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Tigers Prospect Notebook: Let’s pump the brakes on Jake Robson a bit

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Robson has been on fire lately, but how long will it last?

USA v Canada - 18U Baseball World Championship Final Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

I want Jake Robson to be for real. I identified him as one of my favorite prospects shortly after he was drafted, and that attachment hasn’t wavered much over the past couple years. I’m always intrigued by guys who produced in college but slipped in the draft — Robson was an eighth round pick after hitting .290 with a .399 on-base percentage at Mississippi State — and I have a soft spot for center fielders.

I’m not super sold on his recent hot streak, though. Robson is tearing up the minor leagues this season, hitting .300/.390/.488 between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. He has been crushing the ball since arriving in Toledo, with a .400 batting average and .771 slugging average in a handful of games. For the year, he has 10 home runs, more than triple his previous professional high. That kind of uptick in power is usually a big positive, even if it’s happening in a more hitter-friendly environment.

I’m skeptical, though. Robson had just four home runs in roughly a season-and-a-half of pro ball heading into 2018, and started the year in similar fashion. From April 5 to May 15, Robson hit .269 with a .376 on-base percentage — very Robson-like numbers, as we’ve seen — but only had one home run in 160 plate appearances. Over the last six-ish weeks? Nine home runs and a 1.002 OPS in 191 plate appearances. That’s too big a jump for my tastes, especially for someone built like the 5’10, 175-pound Robson. He was never projected to add much power, but is sporting a .276 ISO (i.e. Miguel Cabrera territory) over the past two months.

Even if he does regress back to his typical gap power, he could still be a valuable player. He has hit for average and drawn walks at every level, and has enough speed to play an average center field. He’s probably more of a fourth outfielder going forward, but even getting that out of him is good value from the eighth round.

Of course, he’s always welcome to prove me wrong too.

Double-A Erie: RHP Sandy Baez

Speaking of players that have the fanbase all hot and bothered, remember when Sandy Baez blanked a high-powered Yankees offense for 4 13 innings? That was fun, but Baez’s first extended look at Double-A ball has not. He is currently sporting a 5.19 ERA through 78 innings, and a 5.70 FIP is even worse. Most of that figure is home run driven, but his strikeout rate has declined from the solid 24.7 percent clip he produced in High-A last year.

It seems these numbers finally prompted the Tigers to move Baez to the bullpen, something we (and others) have wanted for a while.

We obviously saw a taste of what Baez could do out of the ‘pen in that outing against the Yankees, but it’s a move that has made sense for a while. He is more of a two-pitch guy, with a huge fastball and a useable changeup. His slider is inconsistent, and is one reason why he hasn’t quite been able to hack it as a starter. His command is also a hindrance, but something that won’t be as much of a problem when he’s allowed to rear back and go for broke out of the bullpen. He averaged 95.4 miles per hour with his fastball in that outing against the Yankees, and could probably reach back for even more velocity if used in one or two inning stints.

It’s too early to tell if the experiment is working, but his first relief outing offered mixed results. He threw 22 of his 34 pitches for strikes... but also walked a batter and hit two more. We’ll have to follow this one closely during the second half of the year.

Short-season Connecticut: RHP Gio Arriera

Let’s talk about something positive, shall we? Arriera, the Tigers’ fourth round pick in 2017, has been something of a forgotten man over the past year. He put up a forgettable 4.61 ERA in 11 Gulf Coast League outings last year, with a decent strikeout rate and a walk rate that was far too high for anyone’s liking. It wasn’t anything to worry about, but he didn’t open anyone’s eyes either.

This year has been more of the same so far, except Arriera is doing it at a higher level and with a much higher strikeout rate. Through four outings, Arriera has already notched 31 strikeouts. Many of those came in his last start, when he fanned 12 batters across seven innings of work, but he has fanned at least five hitters in every start so far. The walk rate is still a bit high, as mentioned, but his gaudy strikeout rate has resulted in a solid 3.10 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 22.1 K-BB%.

Arriera is still a long way from the majors, but the Tigers clearly saw something they liked in the 20-year-old righthander. He was a bit of a surprise pick in the fourth round, but is still quite young and can touch the mid-90s with his fastball. He participated in the same junior college tournament at Joker Marchant Stadium that Reynaldo Rivera did, so it’s possible the Tigers liked the Trackman readings they had on him too. Either way, keep an eye on Arriera this year.