One of the dangers that many fans face when researching their favorite team's top prospects is an overreliance on statistical results. Players can look great in a box score, but there may still be room for development. Others may struggle, but be more focused on improving a certain aspect of their game that will eventually pay off in the long run.
There's a chance that lefthander Kevin Ziomek is the former. Recognized by some as a top-10 prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization, Ziomek posted an excellent 3.43 ERA and 4.21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 154 2/3 innings at Advanced-A Lakeland last season. This came on the heels of a 2.27 ERA and 29.8 percent strikeout rate for Single-A West Michigan in 2014. On paper, Ziomek has looked dominant.
Things may not be so rosy, though. Some scouts have noted that Ziomek's command is not as good as his walk rate suggests, and there are questions about the overall projection of his pitches. With the big jump to Double-A ball looming, we should get a better idea of how he will factor into the Tigers' plans going forward. Scouting his 2016 stat line won't tell us the full story, but it will be a decent barometer of whether he will live up to his No. 4 starter ceiling.
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Depending on who you talk to, Ziomek has a four-pitch arsenal headlined by his fastball and one potentially above-average secondary pitch. Last year, TigsTown's Mark Anderson labeled the slider as his best second offering, while Baseball Prospectus' Chris Crawford pegs the changeup as his out pitch. Inconsistency like this in scouting reports is common at the minor league level, and indicates that Ziomek may be able to use both pitches effectively at times. The fastball sits in the 89-90 mile-per-hour range, but can touch 92-93 miles per hour at times. His other pitches are much slower, ranging from the low 70s to the low 80s.
FanGraphs' Dan Farnsworth is perhaps Ziomek's biggest fan among evaluators, ranking him as the No. 4 prospect in the Tigers' system.
He spots his fastball well to both sides of the plate, and his velocity and deception allow him to throw it by hitters with good location. He has a changeup that could be a plus pitch with more refinement, and has two breaking balls that he uses to give hitters a different look. His slider has the least upside, featuring horizontal break without a ton of bite, though he can spot it well and will back-door righties with it successfully. His curveball is a slower offering that some scouts don’t seem to like, but it has average to above movement and is notable for his ability to drop it in the zone or bury it for a whiff on command.
Standing 6'3 and listed at 200 pounds, Ziomek has the build to stick in the rotation. His delivery has a bit of effort to it, but he throws from a high three-quarters arm slot with a fair bit of deception. This has helped him limit opponents to just 236 hits in 285 2/3 minor league innings, though his hit rate jumped a bit in 2015. There is a bit of wiggle in his delivery, which makes him "extremely deceptive at times" according to TigsTown's James Chipman. However, Ziomek's delivery can be inconsistent at times, resulting in occasionally spotty command.
While Ziomek enjoyed some excellent peripherals in 2015, recent scouting reports unearthed some red flags. TigsTown's Mark Anderson noted that Ziomek's raw stuff took a step back last season, and his fastball topped out at 92 miles per hour. He was also described by one Baseball Prospectus scout as "wild in the strike zone," which goes against the supposed jump in command his 2015 stat line hints at. His inconsistent mechanics, deceptive as they may be, won't help in this regard when he starts to face more advanced hitters.
Ziomek's diverse arsenal is nice, but he still lacks the kind of polish you hope for from an advanced college pitcher. He has struggled to locate his offspeed pitches at times, and the spin on his breaking balls has been inconsistent at times. Scouts are also divided on the potential utility of his changeup, but all agree that it still needs work. With an important promotion coming in 2016, he will need to show more consistency with at least one secondary pitch in order to keep hitters off his fastball.
(h/t James Chipman)
Evaluation: Dan Farnsworth, FanGraphs
His potential maxes out in the middle of a big league rotation, though I think he’s a safer bet as a number-four starter. He could also be a valuable relief option if the big league team has a greater need there. Continuing to hone his command and working on the finer points of pitch sequencing and reading hitters are the developmental steps on which he needs to focus to jump the last two levels and see a big league mound.
Projected team: Double-A Erie
Some fans were surprised that Ziomek wasn't promoted to Double-A in 2015, but that jump is coming this season. Several other prospects have hit the proverbial wall at that level in recent years, including Ziomek's former teammates, Austin Kubitza and Chad Green, in 2015. If Ziomek continues to post solid numbers, we could see him in the major leagues in a limited role in 2017. Still, his secondary pitches need to improve if he is going to play a major role with the Tigers in the future.
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.