It is unusual for a prospect to dramatically accelerate their performance at the high-A level. It happens, just not that often. This year it is happening at Myrtle Beach for pitcher Tyler Skulina. Since May 1, Skulina has a 1.97 ERA with 40 K’s in 41 innings. The 6’5” and 230 pound right hander also earned Player of the Week honors in the Carolina League from April 27 to May 3.
Skulina was drafted by the Cubs in the 4th round in 2013 out of Kent State University. It was in his junior year was that he started gaining attention after an 11-3/3.77 ERA season. This led to him being named a 2013 Louisville Slugger Pre-Season Second Team All-American prior a senior season in which he went 6-4 with a 3.36 ERA (35 ER/93.2 IP) in 15 games. He also averaged 9.8 Ks/9 inning.
After signing with the Cubs, Skulina was assigned to short-season Boise, where he pitched 15 innings in 8 games, starting only 2. His 1.80 ERA and 10 K’s earned him a quick promotion to Kane County. Skulina started 4 games for the Cougars that August and had a 9.31 ERA.
When the 2014 season began, Skulina returned to Geneva to play for Kane County. Even though he had a 4-7 record, he combined on a no-hitter with Nathan Dorris and had a 3.21 ERA through 18 starts while striking out 68 in 89 and 2/3 innings. As a result, he was promoted mid-season to high-A Daytona. Just like his first go-round at Kane County, Skulina’s start in Daytona was brutal; he made only 3 starts with a 7.27 ERA.
I had seen Skulina start three times at Kane County. His fastball sat at 88-91 all three days, he had little control on his curve/slider as it looked like he was searching for his release point all year. After he went on the DL, it was revealed that he had had tendinitis in left knee the whole time. Here is some video I took of him warming up before a start last April. If you look closely, you can see the knee brace on his left/plant leg.
When the 2015 season began, Skulina was assigned to high-A again, this time in Myrtle Beach. There he was reunited with manager Mark Johnson and pitching coach David Rosario from Kane County. To date, Skulina has started 10 games and the picture below shows the progress he has made since May 1. After a couple of rough starts in April, Skulina has really pulled it together.
His fastball is back up to his college level 93-94 mph, and he has found his release point on his slider and is making good use of his change. For the first time in two years he is healthy. In the video below, Myrtle Beach Pelicans broadcaster Nathan Barnett describes what a healthy Tyler Skulina is doing on the mound to have a successful season.
Skulina’s breakout is not unusual, as pitchers often take more time to develop. But his work is not done. He is much improved over last year particular when pitching with runners on base, but he still has several things to work on.
I think he will stay at Myrtle Beach to continue to work on keeping the ball down, throwing first pitch strikes, and sustaining himself over the course of a game. If you look at the stats, he has only pitched more than six innings once. If his fastball command continues, Skulina will get deeper into games.
The jump to AA should not be taken lightly, as it is the biggest jump in competition for most minor league players. Skulina should not be sent there just for two good months of pitching. On the other hand, based on his first half of 2015, Skulina has moved right to the front of the promotion line.
Should his second half pick up where his first half leaves off, he’ll give the Cubs a good problem when it comes time to decide whether to promote him in late July/early August.