DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers drafted right-handed pitchers in the first round of four straight drafts, but there's a left-handed starter dominating the minor leagues who could end up being a star prospect.
Tarik Skubal was the Tigers' ninth-round pick in the 2018 MLB Amateur Draft. As the No. 255 overall player selected out of Seattle University, Skubal hasn't gotten as much attention as first-rounders Casey Mize (2018), Alex Faedo (2017), Matt Manning (2016) and Beau Burrows (2015).
But that won't last much longer if Skubal, now the top-ranked left-handed pitching prospect in the organization, continues to overpower minor league hitters.
Skubal, 22, was promoted to Double-A Erie this month after making 15 starts with the Lakeland Flying Tigers in the Florida State League.
Skubal pitched 80.1 innings in Single-A, striking out 97 batters and posting a 2.58 ERA, 1.008 WHIP and 5.11 strikeouts per walk.
In 15 starts, Skubal allowed two or fewer earned runs 12 times. His 16% swinging strike rate suggested he was simply too overpowering for the Florida State League, so the Tigers promoted him after his July 2 start.
Skubal has been even more dominant in two appearances with the Erie SeaWolves, both against the Altoona Curve. Though he's only lasted five innings in each start, he's racked up 21 strikeouts and an incredible 42 swinging strikes.
"I've just been aggressive with the fastball and trying to get ahead with the fastball," Skubal said.
You can see footage of Skubal pitching for the SeaWolves below, courtesy of NBC affiliate WICU.
He said Double-A hitters make him pay when he misses his spots, though he hasn't missed many so far. Of the 38 batters he's faced in Double-A, only four have recorded hits and three have walked.
"They're pretty aggressive," Skubal said of Double-A hitters. "I haven't really noticed too much difference (from Single-A). I've only made two starts here, though."
The only earned run allowed by Skubal in 10 innings came on a Logan Hill home run in the fourth inning of his second start.
Skubal wasn't a highly touted prospect coming out of high school or college. He said Seattle was his only Division 1 offer in high school.
"I didn't throw very hard in high school," Skubal said. "I was like 6-foot-2, kind of a bad body, not a great weight. ... I had one outing where I was, like, on the gun I was like up to 92 mph, so I got a little bit of hype and buzz, but my next outing I was like 84-86, so that was pretty much it. I would say I was probably 84-86, maybe brought it up to 88 once in a while my senior year."
The Arizona Diamondbacks drafted Skubal in the 29th round, 862nd overall, in the 2017 draft, but he elected to return to Seattle. It was a good decision, as he struck out 106 batters in 80 innings and the Tigers drafted him 20 rounds earlier the following year.
He only pitched 22.1 innings in the low minors last season, so this year has been Skubal's coming out party.
Skubal currently ranks as the No. 17 prospect in the Tigers' organization, but he's due for a big jump in the next update. He'll likely be in or around the top 10 prospects in the system, though an argument could be made for him to be in the top five or six.