19-year-old Tyler Skaggs was dealt to the Diamondbacks as part of the recent trade that sent Dan Haren to the Angels. While Joe Saunders was the “big name” in the deal, Skaggs may turn out to be the gem of the package.
Skaggs, a 6-foot-4 lanky lefty, was selected in the supplemental first round (40th overall) by the Los Angeles Angels in 2009. He spent that season at two stages of rookie ball, totaling only 10 innings with 13 strikeouts and only two walks. He opened 2010 in the Low-A Midwest League and has totaled 82.1 innings with 82 strikeouts and 21 walks (3.9 K/BB rate) to this point.
Just about all of Skaggs’ future value is based in projection. There is plenty of room for his body to mature. Currently, Skaggs is throwing his fastball in the 89-91 MPH range with good movement, but future an increase in velocity to 91-93 MPH may be within reach.
When I saw Skaggs earlier this season, he was definitely impressive and his fastball was hitting consistently 90-91 mph. Outside of a few mistakes early, including a home run allowed to Twins top prospect Aaron Hicks, Skaggs was dominant.
Mechanically, Skaggs is sound. He stays tall as he finds a consistent balance point before shifting his momentum forward. He’s able to keep his shoulders in line to his target throughout his delivery. His arm is in the drive zone by the time his front foot lands, enabling him to take advantage of his lengthy arm as it whips through quickly and gets maximum extension. At the point of release, Skaggs has all of his momentum transferred forward toward home plate.
The only criticism I have is the length of his stride, which is very long and could counter his momentum should he fall behind on his release point.
The motion is easily repeatable.
As far as results go, Skaggs’ peripheral numbers are impressive. So far this season he has induced ground balls on 51.8 percent of his balls in play, while limiting the opposing hitters to a 15.2 percent line drive rate (stats from minorleaguesplits.com) at the same time. Both of those ratios are excellent and both indicate, along with his 24.0% strikeout rate, a level of dominance over Low-A hitting. His command is also well above average for his age.
The one thing I always look for in a pitcher at the lower levels is how he appears, visually, to dominate the opposition. As pitchers reach the higher levels this becomes a tougher task. But at the lower levels only the dominant pitchers shine and the difference between the clear-cut prospects and the roster fillers is night and day. When I saw Skaggs in person he was clearly a cut above the rest, making professional hitters look helpless.
The key to his success going forward may be his hammer, a big dropping 12-to-6 curveball. It is his clear strikeout pitch right now and should continue to be a plus offering going forward. There is, however, concern over the lack of a third pitch in his repertoire. Coming into this season his changeup was viewed as merely OK and he didn’t use it much the one outing I was personally able to view.
Overall, Skaggs has performed to the expectations set upon him this preseason. He may not have the pure “stuff” to become an ace, but if he continues to progress and adds a few MPH to his fastball, he could easily turn into a third or fourth starter for the Diamondbacks four or five years down the road. If his changeup develops into a plus offering, his ceiling has a chance to get even higher.