Tigers Prospect Tarik Skubal Is One Of 2019’s Breakout Stars

Image credit: Tarik Skubal (Photo courtesy of Erie SeaWolves)

RICHMOND — Watching Tarik Skubal now, it’s hard to believe that just a year ago, he was a pitcher who struggled to stay in control.

As a pro, Skubal always seems to be in control. After dominating the lower minors, Skubal has been even more effective in his first three starts in Double-A. On Friday night, the Tigers’ No. 5 prospect spun six scoreless innings while fanning a season-high 13 batters. He was in control of the game from the first pitch, showing off his four-pitch mix and ability to pound the strike zone.

In 118.2 professional innings, Skubal has struck out 164 while walking only 27 and allowing just 82 hits. He has a sparkling 1.90 career ERA. With Double-A Erie, Skubal has allowed just one earned run in 16 innings while striking out 34 (19.1 strikeouts per nine innings).

But last year, as he returned from Tommy John surgery, Skubal struggled to find the zone. As a redshirt junior at Seattle, Skubal walked 56 batters in 80 innings in 2018. It’s why a lefty with a 95 mph fastball lasted until the ninth round of the draft.

That bout of wildness seems far behind him now.

“I’ve just been executing a lot of pitches. That’s what I put my focus on . . . just going out there and executing my pitches . . . being results-oriented, sometimes that will beat you up. I base it on executing my pitches, that’s how I judge my outings”, Skubal said.

The lefthander had everything working against Double-A Richmond, making quick work of opposing hitters with all four of his pitches.

“I executed a lot of pitches tonight. The curveball was working, (the) slider was working for strikes, (I was) getting ahead . . . throwing fastballs when I think I have a hitter beat. (My) changeup was good, kind of fell off . . . but it was good. It’s a work in progress. (The) changeup is a big feel pitch and I’m feeling it, but everything was working,” Skubal said.

Skubal is a poised figure on the mound. At 6-foot-3, he makes the most of his long levers and works with a high leg kick. He stays balanced and has a small shoulder tilt to his delivery which helps him get good angle on all of his pitches. Skubal also works from a slightly higher and wider three-quarter arm slot. He is able to repeat the arm slot consistently, although his release point wavered later on in the game.

The lefthander attacked hitters early on with a lively fastball. While his command drifted from time to time, Skubal was able to hit all quadrants of the zone. Against righthanders, his fastball has some natural cutting action to it. He can dial it up to 97 mph, but the pitch sits comfortably in the 92-95mph range. It has late life up in the zone, which allows him to give hitters a different look from his other offerings that he keeps down in the zone. Skubal can also work the fastball with some two-seam action in to lefthanders, which makes him a difficult matchup for any batter.

Skubal was able to rack up the strikeouts with his curveball. He used it in the first inning for a strikeout in the zone but mostly used it as a chase pitch as the game progressed. The pitch has excellent depth and comes out of the same tunnel as his fastball. Hitters can’t pick it up before the pitch changes planes and drops out of the zone, which allows him to get a lot of swings and misses. It’s a harder curveball with good spin. While it’s a plus offering, improved command within the strike zone could cement it as his go-to, wipeout pitch in the big leagues.

The curveball is devastating, but Skubal has more command of his slider. The pitch registers in the low to mid-80s with late horizontal movement down and in toward righthanded hitters. Skubal has a lot of confidence in the pitch, as he threw it to help him get even in counts as well as to put hitters away down in the strike zone. It has a shorter, tight break to it, which allows him to throw it for strikes. The natural movement and solid command make for a slider that flashes future plus potential.

Skubal’s delivery is key to his success with both breaking balls. The ability to spin the ball and wide angle of Skubal’s arm slot allow him to manipulate the break of his pitches while keeping them in and around the strike zone. His arm speed is plus, and he doesn’t have any problems getting on top of his breaking pitches to keep them down.

Although his changeup lags behind his other pitches, it does show promise. The offering features some sink from time to time, but he left a decent number of the pitches belt high. He sometimes got under the ball as he threw it, which caused the pitch to sail well out of the zone. He showed better feel for the pitch later in the game, as early on his arm action didn’t match that of his fastball arm action. At its best, Skubal was able to keep the changeup down with good separation from the fastball with sinking action.

Beyond his stuff, Skubal shows maturity on the mound. He has a good tempo and challenges hitters. The lefthander didn’t give in when he was behind in the count, and he didn’t show any signs of losing focus. While he attacked hitters with his fastball, he quickly changed the script in the fifth inning and started pitching backwards, working back to his heater to surprise hitters after landing his secondaries for strikes early in the count.

As he continues to dominate, Skubal’s combination of pure stuff, poise and pitchability have helped him quickly establish himself as one of the best pitching prospects in the Tigers’ system.

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