One of the more puzzling developments in the Detroit Tigers’ farm system this offseason is the sudden rising stock of right-handed pitcher Adam Ravenelle. Blessed with a high-90s fastball and sharp slider, Ravenelle’s future potential deserves a certain amount of attention. He earned a bit of attention for a strong performance in Advanced-A Lakeland — he struck out 34 hitters in 28 1⁄3 innings while allowing a 2.86 ERA — but struggled against higher competition, including a 4.85 ERA at Double-A Erie and seven walks in 9 1⁄3 innings at the Arizona Fall League.
However, after a moderately impressive 2016 season, he has shot up the team’s prospect rankings. Baseball America ranked him as the No. 8 prospect in the Tigers’ system, while Baseball Prospectus slotted him in at No. 10. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and TigsTown’s Mark Anderson aren’t far behind, at No. 12. We are lower on Ravenelle than most, but MLB Pipeline is also relatively bearish, at No. 20 in the system.
The biggest reason why Ravenelle is drawing so much attention is his fastball. It sits anywhere from 94-98 miles per hour and has touched 100 mph. Unlike some high-octane fastballs, Ravenelle’s also features some late life that can be tough to square up. Opponents managed just 17 hits in his 28 1⁄3 innings at Advanced-A Lakeland last season, and were still only managing a hit per inning once he arrived in Double-A. Nearly everyone has at least a plus grade on it, with FanGraphs leading the way at a 70 (double-plus) grade.
Ravenelle’s breaking ball is also a potential plus pitch. Evaluators have called it both a slider and a cutter; all we know is that it sits anywhere from 87-91 miles per hour “with sharp break and impressive cut/tilt action,” per Baseball Prospectus. Former BP prospect author Christopher Crawford was also complementary of Ravenelle’s slider/cutter in his prospect guide, saying “His slider is a cut-like pitch, and its ability to get into the hands of left-handed hitters make it an above-average offering.”
Based on stuff alone, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between Ravenelle and top prospect Joe Jimenez. Both righthanders feature monster high-90s fastballs and wipeout secondary pitches. The difference? Jimenez has commanded both pitches at an acceptable level, limiting walks and gobbling up strikeouts left and right. Ravenelle’s command isn’t anywhere close at present, resulting in gaudy walk rates. Opponents walked at a 14.2 percent clip at High-A Lakeland last year, and at a 12.1 percent rate in Double-A. He doesn’t project to even have average command at his peak, and he seems to be a ways away from that lackluster ceiling right now.
Ravenelle deploys a funky delivery that can be tough for right-handed hitters to pick up. They managed a paltry .287 on-base percentage against him last season, and will have a tough time handling his fastball-cutter combination going forward. The problem? Lefties reached base at a .398 clip. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen dove into why Ravenelle may continue to struggle against opposite-handed hitters.
But lefties see the ball very well against him and have an easier time tracking the fastball, which can lack plane, and sending it airborne. He also has 30-grade command which stems from an inability to repeat. The 70 fastball/60 potential slider combination looks like a potential back-end profile on paper but there are forces at work that complicate that projection. There’s a good chance Ravenelle’s platoon issues limit his role and big-league value.
Ravenelle has also missed valuable developmental time with injuries. He suffered a finger tendon tear soon after being drafted in 2014, and has dealt with blister issues throughout his career as well. The tendon issue may not be predictive of future injuries, but blisters often are; if Ravenelle can’t stay healthy, he may not reach his lofty ceiling.
Jacob’s Scouting Report:
Projected team: Erie SeaWolves
Ravenelle struggled in his time at Double-A Erie last year, and will likely get a second chance to conquer the Eastern League at the start of 2017. The Tigers have plenty of pitchers already toiling around the bullpen in Triple-A Toledo, but few will stand in Ravenelle’s way when he is ready to move up. He needs to limit the walks before getting a serious look for major league innings, but has the raw stuff to handle big league hitters once he arrives.