Tuesday afternoon, the Detroit Tigers announced that left-handed pitching prospect Tarik Skubal was cleared to come off the injured list and rejoin the team for workouts. In addition, the team has removed right-handed pitcher Zack Hess from the 60-man player pool and released Hector Santiago from his minor league contract. Accounting for these transactions, the number of players in the 60-man pool has reduced to 58.
Skubal, one of the Tigers’ top minor leaguers, has seen an astronomical rise in his prospect status since joining the organization. The team drafted him in the ninth round of the 2018 draft with little pomp or circumstance. Today, he’s among the most promising players in the organization’s rebuilding efforts. He simply outgunned the competition in virtually every appearance he made in 2019. Skubal rode his blazing fastball to a 17.43 strikeouts per nine innings mark at the Double-A level.
Although he was placed on the 60-man player pool in advance of Summer Camp, Skubal was missing in action for the entirety of the Tigers’ preseason preparations and was placed on the injured list. The reason for his placement on the IL was never disclosed.
Obviously, it would have been fun to see Skubal pitch for the Tigers in 2020, but that was somewhat unlikely even before the season was reduced to 60 games. That reality is compounded by the fact that he was unable to play in any of the team’s simulated games. Although it will be helpful to keep him in peak physical condition by working out with the taxi squad, don’t count on seeing him wear the Olde English D this summer. Perhaps that will change once the coaching staff gets a feel for his readiness.
Hess, a seventh round draft selection of the Tigers in 2019, joined the team near the end of Summer Camp and appeared in only one game. He was considered one of the best relief prospects in his draft class and showed a glimpse of that promise in his single inning of work in Monday’s intrasquad matchup. He pumped a riding fastball in the mid-90s and a quality slider that operates an an excellent change of pace.
The lack of a minor league season is especially unfortunate for Hess. He was poised to make quick progress through the minor leagues, as talented relievers often do in their first full year of professional baseball.
The rules regulating the addition and removal of players from the 60-man player pool are quite strict. The rules published by the league clearly state that if a player not included in the 40-man roster player is removed from the 60-player pool, he must be released, traded, placed on the COVID-19 injured list, or placed on the restricted, ineligible, or voluntarily retired list. Evidently, this didn’t apply to Hess because of a specific loophole.
Here's a clarification on Zack Hess being taken off player pool. Because he was added as a replacement for a player with COVID, he can be taken off without any transaction (waived, release, trade, etc). That is an oversimplification, but that's the deal— Chris McCosky (@cmccosky) July 22, 2020
Things are much more straightforward in Santiago’s case - he was released from his MiLB contract outright. The 32-year-old southpaw, veteran of nine MLB season didn’t make the cut for the Tigers’ 30-man roster and was reassigned to the alternate training site on Monday.
Evidently, the team believes they can make better use of his spot on the 60-man player pool. Frankly, it was never in the cards for Santiago to be a part of the Tigers’ next competitive team. He was simply a bit of insurance. So, if the front office believes he cannot help the team this year, an available roster spot on the 60-man pool and the playing time it represents is significantly more valuable in the hands of a prospect or a potential pickup this week as team’s cut down to their final rosters in advance of Opening Day.