Future Expectations: Tyler Skaggs

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 10: U.S. Futures All-Star Tyler Skaggs #11 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches in the first inning during the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field on July 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

This week, we'll move to a pitcher who is clearly one of the top three prospects in our system, and almost universally regarded as a Top 25 prospect in baseball.

I don't know about you, but I'll probably always have a bittersweet attitude about Skaggs. On the one hand, he's a really good prospect, and if he turns out as good as I think he can, I'll definitely enjoy watching him pitch. On the other hand, we traded away Dan Haren to get him. You know, the Dan Haren with the pinpoint command, with the splitter that would just die at the plate, with the bat that made him basically more valuable than pretty much any of our actual bench "hitters" at the time.

And yeah, Saunders has been significantly better than what I expected when we first made the trade, but everyone knew at the time that the centerpiece of the trade was not Saunders. It was Tyler Skaggs. So basically, the rational part of me says that if Skaggs ends up being a bust, or his arm blows out, that's just the nature of the game. Life is a set of probabilities, and we rolled the dice and came up empty. However, the emotional part of me, the part of me that still remembers how Dan Haren would utterly dominate even when the rest of the team went to the crapper, is going to be hella pissed if Skaggs ends up not panning out.

Background

Skaggs was drafted in 2009 by the Angels during the sandwich round, with the 40th pick. As legend has it, the Dbacks desperately wanted to draft Skaggs in the sandwich round, and was very upset when the Angels nabbed him right before we picked at number 41 overall. Chris Owings ended up being the consolation prize (which is a decent consolation prize in and of itself, particularly since we ended up trading for Skaggs anyway).

Skaggs had a strong first year as a pro, though at the time of the Dan Haren trade, he was barely a blip on the prospect map. By the end of the year, he managed to start eking into the back-end of most prospect analysts' Top 100 Overall.

2011 was the major breakout year, as he started off strong pitching in the death trap known as the California League, posting a 3.22 ERA through 100.2 IP, while maintaining a 30% strikeout rate. He was promoted midseason, and of course decided to show everyone that AA was a joke. He utterly destroyed the Southern League to the tune of a 2.50 ERA through 57.2 IP, while actually increasing his strikeout rate to 32%. This launched him to the forefront of the prospect scene, as most analysts had Skaggs as a Top 25 Prospect overall by year end. Skaggs's strong year also earned him a trip to the Futures Game during All-Star weekend.

2012 Season and Comparables

Only 20 years old, Skaggs has spent the first half of the season in AA, pretty much continuing where he's left off. He currently sports a 2.51 ERA in 64.2 IP. The strikeout rate has fallen a little though, to 25% overall. Part of this may be that the league has started to get used to him, as scouting reports travel around. Part of this may also be that Skaggs has been experimenting with a different repertoire to try to end at-bats earlier, as he has been interviewed saying that he is learning to throw the two-seamer more often.

The following is a list of comparables for Skaggs's statistical profile. Once again, I've searched through Fangraphs's prospect archives up to 2006 (all AA leagues, not just the Southern League). I've set the parameters to 60 IP, ages 20-21, and a strikeout rate between 23-32%. The IP is reflective of Skaggs's current IP in 2012. I included 21 year olds, because there are too few left-handed 20 year olds, and frankly I didn't want people to just think that there was something like a 50% chance that Skaggs turns out to be the next Clayton Kershaw. The strikeout rate is between 23-32% because I originally wanted to do a 23-27% range, but I also wanted to capture the fact that Skaggs had a 32% strikeout rate last year in AA.

This is where I would like to point out that in my experience, strikeout rates have a very strong predictive effect in the upper levels of the minors. So whereas the Andrew Chafin article last week was more speculative, and held a "let's wait and see" tone, I think there's a lot more we can predict already about what Skaggs may turn out like.

Each prospect will be labeled as "Prospect (Handedness, Age, Strikeout Rate)" so that readers can quickly toss out any comparables that they feel are misleading.

2012 - Tyler Skaggs (L, 20, 25.3%); Daniel Corcino (R, 21, 23.1%)

2011 - Shelby Miller (R, 20, 25.1%); Jeurys Familia (R, 21, 24.7%); Robbie Erlin (L, 20, 24.4%); Juan Oramas (L, 21, 23.6%); Nathan Eovaldi (R, 21, 23.2%)

2010 - Michael Pineda (R, 21, 24.7%); Mauricio Robles (L, 21, 24.5%); Chris Archer (R, 21, 23.0%)

2009 - Hector Rondon (R, 21, 25.4%)

2008 - Tommy Hanson (R, 21, 27.8%); Brett Cecil (L, 21, 26.9%); Chris Tillman (R, 20, 26.6%); Jeremy Hellickson (R, 21, 25.7%); Michael Bowden (R, 21, 25.1%); Clayton Kershaw (L, 20, 24.5%); Will Inman (R, 21, 23.7%)

2007 - Johnny Cueto (R, 21, 30.6%); Gio Gonzalez (L, 21, 30.3%); Will Inman (R, 20, 23.8%); Wade Davis (R, 21, 23.8%)

2006 - Phil Hughes (R, 20, 30.8%); Scott Elbert (L, 20, 28.5%); Yovani Gallardo (R, 20, 28.1%); Homer Bailey (R, 20, 27.8%); John Danks (L, 21, 27.3%); Tyler Clippard (R, 21, 26.0%); Adam Miller (R, 21, 24.7%); Sean Gallagher (R, 20, 24.3%); Gio Gonzalez (L, 20, 24.3%); Jose Garcia (R, 21, 24.2%)

The list actually turned out quite a bit longer than I expected, so I'll re-organize into five separate categories:

Still in the Minors - Tyler Skaggs, Daniel Corcino, Shelby Miller, Jeurys Familia, Robbie Erlin, Juan Oramas, Chris Archer

Injuries - Michael Pineda, Mauricio Robles, Hector Rondon, Adam Miller, Jose Garcia

Bust - Will Inman, Chris Tillman, Michael Bowden, Sean Gallagher

Reliever - Scott Elbert, Tyler Clippard

Starter - Nathan Eovaldi, Tommy Hanson, Brett Cecil, Jeremy Hellickson, Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto, Gio Gonzalez, Wade Davis, Phil Hughes, Yovani Gallardo, Homer Bailey, John Danks

Conclusion

There is always injury risk when it comes to a pitcher. However, if Skaggs remains healthy, the mass majority of his possible outcomes should turn out very positive for us, and there's a chance that he could turn into a truly elite pitcher like Kershaw and Gonzalez.

In fact, I think even organizing the list as above is misleading. Tillman and Bowden both had to deal with the AL East and their monstrous hitters, which could not have been positive for their development. Similarly, some of the less impressive starters listed above (Cecil, Davis, and Hughes) had to pitch in the hitter-dominated AL East as well. If that has contributed to their lack of success, then the probability of Skaggs turning into a top-of-the-rotation starter may be even higher than this list would indicate.

After all, while I did give a warning about being overly optimistic with regard to Skaggs (and comparing him to Clayton Kershaw), it's hard not to notice that there were only three names above that matched Skaggs's handedness, age, and had a comparable strikeout rate. Scott Elbert (who I don't think fits, because I don't see Skaggs being converted into a reliever), Gio Gonzalez, and Clayton Kershaw.

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