It is by no means a secret that the Tigers’ farm system is bad. That’s really all there is to it. One thing that contributes to that sad state of affairs is the fact that this iteration of the Tigers front office and the last one were both unwilling or unable to sign any of the more high-end international free agents. International players, however, are a key part of the best systems in baseball.
A good example of this is the Boston Red Sox. In 2015, the Red Sox were considered to have the best farm system in baseball — before Dave Dombrowski traded away much of their minor league talent, of course — and the headliners of that system were all international talent. These included Anderson Espinosa, Rafael Devers, Manny Margot, Javier Guerra, and Yoan Moncada, who is currently rated as the best prospect in all of baseball at the moment.
But, as my grandfather likes to say, even a blind squirrel finds a walnut once in a while, and the Tigers may have their proverbial walnut.
The Tigers today announced the club has agreed to terms with International Free Agent LHP Jack O'Loughlin from Australia.— Tigers PR (@DetroitTigersPR) July 18, 2016
O'Loughlin was not a well-publicized move, nor was it one that excited Detroit fans very much, but it may be the one that eventually pays dividends. The 16-year-old (yes, you read that correctly) lefty is currently setting the world on fire down under while traveling with the Adelaide Bite. While the goal at first was to keep him as a bullpen arm and move him to the rotation at some point in the future, he tore that idea to shreds when he proved that he is ready to start now.
O’Loughlin is not seeing his successes come about because of beginner’s luck alone. He has a deep and sophisticated arsenal for a player of his age, with four pitches. He throws three kinds of fastballs — a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, and a splitter — as well as a curveball that is more advanced than those of his peers.
While 90 mph is completely unimpressive in the current MLB environment where 100 mph is becoming increasingly common, it is important to remember that he is both quite young and throws from the left side.
In this video, O’Loughlin is shown striking out future teammate Zac Shepherd.
“For my age, I’ve got pretty good velocity and pretty good command over my pitches, which allows me to get the job done,” O’Loughlin told David Penrose of ABL Stats. “I had a feeling I was going to get an offer.”
Unfortunately, because he is so young, O’Loughlin is a ways away from being seen stateside by his new club. While the braces-clad hurler may be doing well and ready for action in affiliated ball today, he is still in high school and will not be able to come to the United States until 2018 at the earliest.
In fact, because he is in school, he will not be able to pitch the entire season with the Bite. His summer break actually ends before baseball season does and he will have to return to school.
Despite all the good press surrounding the Aussie, it is good to temper this with the understanding that he is a risky signing. While he does not represent a massive financial commitment, he is not a “slam dunk” prospect.
The only type of prospects that wash out more often than high school lefties are high school righties and catchers. While it is possible that worrying may be much ado about nothing, he also is a long, long way away from the majors, which gives him plenty of time to fail.
In any case, this young player give Detroit fans two things to be excited about. First, that a legitimate prospect has been added to reinforce the ranks of the Tigers’ weak system. And second, that the front office may be showing the beginnings of a new pattern: a willingness to explore the foreign market.