Skelton joined the Tigers as a scrawny catcher out of West Covina High School, after being selected in the 14th round of the 2004 draft. James' first pro experience came as a member of the GCL Tigers, where he promptly received a rude awakening as to what the minor leagues were all about. Skelton posted a .140/.260/.163 line in 2004, demonstrating little ability to hit for average, or power.
His defensive skills translated reasonably well, and the Tigers opted to stick with him for another year, bringing him along slowly. A repeat tour through the GCL brought only slightly better results, but showed some signs that progress was being made. Skelton's .182/.413/.212 line still looks unimpressive, but his ability to command the strike zone and walk more than he struck out was certainly a positive trend.
The Tigers pushed him to Oneonta for the 2006 season, and their patience appears to have paid off. James got off to a rocky start in June, but turned it on through July and August, posting a combined .340/.450/.450 line that demonstrated his skills were coming to life. Skelton's first career home run came in 2006, as he also drove in 22 runs in 42 games for a very solid Oneonta club.
Skelton possesses intriguing potential behind the plate, both offensively and defensively. He has a strong and accurate arm that should gain strength as his thin frame begins to add bulk. He has quick feet and a fast release, all of which combine to make him an excellent defensive prospect. At times, his feet can get too far ahead of him, leading to wild throws, but he's begun to harness this and work within himself.
In relation to other catchers, Skelton's speed would be considered a plus tool. Legitimately, he is an above-average runner who has good instincts on the bases. He recognizes situations to take extra bases and can steal a base if asked to. His bat is progressing slowly, but the basic skills are there to be a real offensive threat. His slender frame is unlikely to generate significant power, but he should develop enough to become a 25-30 double hitter, with good average and on-base skills. James understands the strike zone extremely well, and is patient in finding a pitch he can try to drive.
James' makeup has improved as he has matured mentally, and he now commands the pitching staff with aplomb, even though many are more than a year or two older than him. He has demonstrated an ability to calm pitchers and bring stability to the game through consistently sound game calling. Skelton has the potential to become a Brian Harper type catcher if he continues to progress.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% SS-A
Skelton has remained injury-free, but would do well to add some bulk, hopefully creating a more durable frame that can withstand the rigors of a long season.
Despite the slow pace with which the Tigers have moved Skelton this juncture, I expect him to be pushed to West Michigan to start the 2007 season. He was impressive in all facets of the game at Oneonta, and should be challenged with the opportunity to handle an advanced staff for a full season.
With a plethora of catching prospects littering the lower rungs of the system, Skelton will likely have to split time with someone like Jeff Kunkel, Joe Bowen, or Dusty Ryan. If the transition to full-season ball goes smoothly, I would fully expect him to take hold of the starting slot and being establishing himself in the role.
Mark Anderson covers the Tigers' minor league system and all of minor league baseball for TigsTown.com. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.