Royals LHP prospect Daniel Tillo has been cruising this season through two levels of A-ball. Starting out in Low-A with the Lexington Legends, Tillo posted a 4.35 ERA with 31 strike outs in 41.1 IP (7 starts). That may not sound fantastic, but Tillo, a heavy ground ball pitcher, was producing ground balls at a rate of 63.4% with Lexington. That is outstanding.
He was promoted to High-A Wilmington where he’s now made 8 starts, thrown 40.2 innings, struck out 38, and posted an ERA of 3.10 to go with a 60.7% GB%. Scarily enough, Tillo actually got a little bit better when he moved up a level (this is thanks in some part due to a better infield defense at Wilmington). The only area that Tillo has regressed a bit with Wilmington are the walks, which have jumped from 14 to 23.
In 7 starts in the South Atlantic League, Tillo ranked 2nd in GB% (min 40 IP). In 8 starts in the Carolina League, Tillo against finds himself ranked 2nd in GB%. Tillo has been a ground ball machine across 82 innings in A-ball this season, and has now seen an uptick in his K% too. Tillo’s SwStr% is still sitting at 11.3% in Wilmington after being a very impressive 14.2% in Lexington (good for 16th in the SALLY).
All of this is to maybe say the obvious: Daniel Tillo has been very good this year and is making the Royals look pretty smart for taking him in the 3rd round of last season’s draft. I personally had Tillo ranked as the Royals best pitching prospect coming into the 2018 season, and we’re starting to see glimpses as to why. His stuff is going to play at a high level and he’s not all smoke and mirrors like some soft-throwing LHP. He’s capable of producing his fair share of swings-and-misses and he looks like he’ll stick as a starter.
Tillo’s success has me wondering how far he’ll be able to go this season. The next level would be AA Northwest Arkansas where fly balls can turn into home runs pretty quickly. Tillo doesn’t allow many fly balls, but it would be a great test for him to gauge where he’s at. He’s proven to be better than his competition in A-ball and he’s probably ready for a promotion, in my opinion.
According to Baseball Cube, Tillo threw 80 innings total in 2017 after only throwing 7 at Kentucky in 2016. I don’t know where Tillo played summer ball in 2016, or how many innings he threw, but I can’t imagine the Royals would want him throwing more than 110-120 innings this season. Tillo currently sits at 82 IP and hasn’t pitched past the 5th inning very often, I’m assuming as a way to limit his innings.
Here are my thoughts on Tillo. Let him make two more starts with Wilmington. Both of those games will theoretically be on the road where Tillo won’t have the Wilmington advantage on his side. If he keeps pitching like this, move him to Northwest Arkansas for his final 20-30 innings of the season. If that happens, there’s a good shot you could see Daniel Tillo in the KC Royals rotation at the big league level in 2019, something I didn’t realize would be possible when the Royals drafted Tillo last June.
Photo Credits: Jillian Waitkus/Lexington Legends