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Tigers prospect Jairo Labourt has boom-or-bust upside

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A big lefty that has been compared to Francisco Liriano, Labourt's secondary pitches and command still need work.

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

It's not often that the throw-in player in a blockbuster trade suddenly becomes one of your best prospects, but here we are. The Detroit Tigers received lefthander Jairo Labourt in the same deadline deal that brought Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd into the fold. Both Norris and Boyd have graduated off any prospect lists by now, while Labourt is sitting around the fringes of many top-10 lists for the Tigers system.

The 21-year-old Labourt was originally signed by the Toronto Blue Jays as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic. He came stateside in 2012, and got his first taste of full season ball with the Single-A Lansing Lugnuts in 2014. After a demotion to short-season ball later that season, the Blue Jays aggressively promoted him to Advanced-A Dunedin, where he allowed a 4.59 ERA and 1.59 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 starts before being traded.

A big-bodied pitcher at 6'4 and 205 pounds, Labourt has the frame and arsenal to be a mid-rotation starter. He is a long way off from that ceiling right now, however, thanks to iffy command and inconsistent secondary pitches. While he won't see the major leagues for another couple years (at minimum), he's definitely a prospect to keep an eye on in 2016.

Prospect rankings
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Strengths

"You can't teach size" is a popular saying in basketball, but it also fits in Labourt's case. He is blessed with a sturdy frame for a starting pitcher, standing 6'4 and 205 pounds. TigsTown's Mark Anderson notes that Labourt's frame has matured over the years, meaning he has added the type of lean muscle necessary to withstand a starter's workload at the major league level. Labourt looks the part of a top-line starter, though many have noted that he still has some room for improvement.

Then there's the arm. Labourt's fastball sits anywhere from 91 to 94 miles per hour during a typical start, and he has reached as high as 96 miles per hour on the radar gun. Better still, Labourt's fastball has good sinking movement, and "doesn't get barreled often," according to Anderson. Ben Flajole of RotoScouting had more to say about Labourt when he was still with the Blue Jays.

The pitch has sink and tail, and sneaks up on hitters in a hurry thanks to the left-hander’s extension. When overthrown, the fastball stays up, though Labourt usually pounds the lower half of the zone. Command of the pitch is still developing, as one would expect from a 20-year old, but improved since first observed early in the season.

If it isn't already a plus pitch on velocity and movement alone -- both Anderson and Flajole have given it a 60 (plus) grade at present -- it has the potential to be once Labourt harnesses his command.

Labourt also throws a slider and changeup, with the former showing plus potential. The key word here is "potential," though, as Labourt has struggled to throw both pitches for strikes on a consistent basis. The slider has two-plane break and is potentially a plus pitch, one that has drawn comparisons to Pittsburgh's Francisco Liriano. The changeup should not be ignored, though, as Flajole notes Labourt "shows a feel for the change-up, with arm speed, separation from the fastball velocity, and fade." It is also a potential above-average pitch.

Weaknesses

If you thought the word "potential" was overused above, you're not wrong. Labourt has serious upside -- Kiley McDaniel, formerly of FanGraphs, noted that he may have been a 1st rounder if he were in last year's draft -- but is a long way away from reaching those heights at present. His command is his biggest issue, and many scouts note that this stems from an inconsistent delivery. McDaniel touched on those inconsistencies, and where Labourt's boom-or-bust potential lies.

Labourt is big and has what scouts call a high-maintenance body. His command still wavers and he falls in love with his velo at times, along with other typical kid stuff, like not hiding the fact that he didn’t like the cold in Low-A Lansing and short-season Vancouver. Sometimes this sort of prospect never figures it out and becomes a 7th/8th-inning reliever and sometimes everything clicks, he loses the bad weight and turns into the terror that he shows in glimpses now.

TigsTown's Mark Anderson noted similar inconsistencies in Labourt's delivery, including that he "will completely lose [the] zone at times." Anderson is not alone in predicting that Labourt could eventually end up in the bullpen, where command of his arsenal becomes somewhat marginalized if he can air out the fastball at 96-97 miles per hour. Baseball Prospectus' Jeff Moore echoed these sentiments shortly after Labourt was traded to Detroit.

Essentially Labourt is a two-pitch pitcher, and while both have plus potential, that's not likely to be enough to remain a starter, which would require significant improvement in command. That leaves him as a bullpen pitcher, though he could be a very good one with the slider acting as a weapon against both lefties and righties and giving him a chance to be a late-inning option.

Video

(h/t James Chipman)

Evaluation: Chris Crawford, Baseball Prospectus

The fastball touches 96 with plenty of sink, the slider will flash plus with hard downward tilt, and he’ll mix in the occasional average change to keep the hitters honest. So why is Labourt not in the top 10? Because he too often has no clue where any of those pitches are going—oh, and the word flash is key, as the change and slider are consistently closer to 40-grade pitches than their best selves. At just 21, there’s time to make the necessary mechanical adjustment—keeping his shoulder in, working on a consistent landing spot, etc.—but as is, he’s not someone with good enough command to pitch in high-leverage situations, much less start.

Projected team: Advanced-A Lakeland

Labourt threw 116 innings in the Florida State League last season, but seemed largely overmatched, allowing a 5.12 ERA and 1.61 WHIP between his starts with Dunedin and Lakeland. The Tigers could push him up to Double-A Erie, but they may choose to hold him back for the start of the season as he continues to sort out his command. Labourt's stuff will overpower minor league hitters at any level, but he still needs to improve his secondary pitches and control before he approaches the major leagues.

★★★

Note: We're changing up our prospect coverage a bit this year. Instead of an "official" ranking of the best prospects in the system, we're going to profile those that are most interesting to us (and you too, hopefully). Don't worry, no one has been fired, and daily recaps will still happen during the season. We appreciate any constructive feedback you offer, and we'll take your prospect suggestions into account as well.