To write that Arizona Diamondbacks pitching prospect Tyler Skaggs is very good isn’t exactly going out on a limb. However, with the young lefty ranking no lower than number-21 on major prospect lists and posting gaudy double-A numbers this season, readers expect Skaggs to rank among the truly elite pitching prospects in the game. For me personally, it was Skaggs being universally ranked above Mariners Danny Hultzen this past off-season that left me anticipating he would become my standard bearer for southpaws. In this particular start, he fell a bit short.
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Throughout the off-season, readers peppered me with questions about Tyler Skaggs in live chats. And while I hadn’t seen him at the time, I warned not to be too bullish based on numbers alone since lefties with a plus off-speed pitch generally dominate minor league baseball. One really needs to see any left-handed pitching prospect in person to gain a true understanding of the arsenal in play every fifth day and how it will project at the game’s highest level. There’s simply too much padding in the numbers otherwise.
Show a statistical novice a 3.16 FIP, 13.11 K/9 and 1.93 BB/9 in double-A as a 20-year-old and the prospect conversation quickly turns to just how big a star the player will become. In Skaggs’ case, the conversation should focus around just how high his ceiling truly is with the over/under being a strong number three in a championship rotation.
Without question, Skaggs’ curveball is his best weapon, profiling as a 65-70 pitch on the 20-80 scale. At 76-77 MPH, the pitch featured big, true 12/6 break and late biting action. In short, it’s a “bat-misser.” This movement was combined with an uncanny ability to command the pitch to both sides of the plate for his age. Add in his nearly identical arm speed to his fastball and tendency to attack hitters with the pitch and I’m left with no choice but to rate Skaggs’ curveball as the best I’ve seen at the minor league level – period.
Turning to Skaggs’ fastball, it sat in the 90-92 MPH range, touching 93 on several occasions and 94 once during the innings I was behind home plate. When down in the zone, the pitch featured a touch of late downward life, but flattened out considerably when above the belt. Unfortunately, Skaggs worked up far too often in this particular outing, leading to a number of hard hit balls and multiple home runs. Skaggs showed occasional ability to paint the corners including some classic lefty tailing action to the outside corner against righties, but command on the whole was in the average range at best. This may wind up being a reason Skaggs remains in the minor leagues a bit longer than his numbers would suggest.
As a third offering, Skaggs flashed an 80-81 MPH changeup which struck me as more of a “show me” pitch than a big league offering at present. In both slowing down his arm action and staying taller through the pitch, the mechanical differences between his fastball and changeup were noticeable. Add to this a tendency to leave the pitch up and it rates as below average at present with a need for additional refinement.
When projecting Tyler Skaggs, one needs to assess just how reliant Skaggs can be on his best pitch. From 2011 to today, four qualified starting pitchers in the major leagues utilize the curveball more than 20% of the time, with only Wandy Rodriguez pushing above the 30% plateau. Another lefty, Gio Gonzalez, has thrown the curve 27.4% of the time over that time period, but his average velocities are in line with Skaggs’ peak pitch speed. Maybe the most comparable starter to Skaggs is Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Erik Bedard. While he hasn’t thrown enough innings to rank among qualified leaders, his career pitch type data is nearly identical to the young lefty scouted in Chattanooga.
In the end, if one believes Skaggs’ curveball will continue to fool hitters and miss bats in spite of an abnormally high usage rate, then a similar arsenal to a trio of lefties in Rodriguez, Gonzalez and Bedard leaves Skaggs with a floor of a strong number three at the big league level. Add Skaggs’ more impressive minor league walk rates, as well as a height advantage over the three pitchers, and one can dream on a fastball he can command with strong, downward plane to accompany a plus curveball raising his ceiling even further.
The potential is there for Tyler Skaggs to become a well above average starting pitcher at the big league level, but he’s not there yet. Regardless of his success and high strikeout totals, the Diamondbacks are playing it safe and smart in not rushing the young left-hander to Phoenix.