Last week, we unveiled our entire top 30 Detroit Tigers prospect rankings for 2019. A few members of our staff compiled their lists of their own, and we used those as a baseline for what eventually became our official list for the upcoming season. Of course, as in years past, we will be writing in-depth pieces on each prospect that landed a spot on the list.
However, as we have also done in the past, we want to highlight a few guys that were in consideration but didn’t quite make our list. This batch of minor leaguers weren’t necessarily the top vote-getters of the group that missed the cut, but they are an interesting bunch. We thought it would be worthwhile to take a closer look at each one.
1B Rey Rivera
There’s more than one way to stand at 6’6. Some guys are that tall, but a lean and athletic physique makes them look like any other ballplayer. Rey Rivera, on the other hand, looks more bull than man. With a maxed out frame covered in bulk, he’s a hulking presence on the field. There’s no way to miss him. As you can imagine, that kind of build leads itself to raw power output that sets him apart from the pack. “He’s Superman strong,” said former Tigers All-Star Lance Parrish.
Frustratingly, though, power is the only plus tool Rivera offers on the diamond. What’s more, Rivera’s swing doesn’t have the bat speed to match his build. When scouting out a batter, an evaluator watches for bat speed. More than anything else, bat speed is the best indicator of future power production. Rivera’s massive frame allows him to muscle balls deep into territory that many can’t reach, but that power isn’t as projectable as it could be.
Put simply, Rey Rivera has a lot of work to do as a hitter. He succumbs to even the most basic sequencing. The problem flares up when he’s not producing well due to struggles with performance-based anxiety and he slumps badly. Power buys a player lot of chances, though, so he will get a mulligan and try again in 2019.
C Sam McMillan
I won’t sugarcoat it; the reports on McMillan were very bad in 2018. His lack of a standout tool is not a big deal when the rest of the profile is working, but it wasn’t working in short-season Connecticut. Baseball Prospectus lead prospect writer Jeffery Paternostro talked to Bless You Boys about what he saw from the young player last season:
“Defensively he has struggled with receiving and blocking, can get boxy with pitches. Looks Iike average arm strength but is mechanically a bit slow so pops 2.1-2.2 and the ball tails. He’s struggled against spin in a pitcher’s league, but has okay bat control and an idea at the plate. Prep catchers are long term plays, but the early returns here have not been encouraging.”
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There’s something to be said for working a 12.3 percent walk rate in the New York-Penn League in his first full season of pro ball, especially as a catcher facing a massive jump in both competition and responsibility. Another season of play in 2019 will be a fantastic opportunity for McMillan to bring the tools that earned him a seven-figure bonus just over a year ago.
RHP John Schreiber
We’re three seasons into his career and John Schreiber looks like a lock for the major leagues. He slings pitches from a delivery that is too high to be called submarine but certainly qualifies as “unusual.” His fastball doesn’t have the kind of life or velocity that you see from some in today’s game, but it plays up because batters struggle to get a good read on it out of Schreiber’s hand. His slider is his signature pitch — it’s the bar that others are measured against in West Michigan’s press box.
“The pitch I’ve been focusing a lot on is my changeup,” Schreiber said to The Athletic while at the Arizona Fall League. “I’ve been messing with grips and stuff since I got here because I feel like that’s one pitch I need to have down for next year going forward.”
Few doubt that his future is in the major leagues, but exactly what role he will serve is cloudy. Being a relief prospect caps his value, especially since he isn’t a closer. He might end up as a setup guy, but more likely is a role as a ground ball specialist who handles the middle innings with total competence. He is also a candidate to play as an “opener” (should the Tigers opt for this strategy in future years) because lefties struggle to lift the ball against him. His deceptive delivery would also work well in the role. That’s not bad for a 15th rounder.
LHP Jack O’Loughlin
O’Loughlin’s placement on this list should come as little surprise to our more dedicated readers. He has been hovering around the back end of our prospect lists for a few years now, in no small part due to my persistent (and probably annoying) arguments for his inclusion. O’Loughlin’s stock held steady in 2018, and his performance with the Connecticut Tigers provided a few insights along the way. His fastball took a small step forward from years past, and now settles in around the low 90s. It features a little horizontal life, with cutting action that should be tough on righties.
O’Loughlin is still ahead of the curve in terms of feel with his breaking ball — pun definitely intended. It’s still his best pitch, but it can get loopy at times and one source cited difficulty hitting his spots with it on the glove side. He mixes things up with a below-average split-change that shows a bit of promise. Developmentally speaking, O’Loughlin is ahead of many 18-year-olds from foreign markets, but he still has a long way to go before he is out of the woods.
One major step he needs to take to get onto the top 30 is to improve his command and walk rate. Walking 5.23 batters every nine innings isn’t going to cut it at the higher levels. Fortunately, that’s a feasible task for O’Loughlin thanks to a simple, repeatable delivery.
LHP Tarik Skubal
Good power lefties are are not easy to come by, so when Detroit picked Skubal up in the ninth round of the 2018 draft, we took notice. Skubal has a very good pitcher’s build, a 6’3 frame filled out with 215 pounds of lean, well-defined muscle. Command has always been a big blemish on Skubal’s résumé, one that wasn’t helped by Tommy John surgery during his college days. Once you get past that, there’s a lot to like. He blew away the competition with power stuff — he struck out 33 hitters in his first 22 1⁄3 professional innings last summer.
He was kind enough to speak with Bless You Boys back in July.
“My slider, I really like that pitch. I like my changeup. I like my curveball as a strikeout pitch. My fastball’s my favorite pitch, obviously, but I like them all. Fastball command is something that I put a lot of emphasis on. Location is huge for success for me, and I focus on it every day: playing catch, hitting the chest, hitting the glove. The Whitecaps logo on the chest helps me focus and tune in my mechanics.”
Much like in Schreiber’s case, being a relief arm with an unclear role muddies Skubal’s value. We will get a clearer picture in 2019, where his health and ability to hit the strike zone could either move him into stronger consideration for the Top 30 or tank his stock altogether.
LHP Matt Hall
It’s tricky to create meaningful content about Hall. His draft position as a sixth rounder didn’t portend his relatively quick ascent to the major leagues. But despite success in the minor leagues and a no-joke breaking ball, he leaves something to be desired. He is far from your typical holdover from the Dave Dombrowski era; Hall’s fastball tops out at 90 miles per hour with modest movement. That kind of fastball would usually get smoked in the upper minors, but Hall managed to keep hitters at bay in 10 Triple-A starts last year, turning in a shiny 2.67 ERA and 2.60 FIP. He keeps opposing batters off balance with a hammer of a curveball that rivals any breaking ball in the system.
He is essentially a two pitch pitcher, though. His changeup is a rarity — Brooks Baseball only tracked two in 2018, even though he threw 199 pitches in the majors — and scouts agree that it isn’t all that good anyway. This smoke-and-mirrors approach to pitching means that Hall will always walk a tightrope. The transition to the majors is sure to be (and has already been) a rocky one for this lefty. His ceiling is that of a fourth or fifth starter, but he may be better suited to a specialty role in the bullpen. That would allow his curveball to play up while giving batters fewer looks at his underwhelming heater.