Remember earlier this year when we jumped back on the Jairo Labourt bandwagon? Turns out that was a good decision. Labourt was promoted to Double-A Erie shortly before we profiled his magnificent turnaround from wild starter to dominant reliever, and hasn’t slowed down much (if at all). The big lefthander has worked 25 1⁄3 innings across 16 appearances for the SeaWolves, and has limited opponents to a 1.42 ERA. He has 29 strikeouts to five walks at Double-A, only a slight drop-off from the 7.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio he posted in Lakeland.
If we’re getting greedy, we would probably like to see more strikeouts. The truly dominant relievers in the game fan 13, 14, even 15 hitters per nine innings, while Labourt is “only” at 11.8 this season. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and nasty slider from the left side, he has the natural talent to be one of those elite bullpen arms. His Achilles heel was always his command, and the move to the bullpen seems to have sorted that out. We’re still only working with a half season of data, but eight walks in 39 total innings is rather eye-opening.
The next step for Labourt will be an interesting one. Were the Tigers closer to a playoff spot, this might be the point where we clamor for Labourt to be called up to the major leagues. We did it with Joe Jimenez last year (oops), and Labourt is easily one of the best relievers in the system based on pure stuff. However, with the Tigers currently mired in mediocrity, the club may play things closer to the vest. Labourt might move up to Triple-A, or continue to hone his craft in the hitter-friendly Eastern League.
High-A Lakeland: RHP Bryan Garcia
Speaking of strikeouts, former Miami Hurricanes pitcher Bryan Garcia has been racking them up in bunches in the Tigers’ farm system this year. Garcia started the year at Single-A West Michigan, where he fanned 27 batters in 14 1⁄3 innings. He gave up five runs during that stretch, but did not allow a home run, and was promoted to High-A Lakeland in mid-May.
Garcia’s stay in Florida was short. He made seven appearances for the Flying Tigers and struck out 15 hitters in 8 2⁄3 frames. Only nine hitters reached base against him and none scored, which led to another promotion. Now at Double-A, Garcia has racked up six punchouts in 5 2⁄3 innings without allowing a run. This brings his season-long total to 48 strikeouts in 28 2⁄3 innings across three minor league levels.
Bryan Garcia 2017 stats
This success is no surprise. Garcia was one of the most decorated pitchers in Miami baseball history, and features a fastball that can reach as high as 96 miles per hour. TigsTown’s Mark Anderson graded it as a plus pitch, along with an above-average slider that could make him a legitimate major league reliever.
That said, we’ve seen this before. Every year, there is a reliever or two who rocket through the Tigers farm system. Few of them pan out, as tends to happen with pitchers drafted as full-time relievers. For every Joe Jimenez — we’re still optimistic about his upside despite the early struggles — there is a Paul Voelker, Guido Knudson, or [insert random Tigers reliever here]. Time will tell if Garcia is the genuine article or yet another power arm preying on inconsistent young minor leaguers.
Single-A West Michigan: RHP Alfred Gutierrez
The West Michigan Whitecaps rotation has drawn a fair amount of praise, as far as minor league teams go. Gregory Soto had a long scoreless streak to open the year, while Austin Sodders and Kyle Funkhouser are among those that have made the leap to Advanced-A Lakeland.
Lost in the shuffle has been righthander Alfred Gutierrez. The 22-year-old Venezuelan is putting together an incredible season for the Whitecaps; you just have to look past his 3.96 ERA. In 61 1⁄3 innings, Gutierrez has 67 strikeouts and five walks. Five. That’s a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 13.40, easily the best in the Midwest League by qualified starters. This only translates to a 3.46 FIP according to FanGraphs somehow, but I would guess it’s because of his home run rate. Gutierrez has allowed eight home runs in 13 appearances this season, a rather high number for the Midwest League.
While it’s far too early to count out any 22-year-old prospect, Gutierrez’s future probably doesn’t rest at the top of a rotation. He was not ranked among the Tigers’ top 50 prospects by either TigsTown or the Detroit News’ Lynn Henning, and does not have a history of posting these gaudy strikeout or walk numbers. He will need to continue this for a while to truly turn heads in the prospect community.