CLEVELAND -- Tarik Skubal was an Arizona high school lefty with an inconsistent fastball and not much knowledge about the Pacific Northwest when Seattle University came calling five years ago.
“They saw me throw in one of the fall classics in high school, and that was my only Division I offer,” Skubal said Tuesday. “So I took it.”
Skubal doesn’t blame the relatively low interest, considering the way he pitched at the time. Still, he has been proving himself ever since.
At Seattle, he was a freshman All-American and a National Player of the Week as a sophomore, garnering the WAC school some attention. After Tommy John surgery cost him the 2017 season, he came back and showed he was healthy in his junior year.
After a high walk total helped Skubal fall to the Tigers in the ninth round of last year’s MLB Draft, he proved himself a stingy hurler with one earned run over 22 1/3 innings with 33 strikeouts last year.
After barely cracking the top 20 on MLB Pipeline’s Tigers prospect rankings before the season, Skubal has delivered the kind of season to put him on the same level as top prospects Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo.
Now, after racking up 21 strikeouts over 10 innings in two starts for the Double-A Erie Seawolves, Skubal -- up to 17th among Tigers prospects in MLB Pipeline’s rankings -- is making a big impression.
“I've just been aggressive with the fastball, trying to get ahead,” Skubal said on a call with reporters. “The main difference is [Eastern League hitters] make you pay when you miss. They're pretty aggressive.”
All 21 strikeouts for Skubal at Erie have been swings and misses. Eleven of them came in his Double-A debut July 7, when he delivered five innings of one-hit ball with a lone unearned run allowed. Five days later he faced the same Altoona lineup, this time in Erie, and fanned 10 over five innings with a run on three hits.
It’s the type of debut that would have garnered more attention if not for Mize’s no-hitter against Altoona in his Double-A debut a couple of months ago.
Skubal’s fastball velocity is no longer inconsistent, sitting firmly in the mid-90s while topping out at 97 mph. He has a very good breaking ball and an improving changeup to complement it.
Add up the numbers between Class A Advanced Lakeland and Erie, and Skubal has a 2.39 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, allowing just 66 hits over 90 1/3 innings with 22 walks and 118 strikeouts.
Skubal is scheduled to make his third start for the SeaWolves later this week. If he can keep this up, the Tigers could have a decision whether to be more aggressive with his path up the system. He’s slightly older than others from his Draft class thanks to his redshirt season recovering from Tommy John; the Tigers drafted him after his fourth year of school but junior season of college baseball. Thus, he’s five months older than Mize, and just two months younger than Beau Burrows, currently at Triple-A Toledo.
Goodrum wins Heart and Hustle Award
Niko Goodrum has become an everyday fixture in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup and he has done so while playing everywhere, making a start at every position but catcher and pitcher. The Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association recognized Detroit’s do-everything player with its Heart and Hustle Award, an honor given to one player from each team every year.
The Heart and Hustle Award recognizes active players who demonstrate a passion for the game and best embody its values, spirit and traditions. A committee of former players with established relationships to each team votes on the honor. A national winner will be announced in November.
“[Niko] plays multiple positions and gives a great effort every day, regardless of the position he is being asked to play,” Tigers bench coach Steve Liddle said.
Past Tigers winners include JaCoby Jones, Ian Kinsler, James McCann and Don Kelly.
Like Kelly, Goodrum forged a role on the Tigers as a super-utility player while providing key offense. His 29 doubles, 16 home runs, 53 RBIs and .747 OPS last year earned him Tigers Rookie of the Year honors. He entered Tuesday’s game against the Indians batting .242 with 18 doubles, three triples, seven homers, 30 RBIs and a .707 OPS.
Mize goes four innings for Lakeland
Top prospect Mize’s start for Class A Advanced Lakeland on Tuesday went a little better than his previous turn last week, when a 32-pitch first inning knocked him out of the game early. This outing Mize went four innings, allowing two runs on three hits with two walks and four strikeouts for the Flying Tigers against Dunedin.
Mize overcame three consecutive first-inning hits, including a two-run double from Demi Orimoloye, and two walks, to face the minimum from there. He retired his last seven batters in order, finishing with 73 pitches. The outing could clear him to rejoin Double-A Erie for his next start.
• Jones is 3-for-7 through two games of a rehab assignment with Triple-A Toledo to test out his low back strain. Jones went 1-for-4 with two runs scored while playing nine innings in center field Monday night before going 2-for-3 with an RBI as the designated hitter Tuesday afternoon. He’s expected to play two more games with the Mud Hens before likely rejoining the Tigers for the start of their homestand Friday.
• Second baseman Josh Harrison, who was hoped to be on track for a rehab assignment later this month, had a setback in his surgically repaired left hamstring and will be slowed for a while before trying again.