This article is part of our John Sickels' Column series.
Report on Chris Tillman
Chris Tillman was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the second round of the 2006 draft, out of high school in Fountain Valley, California. His pro debut gave mixed results: he looked very good in rookie ball, but was hit hard after being promoted to short-season A-ball and pitching against more experienced hitters. He split 2007 between Wisconsin in the Midwest League and High Desert in the California League, on Seattle's fast track. Traded to Baltimore in the Eric Bedard deal last winter, Tillman was sent to the Double-A Eastern League and was one of the youngest players at that level. He performed very well for Bowie, solidifying his status as an elite prospect, and second only to batterymate Matt Wieters in the Orioles farm system.
TRADITIONAL SCOUTING REPORT
Tillman is 6-5, 215 pounds, a right-handed hitter and thrower, born April 15th, 1988. He's gained 20 pounds of strength and muscle since being drafted, boosting his fastball into the 90-93 MPH range and hitting 94 frequently. The fastball has both velocity and movement and is not a straight pitch. Tillman has made huge strides with his secondary pitches, featuring a big-breaking curveball and a rapidly improving changeup. His command, while not perfect, is above average for a young power pitcher, and he had little trouble with Double-A hitters. In high school, Tillman's attitude and self-confidence were potential weak points, but he has been hard-working and very poised as a pro, with strong mound presence. The fact that he didn't wilt, and indeed thrived, in Double-A at age 19 is a huge positive. He showed the ability to deal with adversity in 2007, when the Mariners promoted him to the bandbox at High Desert. He struggled there initially, but never lost his confidence and ended up having a strong second half, progress he carried forward to 2008.
Tillman went 11-4, 3.18 with a 154/65 K/BB ratio in 136 innings for Bowie this year, with 115 hits allowed. His K/IP and H/IP ratios were excellent. His overall K/BB was weaker thanks to a higher-than-ideal walk rate, though limiting hitters to a .227 average overall kept the walks from hurting him too much. He is a fly ball pitcher, and while he gave up just 10 homers on the season, excessive gopher balls might be a problem against better hitters. Tillman didn't show much of a platoon split, showing that his arsenal can shut down left-handed hitters as well as right-handers. He was particularly effective late in the season, posting a 1.80 ERA with a 51/11 K/BB in his last 35 innings. Despite a relatively heavy workload for a young pitcher, he obviously was going strong at the end of the season. The main thing he needs to do is lower the walk rate as he moves up, and stay healthy of course.
FANTASY INVESTMENT VALUE
Tillman should begin 2009 in Triple-A, and good performance there could get him to the majors by mid-season. He needs to tighten his command further, and of course he'll have to prove he can stay healthy. If everything works out, he projects as a number two or very strong number three starter at the major league level.
Article first appeared 10/8/08