Detroit Tigers Top 20 Prospects: No.3 LHP Tarik Skubal

Detroit Tigers (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Detroit Tigers (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Welcome to the first installment of the Motor City Bengals Top 20 Detroit Tigers prospects. The MCB staff has compiled our prospect lists and we will be releasing our consensus rankings, along with a breakdown of each player, in a series of articles in the coming days. Today, we look at number 3 on our list, Tarik Skubal.

For those wondering, there was some spirited debate specifically regarding Casey Mize vs Tarik Skubal in our rankings. To make this clear, the reason for putting Mize over Skubal is not due to their performance in 2020. Although Skubal had the better season overall, there are other reasons why Skubal might have a more sustainable future than Mize. Hopefully, the rationale below lends some context behind our logic. More simply: he’s left-handed, his fastball proved its dominance translates to the MLB, and his ability to develop a changeup on-the-fly helps to mitigate his relief risk.

Tarik Skubal Background

Skubal is the famous find of the Detroit Tigers’ system, getting drafted in the ninth round out of Seattle University in the 2018 MLB Draft. He had Tommy John Surgery in 2016 and looked the part of a typical Detroit Tigers hurler: big, strong, hard-thrower with lagging command. His draft year in 2018, Skubal pitched to a 4.16 ERA for Seattle and struck out 106 batters in 80 innings but walked 56.

His trajectory flipped almost immediately after hitting the pro ranks; posting 1.6 walks per nine innings in 2018 where he pitched across three levels. In the following 2019 campaign, he would pitch to a 2.42 ERA between High-A and Double-A; striking out 179 batters in just 122.2 innings and maintaining his shiny walk rate. After some time at Spring Training and the alternate training site in 2020, Skubal made his debut with the Detroit Tigers, posting a 5.91 ERA and striking out 37 in 31 innings across eight appearances–seven of which were starts.

Tarik Skubal Strengths

As referenced earlier, the strength of Tarik Skubal has always been his fastball. He threw it nearly 60 percent of the time in 2020; averaging 94.4 mph and holding hitters to a .203 xBA, suggesting some bad luck against the actual .250 average. His spin rate of 2422 RPMs was good for the 82nd percentile in all of baseball and his 11.1 inches of horizontal movement with the pitch is 4.5 inches more than average, according to Statcast.

Since the development of his changeup, Skubal now has the conventional four-pitch starter mix. One challenge with younger arms is their inability to finish off hitters, but Skubal has been able to maintain his double-digit strikeouts per nine at the MLB level while still limiting the number of free passes–an impressive feat considering he’s not known for pinpoint accuracy with his pitches.

The risk with pitchers is plentiful–but Skubal is probably near the lower end of the spectrum considering he has already undergone Tommy John Surgery and has reached the major leagues with a call-up last season. GM Al Avila mentioned Skubal would be competing for a rotation spot this spring.

Tarik Skubal Weaknesses

As referenced above, Skubal’s command has been able to go on the back-burner throughout his brief minor league career. This being because his stuff was so electric that even pitches in the zone were being whiffed at without contact. That luxury has not manifested in MLB; giving up a whopping 2.5 home runs per nine innings across 2020. By comparison, Matthew Boyd, infamously nicknamed ‘Bombs Away Boyd’ by fellow contributor Jon Erikkila, gave up 2.2 home runs per nine innings last season.

An eight-game run is undoubtedly worthy of the small sample size disclaimers. While tough to label Skubal home run-prone, it is fair to question if his command will ultimately yield more hits compared to the numbers he posted in the minors.

Tarik Skubal ZiPS Projections

Our Take

Aside from injury, I would be shocked if Skubal does not start the season in the starting rotation for the Detroit Tigers on Opening Day, 2021. I can speak for the staff in saying the rationale behind putting Skubal ahead of Mize is more about Skubal’s ability than anything deficient with Mize.

Personally, I expect a strong sophomore campaign for the southpaw, Skubal, and I even anticipate him to outperform the projections, to an extent. Skubal will almost certainly be on some type of limit whether it be pitches per start, starts, innings, etc. His effectiveness across a full season may hinge on how deep the organization will let him go in games and across the season.