Minors Only: Skipworth's Slumping

May 26, 2009

A Tiger Shows His Stripes

With Rick Porcello and Ryan Perry all but certain to lose their prospect eligibility by the end of the year, the race to be the top pitching prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization is wide open.

One prospect making a strong bid for the honor is Mauricio Robles.

A live-armed Venezuelan with a 91-95 MPH fastball and a developing curve and change, Robles had a solid stateside debut last year pitching for West Michigan of the Low-A Midwest League.

The short (5'10”) southpaw fanned 21.5% and had a 3.77 FIP, but his league-high 14.5 BB% is what delayed a bump to the Florida State League and prompted a return engagement to West Michigan.

“He had good numbers here last year, but he was 3-0, 3-1 on too many hitters. He's just a young kid and the Florida State League is a little different,” West Michigan manager Joe DePastino told the Grand Rapids Press.

Robles has shaved his walk rate down to a more acceptable 9.4% this year and his strikeout rate has skyrocketed up to 35.1%, second in the circuit among pitchers with 35 or more innings.

Though he's repeating the league, he will be 20 years old all season long.

At his age, his whole future is ahead of him, and it could be a bright one.

“Once he gets command of his fastball, then he's going to be something special," DePastino told the Detroit Free Press.

If he can continue to harness his stuff, Robles should be in line for a midseason promotion to the Florida State League.

Skipworth Not Proving His Worth

When the Florida Marlins forked over $2.3 million to sign Kyle Skipworth, the sixth overall pick in last year's draft, they had high hopes.

But the early returns on that investment are not promising.

After signing last summer, the catcher was assigned to the Gulf Coast League, and he posted largely unimpressive numbers over 168 plate appearances.

His wOBA was .254, and while his walk rate was halfway decent (7.7%), he struck out too much (26.8%).

Despite a reputation of being an offensive-oriented backstop with plus power he showed subpar power (.139 IsoP).

Because it wasn't the largest sample size, and because complex leagues can be tough to gauge, nobody was ready to worry about the struggles of one of the top talents in the draft.

That could be changing.

The 19-year-old was sent to Greensboro of the Low-A South Atlantic League to open this year and he's shown no signs of improvement – if anything, his numbers have gotten worse.

Skipworth's .227 wOBA is third-worst in the league among hitters with at least 115 plate appearances and he's striking out an alarming rate – a league-leading 37.6%, and more in May (45.8%).

His walk rate and isolated power have also seen modest declines from last summer, down to 6.0% and .120, respectively, and lower in May (5.1% and .089).

John Sickels once argued that “historically, high school catching is quite risky; prep backstops drafted in the first round have failure rates even higher than high school pitchers.”

Skipworth has a ways to go before he gets called a failure, but his struggles are troubling-- strikeouts in particular. It looks like the Marlins should have held him back until the New York-Penn League opens shop next month, especially after his less than stellar Gulf Coast League performance.

They Said It

“There are a ton of little things that go into pitching that are just as important as attacking hitters and trying to get strikeouts. Controlling the running game is a huge part of the game and something that I take pride in. If I happen to walk a guy or give up a base hit, I don’t want to give him second base. I’ve always worked on having quick feet, changing my looks and perfecting my holds. That has helped me have a pretty good pickoff move.” - Baltimore Orioles Double-A prospect Jake Arrieta talks to Baseball Daily Digest about pitching.

“There's been a lot of development with Buchholz over the last year and a half. He's starting to get to the point where he's figuring things out. I'm not talking about quality of stuff, I'm talking about maturity, throwing strikes when he needs to. With Buch, it's always the fastball. When he's throwing fastballs for strikes, the other stuff just flows. He stayed on line. When he would spin off a little bit, the next pitch he would throw the fastball into the zone. - Triple-A Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson to The Boston Globe on Clay Buchholz, who threw a complete game one-hitter with no walks and seven punch-outs on Monday.


Contact Ryan Fay.