Tigers excited for selection in Draft's first round
After holding on to choice thoughout offseason, Detroit set to pick at No. 23
DETROIT -- The Tigers held onto their first-round pick in this Draft through all the ups and downs of the offseason. They held on tight through the challenge of replacing shortstop Jose Iglesias and setup man Bruce Rondon in midstream. They're about to show why.
"You never want to give up your Draft choices," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said, "but you can't have everything. Sometimes we've given it up just because we've felt that the player acquired was worth doing that. But we're happy to have our No. 1 pick. Last year we had the one and the sandwich, and it worked out great. It's supposed to be a good Draft, and [vice president of amateur scouting] David [Chadd] is anxious to get started."
Chadd said that he would have been eager to get going even if the Tigers had given up the 23rd overall pick to sign a top free agent. After all, two of his picks having an impact in Detroit this season -- third baseman Nick Castellanos and Drew Smyly -- were drafted in a year when the club had given up its first-round pick to sign Jose Valverde.
Chadd has made the most of the Tigers' lower picks in the past, and he was willing to do it again, even if he had to change plans midseason and throw away some scouting reports. From a practical standpoint, though, he can't help but have some enthusiasm that he didn't.
Chadd looks down a board that is deep in pitching, both with college and high school power arms, and looks to fill the needs of an organization that has never shied away from power pitching since well before he arrived. For a team that has to wait until the final quarter of the first round to pick, this is the ideal kind of Draft.
"I've never seen as much velocity as I've seen in this Draft -- high school and college," Chadd said. "That's all trickled down to college and high school. I legitimately probably saw four high school kids this year throwing 97 mph -- a couple of them throwing 100, which is unheard of.
"There's a lot of that in this Draft, a lot of velocity. But as we all know, it takes more than that to get there."
It also doesn't guarantee that Detroit will take a pitcher. Chadd doesn't rule out the idea of selecting a position player if an elite one is available, but he also acknowledges that with pitching as the depth of the Draft, the numbers favor the club going for an arm with its top pick for the third straight year and the seventh time in the past nine.
The Tigers have been pegged for several players in mock Drafts over the past few weeks, most of them pitchers.
"It's not a slam dunk we take a pitcher," Chadd cautioned. "It's just the odds are there's more pitching in the first round."
There's also always a need for pitching in Detroit's farm system. The team has drafted a lot of them the past few years, but the Tigers have also had the space to promote pitchers aggressively when they perform, from new reliever Corey Knebel to Triple-A hurler Drew VerHagen.
The 2014 Draft will take place from Thursday to Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on Friday.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Following is a glance at what the Tigers have in store as the Draft approaches.
In about 50 words
Unlike last year, the Tigers have no compensatory or competitive balance picks, so they're going to have to make the most of their first-rounder as well as their second-day selections. Unlike the years before last, they didn't have to forfeit their first-round pick for signing a top free agent, either.
This Draft has an abundance of good pitchers, and Detroit has a long history of drafting power arms under Dombrowski, both college and high school arms.
Unlike past seasons, when the Tigers have been all over the place scouting players until the final days, Chadd said that his team has had the same short list of a half-dozen or so players for the past few weeks, well ahead of this week's organizational meetings. Detroit has had to make some minor tweaks on the list due to the rash of surgeries among top college arms but hasn't had to deviate from the plan.
"We line up about five or six guys that we feel like we have a chance of getting," Chadd said. "We'll narrow that field down, and then we'll have a couple of backups as well, and we'll just stay on those guys until the Draft. We'll find out everything we need to know about the player."
Detroit will be flexible if someone falls its way, even if that player is a top hitter. The Tigers' operating mode in the early rounds has been to take the best player available regardless of position. Even college first basemen, such as Wichita State's Casey Gillaspie and Kentucky's A.J. Reed, can't be ruled out if Detroit likes the bat enough, regardless of Miguel Cabrera's long-term future. Still, with this Draft, the anticipation is that the best available player will be a pitcher, likely a college pitcher. At the end of the day, there's never enough pitching. And if there somehow is enough, there's always another team that needs it.
