No. 15: Will Clinard, RHP
Will Clinard is a right handed reliever, drafted by the Tigers in the 19th round of the 2012 draft out of Vanderbilt. This should somewhat speak to how I personally feel about the Tigers 2012 draft, that now their 19th and 20th round draft picks are in my Top 20 prospects. This speaks to the overall weakness of the system, sure, but I believe they had an outstanding draft, and Clinard is no exception. Moving on, after signing with Detroit, Clinard was sent to Class A Short Season-Connecticut, where he performed exceptionally well. Over his first 13 professional innings (at Connecticut), Clinard posted a 1.38 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 13.2 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9. To put it in layman's terms, he simply dominated. The Tigers then promoted him to Class A West Michigan, where he still performed very well. While at West Michigan, across 24 1/3 IP, Clinard accrued a 2.96 ERA, 1.4 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, and 2.6 BB/9. Overall worse numbers than his sizzling hot start at Connecticut, but nonetheless very nice numbers, especially for someone pitching at A ball in their first professional season.
Clinard has a really solid pitcher's body, standing 6'4" and weighing in at 225lbs. He's just a solidly built guy, with good lower body strength, and well-built all around. He offers a 4 pitch repertoire, consisting of a fastball, slider, changeup, and cutter. It's not often you see a reliever with 4 pitches, but Clinard offers them, and all of them look to be at least useable in the major leagues. He sits in the 91-92 range with his fastball, ramping it up to 94 or so when he wants to, and it offers solid movement as well, with some scouts seeing above-average arm side run, which makes the pitch especially effective against right handed hitters, both as a weak contact-inducing pitch, and as a swing and miss pitch. He shows good ability to command the pitch all over the zone as well. When he throws it down in the zone, it does a very good job getting groundballs, and he's able to throw it by people when elevated. His slider is a solid pitch, but doesn't grade out above average, but is a useable pitch. It shows more horizontal break than the ideal 2 plane break, but after busting right handed hitters inside with his fastball for 2-3 pitches, a well thrown, horizontally-breaking slider off the plate away can definitely be effective. His changeup shows average at times, but the changeup I saw at West Michigan in 2012 wasn't great, but showed that with improvements it could become a useable pitch in the major leagues, even if just thrown for the sake of showing batters a different look. The best pitch of the bunch, and the main reason why he's so high on this list, is Clinard's cutter. It's an absolutely dynamic pitch. He throws it in the 89-91 range, and it has electric movement. He saws off the bats of left handed hitters with regularity, and it has so much movement that it can get swings and misses from right handers as well. I've seen it described as "dynamic", "wipeout", and "electric" from various sources, and the cutter I saw from Clinard in West Michigan made me openly say "wow".
Clinard may very well be the first of the 2012 draft picks to make it to the majors. He performed very well at West Michigan in 2012, and while he wasn't "dominant", I don't see a need for him to repeat the level in 2013. I could easily see him heading to Class A Advanced-Lakeland in 2013, with the possibility to advance to Class Double A-Erie as the season progresses. If he performs as I think he should, he could be on the Detroit radar by mid-season 2014. Of course, the Tigers could believe something completely different from what I just said, and he could end up back at West Michigan to start 2013. I don't think that's a "bad" move, I just think Clinard is advanced enough, talented enough, and polished enough to handle an aggressive assignment. Time will tell, obviously. As for a ceiling, Clinard profiles for me as an 8th inning/set up guy. He falls short of a closer profile because while his cutter is dynamic, closers in general either need a dominant fastball or a dominant breaking ball to succeed, unless your name is Mariano Rivera. I'm not saying that Clinard won't ever close, I just believe that his profile falls slightly short of that role. Regardless, for the Tigers to get a potentially fast-moving, dominant set up man in the 19th round of a draft is an excellent thing, and Clinard is one of my personal favorites in the Tigers system.