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2018 BYB Tigers prospect #16: LHP Jairo Labourt takes aim at a major league role

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Labourt rocketed to the majors in 2017, but it’ll take much more command to stick there.

Cleveland Indians v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Jairo Labourt has long been the forgotten man in the trade that sent David Price to Toronto in 2015. A live left arm with excellent stuff but poor ability to locate it, Labourt seemed a lottery ticket thrown in alongside Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris. That lottery ticket came close to cashing in during the 2017 season.

Labourt entered his first full season as a reliever, made a few adjustments to help command his power arsenal, and jumped three levels to the major leagues. While his first 6 13 innings in the bigs were rocky ones, Labourt clearly has the stuff to stick there. If he, like other fast climbers Zac Reininger and Joe Jimenez, can master it again this spring, or with the Toledo Mud Hens, you won’t have to wait around long for the Tigers to move him up to the show.

Background

Labourt will turn 24 in March. He was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011, as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic. Labourt’s 6’ 4” frame and southpaw velocity had him on a starter’s track initially, but his control issues and difficulty with the changeup led the Tigers to eventually convert him to relief during the 2016 season.

Labourt seemed to embrace the role of a reliever last year. He got off to a dominant start at the Advanced-A level, striking out 14.49 batters per nine innings, with a walk rate of just 1.98 per nine for Lakeland. The Tigers didn’t mess around, and Labourt was in Erie by May. To the delight of prospect hounds, Labourt was completely unphased by the jump to the Double-A level. He tossed 30 23 innings with a 2.83 ERA. The strikeouts came down to Earth a bit, but he continued to limit his walks.

In the second half, however, the rough outings and poor control reared their ugly heads again with the Toledo Mud Hens. Before the Tigers brought him up for a sloppy late season cup of coffee, Labourt had recorded at least one walk in 14 straight appearances for Toledo.

Strengths

Jairo Labourt has major league ready stuff. There isn’t much disagreement on that point. His fastball tops out around 96 mph, though he’s more typically around 94, and his long-armed delivery can give the pitch good downward plane to go with some late running action. For a left-handed reliever particularly it’s a power fastball.

Labourt’s slider will draw inconsistent grades but is usually a plus pitch when he’s on his game. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs’ 2016 description of it is still valid.

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

During the first half of 2017, it was much more consistently the nasty version. That arsenal is tough on lefties especially, but Labourt will shut down right-handed hitters with authority as well, making a setup man role his likely outcome if he can continue to refine his command.

The stuff to be a good late innings reliever is all there. Beyond it, you have to like his size, as well as his history as a starting pitcher. Labourt has been very durable thus far in his young career, and that proved to be the case in his transition to a bullpen role this season. Progression uninterrupted by injury is a good sign, and perhaps speaks well for his chances of further honing his command in 2018.

Labourt threw 72 13 innings last season, across four different levels. It was his first year as a full-time reliever. The Tigers spaced his outings well, but he may have just run out of gas, mentally and physically, down the stretch. If he can come out strong, he’s capable of jumping the pack as the Tigers best southpaw reliever.

Weaknesses

Labourt may only have one issue, but command is the hardest skill to forecast, particularly for relievers. Pitchers with great stuff run aground through lack of command all the time. If Labourt can spot his fastball reasonably well and attack hitters early in counts, he’s going to be a decent bullpen arm. If the command ever starts to get into plus territory, the Tigers might have a pretty dominant setup man. But it’s also possible that he just never figures it out with enough consistency to stick at the major league level. He still has to prove he can build on the steps he took in 2017.

Labourt’s mechanics are actually pretty good. But when he gets out of whack, he doesn’t have the experience yet to correct himself, and can get really wild. He’s a tall guy, with long levers, and sometimes guys with that body type take longer to harness their delivery consistently. Hopefully he takes a lesson from his struggles in August and September, and can avoid any long stretches of wildness in 2018.

Projected team: Toledo Mud Hens

Labourt is probably going to have to wait his turn this spring. The Tigers have Daniel Stumpf, Blaine Hardy and Travis Wood in line as the team’s lefty relievers. An outstanding spring from Labourt will force their hand, but the Tigers are likely going to commit to two of the elder relievers unless they have major issues in camp. However, Labourt can outgun any of the three in terms of pure stuff. If he can get his fastball and slider under control for a stretch, the Tigers probably won’t wait long to give him another shot.