A multi-sport standout who garnered Mr. Basketball honors as an Iowa prep, Tillo began his college career at Kentucky in 2016 but transferred to Iowa Western CC the next year after he pitched sparingly as a freshman. Intrigued by Tillo’s blend of size, stuff and untapped potential, the Royals made him their third-round pick in 2017. While he hasn’t yet put it all together in the pro ranks, Tillo did make some strides in 2019, reaching Double-A for the first time. He got in some extra work after the season, pitching in the Arizona Fall League and then for USA Baseball’s Premier12 squad.
With his big, athletic frame and dynamic fastball, Tillo certainly looks the part of a big league pitcher. His heater stands out as much for its late movement as its 93-97 mph velocity. The left-hander’s ability to throw the pitch with such heavy sink, run and at times cutting action from a lower arm slot leads to a ton of ground-ball contact. He led all Minor League hurlers (130 IP min.) with a 63.7 percent ground-ball rate in 2019 to bring his career rate 63 percent. Tillo’s fastball control is below average and he doesn’t always know where it’s going, though, so far, it hasn’t detracted from the pitch’s effectiveness. The action on Tillo’s heater helps to set up an above-average slider that he can locate to back-foot of right-handed hitters. While he hasn’t missed a ton of bats as a pro (6.5 K/9), club officials believe he will as he learns to better harness his stuff.
In addition to continuing to develop his changeup, Tillo's biggest issue has been his control. Though he did show improvement on that front in 2019 by shaving his walks-per-nine rate to 3.7 from 4.4 in ’18, he can have trouble repeating his release point and experiences bouts of inefficiency. Tillo has the stuff and size to be an effective big league starter if he can consistently repeat his delivery, and there’s a clear path to a bullpen role for him should the Royals take that route.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 40
Tillo was a multi-sport standout in high school, a one-time Mr. Basketball for the state of Iowa. He initially headed to Kentucky to pitch, but transferred to Iowa Western, a junior college in his home state, after not getting much time on the mound with the Wildcats. The Royals liked what they saw and took the big left-hander in the third round of the 2017 Draft. While he's struggled a bit with consistency at times, he did pitch better in 2019, working his way up to Double-A for the first time.
The lefty has the pure stuff to succeed and the kind of big and athletic frame teams covet in a future starting pitcher. His fastball, which was 94-98 mph this season, is never straight, and he'll throw it with cut or fade, though he doesn't always know which way it will move as it comes out of his hand, something the Royals aren't worrying about yet because it's effective. Tillo uses his slider off of his cutting fastball well and it looks like his fastball but then keeps going and back-foots hitters, which is especially effective against left-handed hitters. He hasn't missed a ton of bats, but he gets a ton of ground-ball outs, with hitters having a hard time seeing the ball.
In addition to continuing to develop his changeup, Tillo's biggest issue has been his control, something that has improved a bit in 2019. He can have trouble repeating his release point, which led to higher walk rates. If he can consistently repeat his delivery, he has the stuff and size to be an effective part of a big league rotation.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 50 | Overall: 45
Iowa's high school Mr. Basketball in 2015, Tillo considered playing two sports in college before deciding to concentrate on baseball at Kentucky, where he pitched just 7 1/3 innings as a freshman. He transferred to Iowa Western to get more playing time and immediately generated early-round Draft buzz during fall practice. Despite going through a dead-arm period in the spring, he surpassed Erik Swanson (eighth round, 2014) as the highest pick in the juco power's history and signed for $557,500 as a third-rounder.
Before he tired and had a minor lat injury, Tillo pitched with a lively 92-95 mph fastball that reached 97. He sat more around 91-93 mph as the Royals limited him to no more than five innings per start in his pro debut, though his heavy sink still produced an impressive 2.4 groundout/airout ratio. An 82-85 mph slider was his best pitch at times at Iowa Western, though he falls in love with at times and it wasn't as hard or sharp last summer.
Tillo will have to use his changeup more than he did as an amateur, and though it's currently too firm it does feature some tumble. He's still figuring out his control and command because he's relatively inexperienced for his age, but his athleticism helps him repeat his delivery. His size creates angle and deception, adding to what might be a No. 3 starter package if he's durable.
The Royals found a quality left-hander in the junior college ranks when they took Matt Strahm in the 21st round of the 2012 Draft, and they potentially landed another when they signed Tillo for $557,500 as a third-rounder in June. Iowa's Mr. Basketball in 2015, he contemplated playing two sports in college before opting to focus on baseball at Kentucky, where he worked just 7 1/3 innings as a freshman. He transferred to Iowa Western for 2017 and surpassed Erik Swanson (eighth round, 2014) as the highest pick in the juco power's history despite going through a dead-arm period in the spring.
Before he wore down and dealt with a minor lat injury, Tillo operated with a lively 92-95 mph fastball that topped out at 97. His 82-85 mph slider can be his best pitch at times, though he can lapse into relying on it too heavily and it isn't as consistent as his fastball. He has yet to use his changeup much in game action but showed some aptitude for throwing it during fall practice at Iowa Western.
Because he's relatively inexperienced for his age, Tillo is still figuring out control and command, but his athleticism should help him do so. Though he has yet to prove he can handle anything close to a pro workload, he'll have the upside of a mid-rotation starter if he can.