By Dan Strittmatter
If nothing else, Tyler Skaggs will bring phenomenal long-toss skills to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he may well be in the best shape of his life.
When the trade that sent Dan Haren to the Angels went down in late July, bringing pitchers Joe Saunders, Rafael Rodriguez and Patrick Corbin to Arizona with a player to be named later, many media outlets quickly leaked that Skaggs was the D-backs’ target for the PTBNL.
However, Skaggs could not be traded until Aug. 7. Players are not allowed to be dealt until one year after signing their first professional baseball contract, and that was the date one year ago that Skaggs signed with the Angels after being taken 40th overall in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. So, after pitching on July 23 for the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Angels’ Low-A affiliate in the Midwest League, Skaggs was effectively in limbo.
The D-backs wanted him as the final piece in the trade, so (according to the Orange County Register) they asked the Angels to keep Skaggs from doing any impact activities — lifting weights, throwing a bullpen session, or, of course, pitching game for Cedar Rapids. He would show up to the park for the games, hang around the clubhouse, and be in the dugout, in uniform, for their games. But what activities could Skaggs do? Long-toss and running.
On Aug. 7, the trade was completed and Skaggs was sent to the D-backs’ Midwest League affiliate in South Bend. He became the youngest pitcher on the roster — a mere 10 days younger than Scottie Allen — and the youngest position player on the roster, shortstop Chris Owings, is almost a month younger than Skaggs.
The D-backs were very high on Skaggs going into last year’s draft. They had seven of the first 64 picks in the draft, and one of those was the 41st overall. The Angels, however, had pick No. 40 and they grabbed Skaggs just ahead of the D-backs.
It took them over a year, but the D-backs now have their man. And if the team liked Skaggs a year ago coming out of high school, his performances thus far in professional ball must have them infatuated.
Skaggs threw a handful of innings in Rookie-ball for the Angels in 2010, striking out 13 and walking just two in 10 innings of work.
But it’s Skaggs’ 2010 season that has to have the D-backs excited. Despite just turning 19 less than a month ago, Skaggs has been toxic to the Midwest League, striking out 82 batters in 82 1/3 innings of work with just 21 walks and six home runs allowed. Opponents are hitting a mere .252 against him and he does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground, with more than 50% of balls put in play against Skaggs are ground balls (according to minorleaguesplits.com).
To put these numbers in perspective, the average age of hitters in the Midwest League, according to Baseball-Reference.com, is 21.4 years. So Skaggs is pitching against guys who are, on average, more than two years older than him, and nonetheless the results have been dominant.
Skaggs currently sits in the low-90s with his fastball, though with his height (6-foot-4) and thin frame, there may be more velocity on that fastball as his body fills out and develops. He also features a curveball, his best out-pitch, and a developing change-up that may be the key to his success going forward.
It will take a while for Skaggs to take the field for South Bend, as he now has to throw short bullpen sessions to begin stretching out his arm after being inactive for a couple weeks. But Skaggs, who instantly becomes one of the elite prospects in the D-backs’ system, is likely glad to be pitching again, in any capacity.
After all, it’s got to be better than long-toss and running.