Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Acquired: Amateur Free Agent, 2009
Ranking History: #47 (2010), #7 (2011)
The Tigers signed Paulino in 2009 for a relatively modest $100,000 signing bonus, largely because he owned a lean, projectable frame and the potential to add velocity as he matured.
Pitching in the Dominican Summer League in 2010, Paulino posted a 3.88 ERA in 46 1/3 innings. During that time he allowed just 34 hits and struck out 55 batters, though he did walk an unsightly 45 hitters.
The Tigers wasted no time bringing Paulino stateside in 2011 where he broke out in the Gulf Coast League with a 2.36 ERA in 45 2/3 innings of work, mostly as a starting pitcher. Paulino again allowed just 34 hits and cut his walks to just 18 while still managing to punch out 45 batters.
With high expectations heading into 2012, Paulino was held back in extended spring training due to soreness in his shoulder and ultimately succumbed to what the organization dubbed "minor" surgery to repair a partially torn labrum.
Not only does Paulino have the long, lean frame that leads to plenty of projection, but he has an exceptionally loose arm that generates easy velocity. He needs to add strength to his wiry body and he has plenty of room to do that with long limbs.
At the conclusion of the 2011 season Paulino was pumping mid-90s heat consistently, sitting in the 94-95 mph range with his four-seam fastball, while also showing a two-seam fastball that reached 92-93 mph with more movement. At times, he even flashed the ability to run his fastball up to 98 mph though he consistently lost the zone when trying to ramp up for that type of velocity.
Paulino needs considerable work with his curveball and change-up and the missed time in 2012 may set him back even further as he tries to gain feel for these pitches. His curveball can show tight spin and decent break at times, but he often gets under the ball and leaves it spinning up in the zone. Paulino's change-up is too firm most of the time and he has to improve his ability to maintain his arm speed while trusting the grip to generate the velocity separation.
Even though he struggles with his secondary pitches, Paulino's biggest hurdle will be his lack of control, let alone command. He hasn't fully grown into his body at this point and his coordination needs to catch up to allow him to repeat his delivery.
It is difficult to project Paulino for anything but modest control and he is unlikely to have much in the way of the command down the line. As a result, most scouts view him as a reliever long term where his velocity can play in the upper-90s and hopefully his curveball steps forward.
At this point, Paulino needs health and innings to refine the touch and feel side of his game. He has plenty of arm strength and an intimidating fastball, but there is little else to support that pitch. With progress, Paulino could be a late inning reliever with an overpowering fastball.
Did not pitch in 2012
While the organization has repeatedly dubbed Paulino's 2012 shoulder surgery as a "minor" procedure, that doesn't sit well with me. Any operation on the labrum of the throwing shoulder can have massive impacts to a pitcher. With any luck, Paulino has bene able to use this time to add strength to his lanky body and gain a better understanding of the work required to pitch at the professional level. His long-term injury potential remains up in the air until we see how he comes back from this operation.
It is easy to dream on a raw, skinny, 6-foot-4 kid with a fastball that reaches the plus-plus range at times. It is also easy to get carried away with those dreams. Paulino had almost no feel for pitching prior to his lost season and that missed developmental time may set him back enough that he struggles to regain any projection in a starting rotation. With big-time velocity, Paulino will always have the potential to pitch in the late innings and for most scouts, that is where his ultimate role resides.
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