The second round of the MLB amateur draft had been a bit of a black hole for the Detroit Tigers until they selected Dillon Dingler with the first pick of the second round in 2020. Looking to go back-to-back, the club selected prep shortstop Izaac Pacheco with the third pick of the second round in 2022 and paid him a $2.75 million bonus, about $850K over slot, to lure him from the college ranks. That may prove to be a great decision in the years to come, but it comes with plenty of risk as well.
There were several other very good prep position players drafted before Pacheco, but most were legitimate shortstops, while Pacheco will move off the position in pro ball. Several packed present plus power, but none drew present plus-plus raw power grades attached to Pacheco. The 19-year-old infielder is a specimen, with outstanding bat speed and an advanced approach. Concerns about his ability to hit enough are the reason he wasn’t selected up in the first round. It’s a volatile profile, but the upside is substantial enough to rank him tenth among Detroit Tigers prospects this time around.
Pacheco grew up in Texas and played his high school ball for Friendswood High School, just outside of Houston. Initially committed to Texas A&M, it became clear during his senior season that he was going to have a tough decision to make as his draft stock rose. Ultimately the Tigers were convincing with a strong overslot bid.
The key selling point with Pacheco was the huge power present in his rangy 6-foot, 4-inch frame, and the projection for more as he fills out. He moves pretty well for a size, and could be a pretty good third baseman, though speed and quickness won’t be a part of his game. The power outbursts were extremely impressive during his senior year, but concerns about his ability to develop as a hitter kept him out of the first round.
Perhaps it also didn’t hurt that Pacheco and first rounder Jackson Jobe became good friends during their high school years in Texas prep ball. The two have a friendly rivalry going already.
Pacheco saw a little action after the draft, as the Tigers brought him to Lakeland for some workouts and instruction, and then gave him 125 plate appearances in the Complex League to close out the season. He showed his discipline, walking a lot and making plenty of solid contact, but he also struck out a ton. There is an awful lot to like here, but Pacheco does have some major issues to work on. If he can correct them, the Tigers will score a huge win picking him in the second round, but the bust factor is also perilously high as they went all-in on the upside to his offensive game.
Pacheco was a highly debated player leading up to the 2021 draft. His size and present power were fairly rare in a prep prospect, and with a solid enough defensive profile, normally that would be enough to sneak into the back of the first round or comp A round. The issues that allowed Pachedo to fall to the Tigers, namely a grooved swing and limited plate coverage, gave some observers more pause. The Tigers haven’t really had a lot of success with this type of hitter in the past, and we’ll have to hope the new development staff is better equipped to help him get the most out of his bat.
Right now, Pacheco is still a bona fide pull hitter who loves pitches on the inner half. He’ll slap the ball the other way here and there, but what has made the profile work for him so far is the ability to lay off of pitches he can’t handle, even when they’re strikes. He doesn’t adjust well when fooled. Pacheco tends to fly open with his lower half, commits early and take big hacks. Pro pitchers are going to exploit that aggressiveness, and if he can’t learn to cover more of the plate, will simply eat him up on the outer half. His swing discipline is pretty good already, but he’s going to have to find a way to stay on balls away longer and drive enough of them to keep pitchers honest. These will not be easy adjustments as he doesn’t really have the kind of hands that bode well for consistent solid contact with good plate coverage.
Video from the 2020 Baseball Factory All Star Classic gives you a decent feel for who Pacheco is at the plate. You’ll see him slap a pitch up on the outer third the opposite way to shortstop in one at-bat, and learning to drive those pitches will be a big focus for him in pro ball. You’ll also see how aggressively he clears out his front side and flies open, leaving him in power position to crush pitches in his sweet spot, but also a very exploitable position for pro pitchers.
Defensively, Pacheco has pretty good hands, and enough arm to be a successful shortstop. His range just isn’t going to hold up to pro demands. Particularly as his large frame fills out, he’s going to be much better suited to third or possibly first base. There’s some room for positional flexibility here, but his glove and his feet are never going to produce much added value, but he should have no trouble finding a home if the bat comes together. It’s all about getting to enough hard contact to let his power play.
Projected 2022 team: Low-A Lakeland Flying Tigers
Unlike his pal Jackson Jobe, Pacheco was at least able to get his feet wet in pro ball last summer. As a high end draft prep pick, the Tigers aren’t going to move too fast with him, and a long assignment in Lakeland is likely before they consider moving him up. There he can work consistently with the Tigers development staff and learn to handle a much better class of pitcher than he’s seen to date. Expect some struggles here. There will probably be a lot of tweaking of swing and approach going on early this year. We’ll grade him on a bit of a curve until we’ve seen how he closes out the season.