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Tigers' Montreal Robertson has a chance to see major league action in 2016

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A surprise addition to the 40-man roster last winter, Robertson could eventually make his way to the bigs this year.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Known for his name long before he was known for his game, Montreal Robertson has had an interesting minor league career. He was drafted out of Coahoma Community College by the Detroit Tigers in the 29th round of the 2011 MLB draft, and posted a solid (if unsustainable) ERA in a handful of innings in short-season ball.

Over the next two seasons, the Tigers would try him out as a starter, but it did not go well. Robertson allowed a 5.44 ERA with a diminished strikeout rate at short-season Connecticut in 2012, then gave up a 5.91 ERA in 16 starts for Single-A West Michigan in 2013. He walked just as many batters as he struck out that season, and his baseball career was hanging in the balance.

Robertson moved to the bullpen in 2014, and while it wasn't an "a ha!" moment, his numbers did improve. He posted a 3.24 ERA and 2.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 75 innings for the Whitecaps, though still allowed a 1.49 WHIP. The 2015 season was more of the same, as Robertson posted a 3.31 ERA in 34 appearances between Advanced-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie.

Somewhere along the way, the Tigers took notice, as they added him to the 40-man roster and sent him to the Arizona Fall League last October. He is competing for a major league job this spring, though will likely begin the season in the minors before a potential call-up later on this summer.

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Strengths

If you paid any attention to the Tigers' farm system under former general manager Dave Dombrowski, you should be able to recite this part verbatim. Robertson's best pitch is his fastball, which has been clocked anywhere from 91 to 97 miles per hour on the radar gun. Recent scouting reports have him in the 94-96 neighborhood with good life, though that late movement tends to fade as he tires. FanGraphs' Dan Farnsworth liked what he saw during the Arizona Fall League.

Some scouts have seen him as high as 96-97, but in the AFL I saw him 91-94 with great run and sink on the fastball. His slider and splitter are both inconsistent but should come close to average pitches. His fastball is dirty, and will keep him viable against big league hitters even if his offspeed doesn’t develop further.

Robertson's slider, as Farnsworth noted, is an inconsistent offering, but it appears to be improving. TigsTown's Mark Anderson noted that Robertson's slider "will show as a plus pitch" at times, while MLB.com called it "an out pitch at times." Anderson also described it as "more like a cutter" rather than a swing-and-miss pitch, which helps explain Robertson's rather pedestrian strikeout numbers even after he moved to relief. If both his fastball and slider are on, he will generate a lot of ground ball outs.

Weaknesses

Bar none, Robertson's biggest weakness is his control. He has walked over four batters per nine innings throughout his career, and was similarly wild in 2015, walking over 10 percent of the batters he faced. Both the fastball and slider are wild thanks to an inconsistent, high-effort delivery, and he tends to leave both pitches up in the zone too often. Farnsworth doesn't see much projection remaining in this area, labeling Robertson's command as below average in both present and future.

While most high-velocity relievers can partially offset their high walk rate with an even higher strikeout rate, Robertson is not that kind of pitcher. He only fanned 19 percent of the batters he faced in 2015, a rather low percentage for a reliever with a high-90s fastball in the minor leagues. His strikeout rate ticked upward in a short stint at Double-A Erie, but it's far too early to determine whether that is a legitimate improvement. Robertson doesn't need to miss bats to be effective, but it definitely limits his upside.

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Evaluation: MLB.com

Robertson has always had premium velocity and a decent slider, but has been all over the place. He'll sit in the mid-90s and touch 97-98 mph regularly, throwing it with a ton of sink to get a lot of ground-ball outs. His slider is an out pitch at times and he'll mix in a splitter. In the past, he'd look like a world-beater one night and like he'd never pitched before the next. In 2015, he started to figure it out and find some level of consistency, though command is still an issue.

Projected team: Triple-A Toledo

Robertson could easily go back to Erie, where he pitched 31 innings in 15 appearances last season, but the Tigers' newfound interest in him suggests he might be tested at Toledo. He still needs to improve his command if he is going to see any major league action, but the raw velocity is there to have success at the major league level. If he can turn one of the slider or splitter into an average pitch, the Tigers might have a decent middle reliever on their hands. He might want to get familiar with that I-75 corridor for the time being, though.

★★★

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.