Last season, minor-league pitcher Greg Soto went from being a virtual unknown to a Top-10 prospect in the Tigers system. The left-hander went a combined 12-2 with a 2.25 ERA between West Michigan and Lakeland in 2017.
It’s the kind of jump that rarely happens during a season. In 2017, Soto began the year unranked by some national outlets, and finished the year ranked where he currently sits at No. 8 via MLB Pipeline. Soto’s incredible season earned him the honor as Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
If your team is fortunate, there’s a player in your system who begins the year off-the-radar before exploding onto the scene like Soto. Let’s take a look at three pitchers who could all see similar success in 2018.
Condition: The player must not currently appear inside the Detroit Tigers Top 30 list for Baseball America or MLB Pipeline.
Garett King, RHP, Single-A West Michigan
The right-hander drew rave reviews on the backfields of ‘Tigertown’ during Spring Training. An 11th round draft pick in 2017, King finished the 2017 season with a forearm flexor strain. Despite the setback, the Tigers bypassed an assignment to a short-season rookie league or extended spring training, sending the 21-year old straight to West Michigan to begin the 2018 season.
King’s college years entailed two seasons at Nebraska before transferring to California Baptist. With the Lancers, King went 7-1 with a 2.33 ERA last season, striking out 85 batters in 77.1 innings while allowing only 58 hits and walking just 17. On March 23, King tossed a nine-inning no-hitter while striking out 15, with his only baserunners allowed on a hit-by-pitch and dropped third strike.
The right-hander sports a four-pitch mix and prides himself on fastball command, using it to set up a plus-curveball. King has a chance to put himself on the Tigers prospect map in 2018.
John Schreiber, RHP, Double-A Erie
Schreiber is a bit older than most who enter prospect-territory, but the proud owner of what we dubbed the #SchreiberSlider last season in West Michigan has done nothing but dominate during his time in the Tigers system. The native of Rockwood, MI posted one of the most dominant seasons ever recorded in West Michigan during their incredible 2017 season, going 5-1 with a 0.54 ERA and 0.66 WHIP in 27 games.
Schreiber, a right-hander who throws with a side-arm delivery, fell victim to a few stereotypes early in his Tigers career. Pitchers who throw side-arm get lumped into a “gimmick” category, but Schreiber’s talent can make him one of the few to break the mold thanks to a low 90s fastball along with a plus #SchreiberSlider.
Schreiber, who grew up a Tigers fan, anchored the bullpen for a 91-win West Michigan team in 2017 and pitched the final 44 innings of his season without allowing an earned run.
Schreiber began this season making four appearances with the big club during Tigers Spring Training, tossing 3.2 scoreless innings without allowing a hit and striking out four. The product of Northwestern Ohio begins the 2018 season at Double-A Erie after leap-frogging High-A Lakeland. With another season like he had last year, he’ll find himself not only among the Top 30, but with a potential a late-season call to Detroit.
Elvin Rodriguez, RHP, Single-A West Michigan
Acquired from the Los Angeles Angels as the ‘Player to be Named’ in the trade of Justin Upton last August, Rodriguez heads to West Michigan for a 2018 season-opening assignment. The reigning Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year, Rodriguez allowed just 45 hits in 54 innings while striking out 49 in 2017.
Rodriguez, who turned 20 years old a few days before this season, currently has a fastball as high as 95 mph and could move up as he matures physically. His curveball is his next best offering, but his off-speed arsenal still needs refining and will improve with experience.
Rodriguez narrowly missed making most prospect lists this season, having been ranked the Angels No. 22 prospect by MLB Pipeline before being traded to the Tigers. As long as Elvin shows good command, it’s only a matter of time until ‘E-Rod’ enters the prospect conversation among most Tigers fans.
Your turn. Which Tigers minor-leaguer currently under-the-radar has the best chance to put himself on the map in 2018. Leave your answers in the comments below.