A lot of people groaned when the Detroit Tigers selected former LSU catcher Kade Scivicque in the fourth round of this year's MLB amateur draft. A college senior who came out of nowhere -- he played two seasons at Southwest Mississippi Community College before transferring to LSU -- Scivicque wasn't exactly the high-upside pick that many were clamoring for.
Catchers are a different breed, however, and Scivicque has the frame and skills to be a good one. Standing a stocky 5'11" and weighing 223 pounds, he is built like a prototypical catcher. His defensive abilities are coming along, but where Scivicque is differentiating himself is at the plate. Viewed as more of a bat-first catcher by some, he is off to a roaring start, hitting .314/.367/.436 with four home runs in 169 professional plate appearances. Even if we remove his gaudy totals at short-season Connecticut that earned him a quick promotion, Scivicque is hitting .290 with a .338 on-base percentage for the Whitecaps.
It's not supposed to be this easy. Even college players from top programs like LSU struggle when they get to pro ball, and the extra physical demands of being a catcher probably don't help. But Whitecaps manager Andrew Graham offered some early praise for his new backstop, and explained what kind of hitter we can expect Scivicque to be in the future.
"He’s a gap hitter with flashes of power," said Graham, himself a one-time Tigers catching prospect after he signed out of Australia. "He’s got a bat that stays through the zone, which is why he can hit to all fields. His weakness is that he pulls off pitches in all counts. But if it happens, he tends to makes adjustments in his next at-bat. He’ll hit a fastball to right-center or stay on the breaking ball and pull it down the line."
The Tigers have done well in molding former SEC catchers in the recent future -- both Alex Avila and James McCann fit that bill -- and Scivicque could one day be the next in line.
Short-season Connecticut: Victor Padron, OF
He's not hitting for much power -- he has just six extra base hits and zero home runs in 194 plate appearances this season -- but Victor Padron is doing plenty of hitting. The 21-year-old Venezuelan outfielder has rebounded from a shaky season at the plate in the Gulf Coast League in 2014, hitting .309 with a .370 on-base percentage this season. Padron made quick work of the New York-Penn League, hitting .325 in 181 plate appearances before a recent promotion to West Michigan, where he is off to a sluggish 1-for-12 start.
Signed out of Venezuela as a teenager, Padron spent two seasons playing in the Venezuelan Summer League before coming stateside. He hit .273/.407/.341 in a 15-game debut in 2012 as a 17-year-old, then hit .341/.408/.369 in 2013. Even last season's .226 batting average in the GCL was mitigated by a 20.1 percent (!) walk rate, upping his on-base percentage to .385. The slight outfielder probably won't hit for much power down the road, and he hasn't shown off much speed in the way of stolen bases, so it will be interesting to see if he develops into anything as a prospect going forward.
Photo credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Triple-A Toledo: Angel Nesbitt, RHP
What happened to Angel Nesbitt? After getting off to a solid start in the Tigers' bullpen this season, Nesbitt's production fell off. He allowed runs in five of six outings in late May and early June, and was demoted to the minor leagues. Usually, a player goes down to Toledo and reappears in Detroit after a few weeks, but we have barely heard a peep out of Nesbitt since he headed back down I-75.
For one, Nesbitt's command seems to be out of whack. After walking just three batters in his first 17 1/3 major league innings this season, Nesbitt has walked 18 of the 159 batters he has faced in Toledo this season, an 11.3 percent clip. He has also lost the strikeout touch that saw him shoot through the Tigers' farm system in 2014. Last year, Nesbitt fanned 72 batters in 66 1/3 innings. This season, he has just 38 punchouts in 56 innings.
This trend is a bit worrying, because the strikeouts haven't always been there. Nesbitt fanned just 54 batters in 67 innings at Single-A West Michigan in 2013, and posted even lower strikeout rates at lower levels in the two years prior. Nesbitt has the stuff to compete -- TigsTown's Jack Wagner pointed out that the stuff is still there in a recent viewing -- but mechanical flaws and an inconsistent delivery continue to plague him.
Advanced-A Lakeland: Kevin Ziomek, LHP
I profiled Kevin Ziomek a couple of weeks ago, pointing out that his ERA didn't jive with a much better FIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio. It's time to dip back into that well, because the results are finally starting to show up for the 23-year-old lefthander. Ziomek has been on fire lately, posting a 1.30 ERA and 0.65 WHIP in his last four starts. He has 28 strikeouts to seven walks in his last 27 2/3 innings, and nearly threw a no-hitter in his last outing.
While other Tigers pitching prospects have struggled as they have moved up the ladder this season, the conservative approach taken with Ziomek seems to be paying off. Righthander Chad Green, Ziomek's teammate at West Michigan in 2014, has had a rough year at Double-A Erie, losing 14 games with a 4.44 ERA. Ziomek, a second-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2013, has handled himself well, though continues to struggle against more advanced hitters. If he continues to excel at Double-A in 2016, we may see him ready for major league duty in some form soon afterward.