Pipeline names Tigers Prospects of the Year

Infielder Paredes and left-hander Skubal honored as 2019 standouts

September 19th, 2019

Mike Rabelo was like a lot of Tigers fans going into the season. Even the manager of the Double-A Erie SeaWolves didn’t know a whole lot about Tarik Skubal -- until the left-hander joined his rotation this summer.

“I knew the name. I’d never seen him throw,” Rabelo admitted recently. “The first thing I said when I met him was, ‘You better be .’ Because the coordinators and scouts and everybody would come through and say, ‘Have you seen this Skubal guy?’ Holy cow, they were dead-on. The first start he made, I believe it was [against] Altoona, he was cutting up that team. And then he did it again, and you’re just like, ‘Holy cow, this guy’s the real deal.’”

That’s how most of Skubal’s first full pro season went. It’s also why, in a Detroit farm system that boasts former first-round Draft picks and highly regarded pitching prospects in and Matt Manning, it was Skubal who earned MLB Pipeline’s honor as its Tigers Pitching Prospect of the Year.

Skubal’s Erie teammate, infielder Isaac Paredes, was selected by MLB Pipeline as its Tigers Position Prospect of the Year. Both winners were chosen by MLB Pipeline staff; players had to spend at least half the season in the Minor Leagues and appear among MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Tigers Prospects to be eligible for consideration.

While Skubal qualified, he wasn’t exactly on the radar before the season, when he was ranked as the club’s No. 20 prospect. The Tigers grabbed him in the ninth round of the 2018 MLB Draft after he missed the 2017 season at Seattle University while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He tossed 7 1/3 scoreless innings of relief at Class A West Michigan at the end of last season, but nobody anticipated what he had in store for this year.

Nobody, maybe, except for Skubal himself, who felt he turned a corner in his post-surgery form last summer. He spent the offseason and then Spring Training building on it.

“I worked really hard to put myself in a good position,” he said last month. “That's all I tried to do.”

Skubal added strength to his 6-foot-3 frame. He honed his offspeed pitches so that he’d have a well-rounded arsenal to throw at hitters along with the fastball. And he worked on his lower-body strength and endurance to pitch deep into games.

“His lower half, he just looks like a Major Leaguer,” Rabelo said. “His body, the way he’s put together, he’s a big dude. He works hard. He looks the part, and he is the part.”

The 22-year-old Skubal opened the season at Class A Advanced Lakeland and dominated, allowing just 62 hits over 80 1/3 innings with 19 walks and 97 strikeouts over 15 starts. He earned a midseason promotion to Erie in July, around the same time Mize went on the injured list with shoulder fatigue.

Skubal’s numbers over nine Double-A starts amazed even Tigers officials: 42 1/3 innings, 25 hits, 18 walks and 82 strikeouts, a rate of 17.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

By season’s end, not only had Skubal jumped to No. 4 prospect on the Tigers’ list, but he had also cracked the overall MLB Pipeline Top 100, at No. 96.

“It’s been a process, a journey,” he said. “I’m not fully where I want to be, obviously, but just coming back and learning a lot about yourself, it’s been fun to just enjoy the process.”

Compared to Skubal, Paredes entered the season with high regard as the Tigers’ top position prospect, a title since taken by slugging outfielder and latest first-round Draft pick Riley Greene. Despite being one of the younger players in the Eastern League, the 20-year-old Paredes more than held his own, batting .282 (135-for-478) with 23 doubles, 13 home runs, 66 RBIs and a .784 OPS. All but one of his home runs came after June 1, including five in the final month.

More impressive was his plate discipline for a young power hitter. Despite his aggressive approach, he finished with almost as many walks (57) as strikeouts (61), resulting in a .368 on-base percentage. None of his free passes were intentional.

“He doesn’t expand [his strike zone] very much,” Rabelo said of the Tigers’ No. 5 prospect. “He doesn’t chase. [At one point,] it was 49-to-49 with [his] walks and strikeouts. With some pop, that’s real good. That right there is why this kid is going to hit. He doesn’t chase and he doesn’t miss balls in the zone. He’s put together a very solid year.”

Baseball isn’t over yet for Paredes in 2019. He begins play this week in the Arizona Fall League as the Tigers’ priority prospect, meaning he’ll get significant playing time. And he’ll be playing again for Rabelo, who is managing the Mesa Solar Sox.