Mock Drafts have tied the Tigers to several players, but almost all have been college pitchers. MLB.com's Jim Callis pegged Detroit for University of Virginia right-hander Nick Howard, a former starter turned hard-throwing closer who has the stuff to be either a starter or reliever as a pro. If that sounds familiar, that's because it was the profile on Knebel going into last year's Draft before he hit the fast track for the Majors.
If the Tigers seek a reliever with rapid upward mobility, however, Louisville's Nick Burdi could be a consideration, as he has one of the best fastballs available. Baseball America's mock Draft predicts that Detroit will go with him. ESPN's Keith Law took a similar fast-track-reliever approach and tabbed the Tigers for TCU lefty Brandon Finnegan.
The X factor that mock Drafts can't predict is what would happen if a previously higher-ranked player falls, such as what happened with Rick Porcello in 2007 and Castellanos in '10. A drop for UNLV right-hander Erick Fedde or East Carolina's Jeff Hoffman, both of whom had Tommy John surgery this spring, could force the Tigers into a serious discussion.
Tigers bonus pool
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the value of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to 5 percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75 percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5 percent to 10 percent gets a 75 percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10 percent to 15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100 percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100 percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
Detroit's signing bonus pool of $4,890,200 is the sixth lowest of the 30 teams. The team's first-round pick accounts for $1,953,100 of that allotment.
The Tigers subscribe to the "best player available" theory in the early rounds, but in recent years, they've looked to address organizational depth in the middle rounds. Catching could be one area that gets attention, along with outfielders, both athletic and power-hitting.
The Tigers have leaned heavily toward college talent over high schoolers in recent years, partly out of the realities of their low bonus pool, partly out of the need to stock the farm system. That said, they've also been willing to take chances on high-risk-high-reward high school pitchers beyond the top rounds. That willingness, though, could depend a lot on how much money they expect to be available for them to encourage a prep star to sign now rather than play college ball.
* RECENT DRAFT HISTORY *
Knebel, the team's second pick in the first round last June, needed less than a year to climb the organizational ladder and make it to the big leagues. Part of the reason was Detroit's need for relief help, but Knebel pitched his way into the Tigers' immediate plans with exactly 50 Minor League innings and just five earned runs on 24 hits, striking out 68 against 19 walks. VerHagen, the club's fourth-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2012, is in the rotation at Triple-A Toledo.
Detroit drafted former USC right-hander Chad Smith in the 17th round in 2011 knowing he was probably going to need Tommy John surgery. It took a full year after Smith was drafted for him to make his pro debut, but he has made a quick climb up the ladder since, and he now throws a mid-90s sinker against opponents in Triple-A Toledo.
Devon Travis' ascension was slowed by an oblique injury early this season, but the 13th-round pick from 2012 remains a prospect to watch at second base.
In the Show
The Tigers have had 50 Draft picks make it to the Majors over the past 10 years, tied for the third most of any team. Those players' combined 106.6 Wins Above Replacement ranks 10th in the big leagues. Both totals are fairly impressive for a team that has given up Draft picks and filled many of its most pressing needs from outside the organization.
Knebel was the second player from last year's Draft to make it to the big leagues, just after Cleveland fourth-round pick Kyle Crockett. Knebel was the first Tiger since Ryan Perry to reach the Majors the year after he was drafted. Meanwhile, 2010 top pick Castellanos became one of two homegrown regulars in the lineup, joining catcher Alex Avila.
Tigers' recent top picks
2013: Jonathon Crawford, RHP, Class A West Michigan
2012: Jake Thompson, RHP, Class A Advanced Lakeland
2011: James McCann, C, Triple-A Toledo
2010: Castellanos, 3B, Detroit
2009: Jacob Turner, RHP, Miami (traded in 2012)