Allow me to introduce you to my favorite Detroit Tigers prospect. Outfielder Jacob Robson isn’t the best prospect in the organization. He isn’t the biggest or the fastest — TigsTown does consider him one of the fastest in the system, though — and he won’t wow you with his home run power. He also has too many legitimate tools to be considered a scrappy underdog. He checks the “Can this dude play center field?” box that is near and dear to my heart, but that is not why he is my new favorite prospect.
No, it’s much better than that. According to multiple outlets, Robson’s nickname is “The Maple Hammer.” I’ll allow that to sink in for a moment.
A native of Windsor, Ontario, Robson was drafted by the Tigers in the eighth round of the 2016 MLB draft. The Mississippi State product hit .294/.399/.395 in 209 plate appearances across two levels of short-season ball last season, topping out at Connecticut. He put his excellent speed on display as well, stealing 15 bases in 21 attempts.
Robson’s carrying tool is his plus speed, which he puts to good use both in the field and on the basepaths. Defensively, Robson is fast enough to play center field at the major league level. The few scouting reports available don’t have much to say about his defensive instincts, which is often a good sign for a young player (no news is good news, in this case). Offensively, Robson’s speed from the left side should help him leg out a few more base hits than the average player. He is also a threat on the basepaths; he stole 15 bags in 21 attempts in his pro debut, and added another 46 steals in 56 tries while in college.
Robson might have the bat to stick at the major league level as well. The Canadian Baseball Network had good things to say about his swing and approach at the plate.
Robson employs a compact left-handed stroke at the plate, usually focusing on hitting line drives and ground balls and using the entire field. He doesn’t have much power but sometimes gets himself in trouble by trying to pull and drive the ball. He has an eye for drawing walks, adding to his profile as a top-of-the-order catalyst.
The numbers back this up as well. Robson drew 31 walks in 209 plate appearances at the pro level last season, and managed a .414 on-base percentage at Mississippi State last season. In 184 at-bats, Robson walked (30) almost as many times as he struck out (37). His strikeout rate rose a bit in his pro debut, but he seems to have the contact-oriented profile of a prototypical leadoff hitter.
All of this adds up to a player with a relatively high floor. Robson has already proven his worth in both the SEC and the Cape Cod League, so he should not have much issue with the competition in the lower minors. He may not ever develop into a major league starter, but he isn’t far away from being a serviceable fourth outfielder.
A contact-heavy profile can be useful for a player of Robson’s talents and build — he stands 5’10 and weighs 175 pounds — but he needs to orient his approach to maximize those skills. The same scouting report listed above mentions Robson’s tendency to get a little pull-happy, which he showed in his pro debut.
As the above chart shows, Robson had a tendency to roll over on pitches and ground them to the right side of the infield. If he doesn’t iron this out, more advanced pitchers might start to take advantage of him with off-speed pitches until he adjusts. If the Tigers’ minor league coaches can help Robson start to go the other way more often, he could develop into a true on-base machine.
We could ding Robson for a lack of raw power, but not everyone is built like Steven Moya. Robson may develop a little gap power as he progresses through the minors, but he will never be a home run hitter. He managed just two dingers in his entire career at Mississippi State, but had six doubles and four triples in his final season for the Bulldogs.
Projected team: West Michigan Whitecaps
While it would not surprise me if the Tigers promoted Robson aggressively after his impressive debut last season, a stop at Single-A West Michigan seems the more likely outcome for him in his first full pro season. The Tigers have been more patient with their prospects under new general manager Al Avila, even waiting longer than most expected to promote the hot-hitting Christin Stewart last summer. Don’t be surprised if we are calling for a promotion in a couple months, though; good college bats tend to have their way with inconsistent young pitchers in the lower minors.
(Video c/o Eric Longenhagen)