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2017 BYB Tigers Prospect #25: LHP Jairo Labourt is still a wild man with a big left arm

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Labourt has the potential to be a star, but his command is a big problem.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Jairo Labourt came to the Detroit Tigers in the 2015 trade that sent David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays. While Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, the other acquisitions in that deal, have established themselves as major league caliber starting pitchers to varying degrees, Labourt distinctly remains a work in progress. After a disastrous year in High-A ball with the Lakeland Flying Tigers, a trip to the major leagues remains a very long way for our 25th ranked prospect.

The 22-year-old Dominican is probably the hardest throwing lefthander in the Tigers’ system. As such, his path to major league service time is an easier one than for many other players. Labourt would have to make major improvements in two areas to make that leap. But his issues are so stark that if he ever sorts them out, a call-up to the majors won’t be far behind.

Strengths

Labourt’s major attribute as a pitcher is velocity. More precisely, he has the type of velocity that few lefthanders possess, even in the major leagues. That velocity gives him a fallback position as a potential future reliever at the major league level, his presumed ceiling as a pitcher. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs detailed Labourt’s fastball in his most recent prospect report.

As a starter, Labourt sits 91-94 with sink and will touch as high as 96. His fastball plays up in relief.

The fastball is Labourt’s calling card. Throwing from a low three-quarters arm slot, Labourt has some funk to his delivery, and that arm slot produces quality armside fade and sink. The movement serves him very well, as Labourt has only allowed 18 home runs in over 400 innings in the minor leagues.

In fact, he has proven extremely difficult to hit, even for right-handed batters. Overall, batters hit for an average of just .202 against him in 2016, despite his control issues. The question is, if Labourt does start to locate his pitches with consistency, how much easier will he be to hit?

The other pitch that draws intermittent raves from scouts is Labourt’s slider. While his command of the pitch remains decidedly inconsistent, he breaks off enough good ones to impress observers with its movement. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs describes it in glowing terms.

He has a plus potential slider in the mid-80s that has vicious two-plane bite when he breaks off a good one.

Despite Labourt’s command issues, particularly with the slider, he has continued to put up good strikeout rates all along. That alone speaks to the quality of the breaking ball, which remains his primary swing-and-miss offering. The pattern is clear: two very good offerings when his command is good. Unfortunately, his command is rarely good.

Weakness

Command — and even simply raw control, like with so many prospect arms — remains completely unpredictable for Labourt. His walk rates have remained high throughout pro ball, with nary a dent made by instruction in either the Blue Jays or the Tigers’ farm systems. All those issues came to a head in 2016, and drove him out of his starting role. Labourt walked an incredible 70 batters across just 87 13 innings. Things improved in the bullpen, but even there his walk rate per nine innings was well over five.

Those issues made it difficult to see any future for Labourt at the major league level. Glimpses of an outstanding lefthander flash here or there, but never with any consistency. For Labourt to ever fulfill his potential, major improvements will need to occur.

As a starter, Labourt will throw a change-up which is fringe average on its good days. Generally, though, it’s a pitch that Labourt struggles to both locate and to disguise by maintaining his arm speed. All these issues add up to a likelihood that Labourt’s days as a starter are over. The Tigers may decide to give Labourt another shot, but you can probably put your money on a relief role in 2017.

Labourt does display a pretty clean delivery without a lot of wasted motion or red flags. However, he has a distinct tendency to fly open through his release and struggles to find his landing point with his lead leg. At 6’4 and 205 pounds, he has the size to project as a starter, but both the changeup and command will have to improve drastically this year for there to remain any hope of a future in the rotation. He’s a more likely candidate to stay in relief, as he already has the raw stuff in his primary offerings to blow away hitters in short stints.

After compliments for the fastball and slider, Christopher Crawford at Baseball Prospectus had this to say about Labourt’s future back in 2016.

So why is Labourt not in the top 10? Because he too often has no clue where any of those pitches are going—oh, and the word flash is key, as the change and slider are consistently closer to 40-grade pitches than their best selves. At just 21, there’s time to make the necessary mechanical adjustment—keeping his shoulder in, working on a consistent landing spot, etc.—but as is, he’s not someone with good enough command to pitch in high-leverage situations, let alone start.

In short, Labourt remains a complete flier as a prospect. He has the potential to become an extremely effective lefthander, but he’s very far from it. He may be one of those who benefits from pitching exclusively out of the stretch, for example, and has the velocity and stuff to handle that change. However, efforts like those are generally considered of the last ditch variety at Labourt’s level, and it remains to be seen what path the Tigers set for him in 2017. While the ceiling is nice enough to be patient with, the overwhelming likelihood remains that Labourt never quite figures it out.

Jacob’s Scouting Report:

Fastball: 60
Slider: 50
Changeup: 40
Control/Command: 40

Projected 2017 team: High-A Lakeland Flying Tigers

A Flying Tiger in 2016, Labourt pitched to very little success. There is little doubt that he will repeat the level, especially since the jump from High-A to Double-A is infamously daunting. The question is whether the Tigers will attempt to return him to the rotation, or commit to Labourt as relief prospect. The hope is that he will use the repeat in level as an opportunity to sharpen his delivery and command in order to facilitate future success at a higher level.

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