With the 135th pick in the 2021 MLB draft, the Detroit Tigers selected Tanner Kohlhepp, a right-handed pitcher from Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish used Kohlhepp out of the bullpen in a long-relief role, but there’s a chance he could serve as a starting pitcher in the professional ranks. He throws from a relatively low arm slot, but he packs one heck of a punch with his fastball. It sits in the mid-90s, reaching 100 miles per hour on the stadium gun and 99 on scouts’ guns. Either way, it comes in with run and sink, making it a difficult pitch to barrel up when he uses it low in the zone.
Just as GIF-able is his slider, which is an above-average pitch
Tanner Kohlhepp, Frisbee Slider...and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/LBid2BUWjT— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 8, 2021
Note the effectiveness of Kohlhepp’s breaking ball in that example against a same-handed hitter. “He destroys right-handers with a tight low-80s slider that could be a back-foot option against left-handers, and he’ll sometimes turn it into an upper-80s cutter,” wrote Pipeline.
Those two pitches alone would be enough to get Kohlhepp drafted as a reliever, but there’s some speculation that the Tigers may send him out as a starting pitcher. He rounds out his pitch mix with a fading changeup that functions as his primary offspeed weapon against lefties, and to top it off, he found greater success controlling all three pitches in 2021.
There’s no harm in trying Kohlhepp out in the rotation to begin his career. At worst, he gets kicked around a bit in the high minors, he’s moved to the bullpen, and nothing of value is lost. There’s also a chance the Tigers could try to fast-track him to the majors as a single inning, high octane bullpen arm, but forcing that kind of career path rarely works out well. They’re better off letting things happen naturally.