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Paul Voelker hoping to carry last season's momentum into 2016

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Voelker's ability to perform under pressure should help him push closer to the major leagues this year.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Whenever the MLB draft rolls around, snagging a statuesque hurler tends to sit atop the wish list of most organizations, but once in a great while, the acquisition of a diamond in the rough helps prove that you can't always judge a book by its cover. For the Detroit Tigers, the proverbial needle in a haystack came in the form of 5'10, 185-pound righthander Paul Voelker, their 10th round selection in the 2014 draft.

Coming out of Dallas Baptist University, Voelker posted an impressive 3.89 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his franchise debut in 2014. However, it was the 2015 season that gave Voelker his footing, and in no time, the label of "undersized" became a distant memory. Beginning the season with Low-A West Michigan, Voelker fanned 20 in 16 innings with the Whitecaps, posting 11.2 strikeouts per nine and earning him a jump to Advanced-A Lakeland after just 10 games.

Voelker barely broke a sweat with the jump, allowing a meager 2.5 walks per nine, adding to his 1.04 WHIP through 22 innings, earning him a second promotion to the Double-A level to meet with Erie. With the SeaWolves, Voelker snagged nine saves in 10 opportunities, allowing him to close out the 2015 season with 20 saves in 24 overall opportunities, placing him second on the team to fellow closer Jeff Ferrell.

Prospect Rankings
Baseball Prospectus Baseball America MLB.com TigsTown FanGraphs Minor League Ball
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Strengths

For Voelker, it's the tools that you wouldn't expect at first glance that have come to stand out the most. Carrying a two-pitch arsenal into his minor league debut, Voelker possesses a fastball resting comfortably in the mid-90s. The heater doesn't possess a lot of late life, but his low walk rates indicate he has decent control of the pitch. Given Voelker's compact size, the plus velocity can be a bit deceptive -- TigsTown's Mark Anderson notes a bit of "funk" in Voelker's delivery as well -- though that may not continue at the upper levels of the minor leagues.

Dan Farnsworth, lead prospect analyst for FanGraphs weighed in on the primary offerings off Voelker's resume.

"In my opinion, his slider will be his best pitch over his fastball. Both have plus ceilings, but even though he throws in the mid-90s and throws strikes, his fastball lacks the movement or pinpoint command to make it stand out even in short stints. His slider is presently average due to inconsistency alone, but it has sharp, two-plane break that has a better chance of reaching its ceiling as a result. His command likely maxes out just below average, but it's good enough to get him in the big league door."

Speaking of, Voelker leans on his snapping slingshot delivery to boast a potential plus slider, known to flirt with the radar gun in the mid-80s with solid late movement, as well as being known to try his hand at an occasional changeup. The change is little more than a "show-me" pitch at this point, and probably won't factor into his development going forward. The slider, however, may become his bread-and-butter. Plenty of big league pitchers have gotten by with a slider-first mentality. Voelker could potentially reach that point if he improves his consistency with the pitch.

Weaknesses

While the majority of scouts seem to all agree that Voelker's chances of seeing action at the major league level are legitimate, a common red flag seems to rise regarding consistency and durability, as previously noted by Farnsworth.

"He's mostly reliant on his fastball-slider combo, lacking feel for his changeup. I do admire his commitment to throwing it with the same arm speed as his fastball, but he will have a hard time getting it above its current below-average ceiling."

The changeup may be key in keeping left-handed hitters off his primary pitches. While they haven't fared well thus far in his minor league career, lefties are walking against Voelker at a 12.8 percent clip. As he continues to climb the minor league ladder, he will need to sharpen his command and stuff in order to keep both righties and lefties off balance.

Video

(h/t James Chipman)

Evaluation: Ben Badler, Baseball

"Voelker's upside is likely limited to middle relief work. With his ability to throw strikes with a plus fastball, a slider that can miss bats and a solid track record of success in pro ball, there's a chance he could get to Detroit and help fill that role within the next couple of seasons."

Projected team: Double-A Erie

It has been said that the most notable jump within the Tigers minor league system occurs between the Advanced-A and Double-A programs. For Voelker, 16 games with the SeaWolves in 2015 gave a glimpse into Voelker's adaptability. However, he struggled at times at the Double-A level, and walked 10 batters in just 17 1/3 innings. The Tigers have enough arms at the Triple-A level to give Voelker more time to mature, but 2016 will determine how quickly Voelker may come knocking on the Tigers' door.

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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.