November’s trade of Robert Whalen and Max Povse to the Mariners for Alex Jackson and a player to be named later is now complete. Left-hander Tyler Pike will be headed to the Braves. Presumably, the two teams had worked out a list of players the Braves would take, but Atlanta wanted to wait until the Rule 5 Draft was completed so that they wouldn’t have to concern themselves with protecting the player they wanted.
Pike, who was once committed to Florida State, was a third round selection of the 2012 draft and the 126th overall selection of that draft. He showed promise through his first two seasons, but then reached the California League and things went away from him. And now, let’s talk about the Seattle Mariners development team.
As a high school left-hander, Pike began his career in 2012 in the Arizona Summer League. That’s pretty typical and while Pike certainly looked good (57 K’s in 50.2 innings while allowing one homerun), the common path of a high school draftee is an assignment with the Advanced-Rookie League squad. Seattle, unlike the Braves, could have also waited until the Short Season Northwest League began its season and started Pike’s second season there. Instead, they pushed Pike to A-ball Clinton of the Midwest League. This is not abnormal for the Mariners, either. They did the same thing with Taijuan Walker (and even moved him to Double-A the next year) after picking Walker out of Yucaipa High School in California.
It should be noted that both Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka, who signed rather than attend college after being selected in the first round of the 2015 draft, also moved up to A-ball the next year (though Allard did make five starts in High-Rookie ball). Nevertheless, Pike was still very young (about three years younger than the average) for the Midwest League. Like Allard and Soroka, Pike looked like he earned the promotion, but what happened next is why I bring this up.
When things came off the rails in 2014, he was again three years younger than the competition for the California League. Known as one of the most hitter-friendly leagues in baseball, the California League is not for the faint of heart. Pike would get bashed around and his psyche seemed cracked. In 61.1 innings, he gave up ten homers, walked 46 batters, hit seven more, and uncorked six wild pitches. He had an ERA of 5.72 in mid-June when the Mariners thought a change of scenery was needed. Rather than move Pike back down to the Midwest League to find his bearings, they promoted him to Jackson of the Double-A Southern League and his already putrid stats got a good deal worse. On the year, he had a 6.44 ERA between the two stops.
Most organizations would have started Pike back in A-ball in 2015, but not the Mariners. They started him in Jackson. He lasted eleven innings before being sent back to the California League. For 50 starts since then, he has started to find himself as his age came closer to matching his competition. Pike would also find better command over his curveball and the 12-to-6 pitch has plus-plus capability.
Pike is still an unfinished project. While he has improved his command, he still walked nearly five batters per nine innings last year. On the plus side, he struck out a new personal best 134 batters for a rate of 9.6 per nine. Pike won’t induce too many grounders and has given up his fair share of homers, though the California League will do that to ya. His delivery looks fluid enough, though I’d like to see the Braves cut it down some as it includes a bit too much movement (over-the-head, high leg kick). It does provide some deception, but at a cost.
I talked about his curveball as it truly is the difference in helping him stay as a starter. When he is able to control and drop it below the knees as it reaches the plate, it has out pitch ability. Pike’s velocity won’t light up the radar guns (low 90’s), but his command on the fastball will be key in getting him to the majors. He also has a pretty good changeup, though like his other pitches, improved command would go a long way to helping him.
Pike will turn 23 near the end of January and the southpaw will be given a third shot to solve the Southern League. This time, however, he’s earned it and is age appropriate. He could easily be a sleeper that turns into a Top 10 prospect by season’s end or get moved to the bullpen. Much like many prospects the Braves have picked up this offseason, Pike represents a low floor, high ceiling guy. His stats are not much to write home about, but if Atlanta straightens him out, they turned two decent arms into a big one (plus whatever happens with Jackson). That’s how you build impact talent.