Matt Tabor Is Breaking Out

Matt Tabor first caught my eye last offseason when a Diamondback’s coach tabbed him as “the player that improved the most over the course of the season” during fall instructs. Players who garner that kind of praise from the people that spend the most time with them always pique my interest (especially when they have recent 7 figure signing bonuses). I filed Tabor away as a potential breakout candidate to watch. 12 starts into the year, it’s safe to say he is officially breaking out.

Tabor currently sports an unreal 3-2 2.40 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 73K/6BB over 56 ⅓ IP. His FIP and xFIP are even more eye-popping at 2.10 and 1.91 respectively. It’s safe to say he’s been dominating in his first taste of full-season ball. His 12.17 K/BB, sub 1 BB/9, 11.66 K/9, 34.1% K%, 2.8 BB% and 31.3% K-BB all truly stand out. But the stat that impresses me the most and makes me really buy in is his absurd 17.4% swinging strike %. That is a truly amazing rate for a guy who throws 70% strikes! In fact, it’s the 5th highest of any minor league pitcher with over 50 innings pitched or more. Nobody in his stratosphere has a 70% strike rate. Even guys like Grayson Rodriguez in his same league with high strikeout totals only has a 14.4 SWSTK%. But the dominant stats aren’t the only reason to buy into Tabor.

Tabor stands a lean 6-2 185, still offering some projection due to a late growth spurt that put him into a new frame his senior year of HS. While Tabor can dial it up to 96-97 when needed, he tends to throw more in the 91-94 range with sink and run. Tabor mainly works off of his FB and a plus plus changeup regarded widely as the best changeup in the Diamondback’s organization. This change allows him to work well with both lefties and righties. In the past he has shown both a curve and slider, both of which have flashed but been inconsistent. He will need to settle on one to refine it, but the curve in particular looks like it could be an above average offering if developed properly. Tabor has really impressed me with his ability to work backwards with his offspeed and tunnel his pitches, which is likely contributing to the gargantuan swstk% as he’s keeping hitters off balance. 

Tabor is a plus athlete with a delivery he repeats exceptionally well. There is definitely reason to believe he will continue to throw strikes and command at an above average or better level. There is a bit of effort to the delivery, but that same effort allows him to hide the ball exceptionally well, which will be huge if the breaking ball continues to develop. Mid 90’s velo, combined with a 60 changeup, ability to sequence and tunnel beyond his years, a repeatable delivery and deception are a perfect storm of making hitters swing and miss. This ability should translate as he rises levels.

So why isn’t Tabor a household name? Coming into his senior year of HS, Tabor was undersized and underweight. Not a great combo for a cold weather state kid to get noticed. A huge growth spurt combined with a massive velo uptick (went from topping at 89 to 96) put Tabor on the map. While many teams had missed Tabor on the summer circuit, the Diamondbacks still paid $1 million (late first round pick money) to sign Tabor away from an Elon commitment in the third round. 

Being a cold weather state kid from Massachutses with a decent effort delivery, the D-Back’s brought Tabor along slowly to save his arm. Last year, Tabor made his debut but only threw 60 ⅔ IP in short-season A ball. While his 3.26 ERA and 1.19 WHIP looked great, Tabor didn’t quite have the same stuff and only struck out 46 for just a 6.82 k/9. He started off slowly before dominating his last 33 IP of 2018 with a sub 2 ERA. The stuff was all the way back by fall instructs and he began to have praise heaped on him by his coaches.

Still (smartly) cautious with his young arm, the D-backs started Tabor slowly this year, limiting him to 4 IP per start his first 5 outings. They let him bump up to 5 IP over his next 4 starts and the K rates kept rising. His last 3 starts have gone 6 IP, 6 IP and 5 ⅔ IP. They are starting to loosen the reigns. You’d think the K rates would drop as his IP increase, but they have stayed outstanding and even jumped a bit while the walk rate has continued to drop.

So Matt Tabor is a high pedigree arm with a prototype frame that he’s still filling out, with a fastball with plus movement that touches 97 and lives 91-95, one of the better changeups in the minors, a developing breaking ball that flashes above average, who repeats his mechanics well, throws strikes, gets swings and misses exceptionally well, has plus deception, is proving he can handle a starter’s workload, who’s been one of the most dominant statistical pitchers in the minors this year and there’s still reason to believe he has untapped upside. Oh yeah and he’s in an org that is rebuilding so he should have every opportunity to remain a starter. 

As of now, Tabor looks like an SP3 but given his untapped upside, there could be even more here. Watching him pitch and given his arsenal, I’m reminded strongly of Chris Paddack. That’s one hell of a profile to have in today’s MLB. Tabor will be featured in my upcoming TOP 125 prospects list. Tabor turns 21 on July 14th, so if you play Dynasty baseball why not celebrate by giving yourself the gift of picking him up.

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