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Tigers' Tyler Alexander has starter potential despite lackluster arsenal

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More smarts than stuff, Alexander made quick work of the New York-Penn League in 2015.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Snap judgments on draft day decisions across the four main professional sports have quickly become as American as baseball itself. The NFL and NBA have been privy to this for a long time given their high-profile draft coverage, but Major League Baseball is quickly pushing its own draft day festivities into the limelight.

While lefthander Tyler Alexander didn't receive the same backlash as New York's Kristaps Porzingis on draft night -- a kid was meme'd, then later re-meme'd for pete's sake -- many were surprised by the Tigers' decision to take Alexander, a soft-tossing lefty, with the 65th overall pick. Alexander was rated the No. 327 overall draft prospect by Baseball America, and probably could have been had a round or two later.

The Tigers may have seen something others didn't, though. They originally drafted him in the 23rd round of the 2013 draft, but he opted to pitch for TCU instead. Alexander tore through the New York-Penn League, holding opponents to a 0.97 ERA and 0.60 WHIP in 37 innings. College pitchers typically perform well in the low minors, but Alexander's video game numbers were still worth a double take. They didn't land him on anyone's top prospect lists, save for TigsTown, who ranked him 10th (!) in the organization.

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Strengths

Alexander's biggest strength is his ability to command all of his pitches for strikes. As someone that gets by on sequencing and location, Alexander works both halves of the strike zone effectively to keep hitters off balance. He has the ability to cut and sink his fastball, and even "shows aptitude off the plate to induce hitters to chase, according to TigsTown's Mark Anderson. Alexander pounded the strike zone with abandon in his professional debut last season, allowing just five walks in 37 innings. The low walk rate should continue across the next level or two, but he will need to continue improving his ability to clip corners in order to get advanced hitters out.

Alexander also commands his secondary pitches well for a pitcher his age, though he could improve in this area. His slider is more advanced than the changeup at this point, with Anderson noting that Alexander can throw it for a strike or bury it down and out of the zone. His ability to manipulate both the fastball and slider are major factors in his development, though improving the changeup will also be necessary if he is to maximize his projection.

His command is aided by a simple delivery that he repeats well. He throws from a lower-three-quarters arm slot that should help him keep left-handed hitters off balance. Scouts also note that Alexander's delivery stays consistent through all of his pitches, something that many other young pitchers struggle with. Based on the video below, he does not appear to hide the ball all that well, and could eventually struggle against righties because of this.

Weaknesses

Plenty of pitchers have made long careers without high octane stuff at their disposal, but it makes the road that much more difficult. Alexander sits in the high 80s with his fastball, topping out in the 91-92 mile-per-hour range. While he has shown the ability to cut and sink the pitch, it's still a fringe-average offering at best. His slider has drawn mixed reviews, in particular thanks to a slurvy motion that could use some improvement. It grades out as his best pitch, but is average at best. His changeup could also develop into an average pitch, but it currently lags behind the fastball and slider.

Like most soft-tossing lefties, Alexander is closer to his ceiling than many prospects his age. His stuff has all but maxed out -- though his feel for pitches could improve slightly with additional reps -- and he has little physical projection remaining in his slim, 6'3 frame. Evaluators are skeptical that his stuff would play up in a bullpen role, especially given the lack of sharp movement on his slider. Alexander's ceiling is that of a back-end starter, but there's a good chance he doesn't have the raw stuff to keep advanced hitters off balance.

Video

Evaluation: Mark Anderson, TigsTown

The Tigers drew considerable criticism for popping Alexander in the second round of last year’s draft, and that criticism will likely continue – warranted or not – until Alexander performs at the big league level. Blessed with excellent command of a broad arsenal, and a high IQ on the mound, Alexander has the potential to be a #4 starter at the big league level, in spite of pedestrian fastball velocity. Alexander’s polish was too much for NYPL hitters in 2015 and he could move quickly to High-A in 2016 if the Tigers want to get aggressive.

Projected team: Single-A West Michigan

The Tigers have done well to get recent draftees' feet west at Single-A West Michigan. Crafty lefthander Kevin Ziomek posted dominant numbers in the Midwest League two years ago, and Alexander should do the same for a good part of 2016. Given his advanced command and arsenal, we may see an early promotion to Advanced-A Lakeland for a stiffer test. Alexander should meet little resistance at either level, though, as low minors hitters tend to struggle against good secondary pitches.

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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.