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2018 BYB Tigers prospect #24: OF Jake Robson looks to build on a big season

Robson has speed to spare, and an offensive breakout in 2017 bodes well for his future.

Detroit Tigers Workout Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

There is little fun to be had in the Detroit Tigers' organization. They are one of the least progressive in the sport in terms of analytics. The 2018 season promises to be a resoundingly awful year at the major league level. Fortunately, there is fun to be had in the minor leagues. One of the players headlining that fun is Jake Robson, a.k.a. The Maple Hammer (yeah, he’s from Canada).

Background

The Tigers selected Robson in the eighth round out of Mississippi State in 2016. Robson batted .290/.399/.346 over his college career and walked nearly as many times as he had struck out. He was rated by Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB Pipeline as the No. 183 prospect in that draft. By that rating, Detroit got an absolute steal, taking him more than 50 picks later.

Despite not having the hitting ability of other Tigers prospects, 2017 was a big year at the plate for Robson. He smoked the ball at the Single-A West Michigan with a .408 on-base percentage and a 131 wRC+. A promotion to Advanced-A Lakeland didn't phase him either. His wRC+ took a hit, but he raised his line drive rate by 5.3 percentage points and was more effective on the bases despite walking less and striking out more. If he continues this kind of production at Double-A, expect Robson to move up Tigers prospect lists.

Before and After Promotion

Level AVG Walk Rate Strikeout Rate wRC+ BABIP
Level AVG Walk Rate Strikeout Rate wRC+ BABIP
Single-A (60 Games) 0.329 11.6 % 22.1 % 131 0.435
High-A (58 Games) 0.277 9.0 % 23.1 % 119 0.366

Strengths

Much like shortstop Jose King, our No. 28 prospect in the system, Robson’s game revolves around his speed. He blazes down the base paths, and stole 21 bags in 2017 (five with West Michigan and another 16 while in Lakeland). There is still work to be done with his instincts — he was caught stealing nearly 20 times last year — but the talent is there to be a true weapon. MLB Pipeline gave it a 65 grade, nearly double-plus.

Robson also uses his speed to his advantage in the field, and it allows him to be an able defender with enough range to stick in center. While he doesn't routinely produce highlight-reel plays, he has the glove for the position, and he should be able to play up the middle at any level.

He may not be renowned for his bat, but Robson's offensive ability plays up due to an advanced approach at the plate. He is a patient hitter and doesn't have the trouble with breaking pitches that some his age do. His hit tool played better in 2017 than some expected — even after moving up to Lakeland, he produced a 9.0 percent walk rate — and he is also able to beat out defenders on weakly hit balls.

Weaknesses

The prototypical scrappy center fielder, Robson checks off all the boxes on the good side, but he also hits the bad categories. He has very little power, only lifting three home runs in 2017. Standing only 5'10 and weighing in at 175 pounds, Robson might be able to add a little more bulk in an attempt to create more hard contact, but it would probably sap some of his speed in the process. MLB Pipeline considers Robson’s power a well below average (30) tool.

Even though he has seen time in all three outfield positions and can field them well, Robson is not an ideal fit in either of the corner positions. His bat isn't nearly strong enough to support a permanent move, which forces him to center if he is to be successful. He has a weak arm, which was given a 40 grade by MLB.com, and his defense is adequate, but isn't good enough to justify a starting role on its own.

The best case scenario for Robson is that his breakout this season is more than a BABIP-fueled mirage, and he can carve out a career as a second-tier starter. More likely is a future as a solid bench option, a fourth outfielder who comes in late in games as a pinch runner and defensive replacement.

Projected Team: Double-A Erie SeaWolves

Robson's successes in 2017 resoundingly answered any question as to whether he could handle pitching in the low minors. As an advanced college hitter with a well-rounded profile, there's no reason to keep him in the lower minors. The next logical step is to send him to Double-A. His is a risky profile, but it can be made to work. How well he adjusts to life in the high minors will help determine how good of a player he will be in the long run.