an intelligent pitcher and he is a quick learner with a desire to improve his overall game. He has the ceiling of a solid number three starter, but he needs additional consistency to reach that ceiling.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG A+
Below's elbow injury turned out to be a torn UCL in his throwing arm, requiring Tommy John ligament replacement surgery to repair. Below's surgery was successful, and he has been working through his rehab throughout the summer and fall. At last check, he was on schedule to begin throwing off a mound in December, and Tiger Town Coordinator Greg Sabat felt he was on track to be ready to participate fully in spring training.
Below is ready to start the 2010 season with double-A Erie, but he will have to prove completely healthy and ready to throw with minimal restriction in spring training. There will be a strong case to keep him in the warm weather of Florida to start the 2010 season, with a quick promotion to Erie once he gets in a groove and begins to get his feel back.
The last thing to come for many Tommy John surgery survivors is their command, and that has been a problem for Below all along. If Below can come out of this locating his pitches better and possibly with some improvement on his change-up, he could be ready for the big leagues sometime late in the 2011 season. We may not see the best Below has to offer until late in the 2010 season as he continues his recovery from this season's surgery, so take the early results with a large grain of salt.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.