Did you know? To successfully pitch in Major League Baseball, you need to throw strikes. Crazy, right? Good news, Tigers fans: righthander Paul Richan throws a lot of them, and he hates to issue walks.
In 2019, the Tigers shipped out long-time third baseman/outfielder Nicholas Castellanos to the Chicago Cubs for right-handed pitchers Paul Richan and Alex Lange, the No. 27 prospect on our list. Richan then joined the High-A Lakeland Flying Tigers’ rotation. While his 4.11 ERA in his five starts (covering 30 2⁄3 innings) with Lakeland were nothing to write home about, Richan issued just two walks in that span. That’s right: he walked only 1.6 percent of batters.
That minuscule walk rate led to Richan posting a 2.66 FIP in his five Lakeland starts. Since he joined the Cubs farm system in 2018, this is about par for the course; in fact, Richan has never walked more than five percent of batters in any of his minor-league stops. Should he maintain his sterling control over time, he may make for a finesse-focused back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.
Richan was the Cubs’ second-round pick out of the University of San Diego in the 2018 MLB amateur draft. He began his tenure in the Cubs farm system with the Low-A Eugene Emeralds. He cruised in nine short starts — he totaled 29 2⁄3 innings in nine starts and ten total appearances — posting a 2.12 ERA, 3.15 FIP, and 27.4 percent strikeout rate to pair with his low 4.4 percent walk rate.
In 2019, Richan was assigned to the High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans for his first full season, where he started in 17 games. He posted a 3.97 ERA and 3.51 FIP, with a 22.7 percent strikeout rate and a 4.7 percent walk rate in 93 innings. At the July 31 trade deadline, Richan was sent to Detroit and finished the year with High-A Lakeland, posting his aforementioned 1.6 percent walk rate and a very similar 22.2 percent strikeout rate.
The strongest part of Richan’s skill set is his control. He posted an exceptional 69.6 percent strike rate between his time in Myrtle Beach and Lakeland in 2019, and he has never walked more than 1.75 batters per nine innings at any of his minor league stops. Baseball America graded Richan’s control as the best in the organization, ahead of several other promising arms, including some guy named Casey Mize.
Additionally, as Jay wrote when the Tigers first acquired Richan, the 22-year-old righthander is talented at sequencing his repertoire. He throws a fastball that sits in the low 90s, topping out at 93 to 94 miles per hour. He also features a potential plus slider that sits between 82-84 mph, a changeup that sits around 84-86 mph, and a curveball that sits in the low 80s. MLB Pipeline pointed out that Richan’s repertoire “plays better than its scouting grades because he mixes and locates his pitches well,” and gave his control an above-average (55) grade.
Importantly, Richan has not dealt with any injuries as a professional. This is good news for any pitcher, especially a polished college draftee who will be expected to rise through the minors on a faster timetable than a prep product or international free agent.
Oh, and one more strength that you may take as you will; in an article for Bleed Cubbie Blue a month before Richan was traded, Tim Huwe lauded Richan’s ability to win ballgames and string together longer starts for a fifth-place Pelicans team. Richan has limited both walks and home runs, and struck out his fair share of hitters along the way; he has fanned between 22 and 27 percent of hitters at every level he has been at, and allowed under one home run per nine innings at each stop thus far.
This profile has been full of positives and has listed all of Richan’s fantastic accomplishments to date. The reality, though, is that he possesses a well-rounded repertoire that currently lacks a plus offering. In Baseball America’s 2019 scouting report of Richan, they noted that he has a “potentially plus slider” along with a “changeup and curveball that each project to be average or a tick above.” On the bright side, Baseball America does note that Richan has a deceptive delivery to his pitches.
Let’s talk about that arsenal for a moment. In an evaluation at Tigers Minor League Report, our friend James Chipman noted that Richan’s curveball and changeup are currently below-average pitches, and that the changeup will need “significant gains to play at the highest level.” Chipman adds that the changeup flashes fringe potential, but that the curveball is only occasionally average and most often is below-average. Whereas other reports noted Richan’s skill for sequencing his pitches, this scouting report states that he struggles with sequencing and oftentimes allows long at-bats.
Hopefully, Richan will not run into the same issue that fellow Tigers prospect Kyle Funkhouser recently ran into at higher levels: long, drawn-out innings filled with foul balls and high pitch counts. If he does, he is likely destined for a sixth-starter or long relief future.
Projected 2020 team: Double-A Erie Seawolves
The Seawolves will have as many as four holes to fill in the rotation; Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal, and Alex Faedo should all be heading to Triple-A Toledo in 2020. Richan, meanwhile, registered 123 2⁄3 total innings at the High-A level in 2019. He will face his destiny at the decisive Double-A level this season.
The combination of Richan’s well-rounded repertoire, strong sequencing, and deceptive delivery have made up for his lack of a plus pitch up to High-A ball. The test, as he enters Double-A ball, will be whether he can continue to ride his low-90s fastball or develop his slider into a plus pitch so that he can consistently put away hitters at higher levels.