While the depth in positional prospects remains somewhat bleak within the Tigers’ farm system, the depth in pitching is far more impressive. Beyond their top shelf arms like Casey Mize and Matt Manning, there are plenty of solid starting pitching prospects, and several potential relief arms. On a third tier below them, an interested fan can take their pick of a host of raw talents and older command-and-control guys, and rank them according to personal preference.
No matter what anyone says, it’s a crapshoot when you get this far down the list of even a deep farm system.
Right handed starter Carlos Guzman is hardly the most refined in this tier of pitchers, but that’s actually part of the allure. A converted infielder who took to pitching like a fish to water two summers ago, there is enough to like here that patience is advised. He deserves plenty of development time as the 21-year-old has far less experience that most pitchers his age. A recent forearm strain has clouded his future a bit, but we’ll continue to give him some benefit of the doubt.
Guzman was signed back in 2015 as an international free agent out of Venezuela. The Tigers picked him up as a 16-year-old late in the 2014-2015 signing period. Initially a third baseman, Guzman just didn’t hit in rookie ball and the Tigers decided to try and take advantage of his strong throwing arm instead during the 2017 season.
Quite quickly, Carlos Guzman showed off his athleticism with a fluid, powerful delivery and was off to the races, handling the Gulf Coast League with relative ease. Graduating to short season A-ball with the Connecticut Tigers in 2018, he displayed surprisingly good control and feel, developing a changeup with potential and pairing it well with a lively fastball.
Coming off some low-key attention in 2018, the 2019 season is certainly a disappointment. He handled himself just fine in the Midwest League with the West Michigan Whitecaps, but was still getting his footing when the Tigers shut him down after a May 28 start. As a result, this will be a lost season for him. Fortunately, reports indicate that Guzman will not require surgery, so the Tigers will expect him to be back on the mound next spring.
The key to Guzman is the tantalizing upside he possesses. When a position player converts to pitching and quickly shows good mechanics and velocity, rapidly developing feel, and a high spin fastball, well, there’s a lot to like. He’s a very good athlete and that ability has been the key to his rapid development over the last two years. Guzman has already topped out at 97 mph and has pretty good extension to the plate. He comfortably sits in the low-90’s without much effort throughout a start, despite having just 100 innings of work as a pitcher.
Most intriguing is the feel for his changeup on display in 2018 and early this season. The pitch already shows good armspeed and finish at times, with good fading action and enough velocity separation from his fastball to project an eventual average or better offering. It’s still inconsistent, and he’ll slow his arm down at times to baby it in there. Still, at its best, the cambio is already quite good.
Overall, if Guzman was a 21-year-old starter who came up as a pitcher, he’d be a little less interesting. However the fastball and changeup show real signs of being legitimate major league offerings down the road, and his control is quite advanced for Single-A ball. With the consideration that he has substantially less repetitions than most pitchers his age that’s a really nice basis to build on.
There are two main issues with Guzman that can’t be softened by his relative lack of experience. One, he stands 6’1 and 185 pounds, which is a little shy of the frames teams generally try to build starting pitchers upon. Secondly, Guzman’s ability to spin his breaking ball lags far behind his other two offerings.
On the first issue, little can be done. However, it’s not as though being 6’1 disqualifies you from being a starting pitcher. It’s just a little ding in his profile. Often when a young pitcher goes through Tommy John surgery and rehab, they add quite a bit of strength through the grueling recovery required. Guzman doesn’t need surgery, but the rehab work that will no doubt be scheduled could spur him to improving his strength and conditioning this offseason. That will be something to watch for when he returns to action.
Either way, it’s not uncommon for a pitcher still building himself up physically to compete every five days to have some minor issues. Guzman will have to add strength and endurance, but that’s par for the course.
The second problem is more glaring. Guzman really doesn’t have a breaking ball. He’ll throw over a baby slurve and occasionally show a little better version of it, but he doesn’t spin the breaking ball well at all. FanGraphs had Guzman at number 14 on their preseason list of the Tigers’ top prospects, and this was their take on the breaking ball issue.
“Guzman has a bad breaking ball, and while breaking ball quality typically isn’t something that improves very much over time, Guzman is so new to pitching that he may not yet have the right feel/grip on his breaker. The spin rate on his low-80s slider is beneath that of his fastball. Typically the inverse is true, and it’s a sign that there’s probably a grip issue, something that can be remedied.”
That opinion jibes with much of what we saw in the early going this year before Guzman was shut down. Occasionally he’d break off a good one, but he’s still very much feeling for the best grip and action.
Guzman is a talented athlete, and his rapid development as a pitching prospect has been fairly exciting thus far. When placed in the proper context due to his inexperience, there’s an awful lot to like. On the other hand, he’s also still rather raw in terms of his breaking ball, and the forearm strain is cause for some concern.
Our opinion may have been different had news of Guzman’s injury and impending shutdown emerged before we developed our midseason list. For now, we’ll ride with him and hope the rest and rehab primes him to take a big step forward in 2019.