The Detroit Tigers are embarking on their most important draft in recent team history. From all indications, their first overall pick will be used on Auburn pitcher Casey Mize, who has posted some of the best numbers of any pitcher in College Baseball this season.
Mize will be expected to reach the big leagues in short order, but the real value the Tigers can accumulate will be in the ensuing rounds. An area that every team struggles to find great talent, the Tigers hold the third-largest signing bonus allotment of any team in Major League Baseball. Since the new signing bonus allotment system was implemented in 2013, no first overall pick has ever signed for within one million dollars of the recommended slot value. It will be vital for the Tigers to follow suit in order to work the draft board to their advantage.
If the Tigers have the extra capital at their disposal, they’ll be able to get creative with their ensuing picks. Assuming the Tigers choose Mize, their second-round pick could be a position player to aid a farm system severely lacking big-league talent in that area. That choice could easily come from the high school ranks, and instantly become one of the more highly-regarded prospects in the Tigers system, but what happens after?
The remaining rounds – especially from 3-10 – will be paramount for the club to find talent ready to move quickly through the system, so as to catch up with talent in the rest of the system (most of which is sitting in High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie).
Here are a few names to keep an eye on once things roll past Round 1 of the June 4 MLB Draft.
Greyson Jenista, OF/1B, Wichita State
I’m always a fan of players who played well in the Cape Cod League, which is a proving ground for legitimate talent. After struggling in the Cape in his first season (.229/.301/.321), Jenista’s numbers skyrocketed (.310/.391/.401) in his second year on the way to winning the League MVP award.
This season, the left-handed slugger continues to get on-base as well as anyone in the country, hitting .309-9-38 in 56 games with a 50/41 BB/K ratio (.446 OBP) and 12 stolen bases. There’s a lot to like about Jenista’s game, who ranks as the #59 overall draft prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. A well-rounded player, Jenista doesn’t show a tool rated lower than ‘50’ on Pipeline’s scouting scale.
It’s also worth mentioning that Tigers Assistant GM David Chadd has a history with Wichita State, having done undergraduate and post-grad work to receive two degrees from the University. He also served as an assistant coach for the baseball team from 1990-1991. There’s no question that Chadd has received a detailed scouting report and could be an option for the Tigers in Round 2.
Zach Watson, OF, LSU
Store this one in the “Did You Know,” archives about Tigers GM Al Avila. Back in 1988, Paul Mainieri, the Head Coach for the St. Thomas University Baseball team, offered Avila his first job in baseball as an assistant coach. Soon after, Avila became the head coach and even served as the school’s Athletic Director before departing for a front office position with the Florida Marlins. To this day, Avila still credits Mainieri for giving him his “big break” in baseball.
Mainieri now serves as the Head Coach at LSU, and the two maintain a close relationship to this day. Enter Watson, currently ranked as the No. 66 prospect in the draft according to MLB Pipeline. Watson is a good defender with sufficient speed to cover ground in the outfield but leaves something to be desired with plate discipline (13BB/41K in 52 games). If Mainieri has given him a personal endorsement, the Tigers could consider him in Rounds 3-4 to make him the first LSU Tiger the team has drafted since plucking catcher Kade Scivicque in the 4th Round back in 2015.
Terrin Vavra, SS, Minnesota
The youngest son of Tigers Quality Control Coach Joe Vavra, Terrin has made a name for himself with the Golden Gophers. A .300 hitter in each of his three collegiate seasons, Terrin has taken another step forward in 2018 as a featured bat for a Minnesota team destined for the NCAA Tournament. Vavra is hitting .381 with nine homers and 53 RBI through his first 52 games and has a 27/17 BB/K ratio (.451 OBP) with eight stolen bases and a solid defensive reputation at shortstop.
In 2016, the Tigers picked catcher Austin Athmann out of Minnesota in the 14th Round, so it wouldn’t be the first time the Tigers have used the Golden Gopher Pipeline. Expect the Minnesota Twins to have an interest here, and for Vavra to be taken within the first five rounds.
Bryce Montes De Oca, RHP, Missouri
During the Dave Dombrowski era, the Tigers were most well-known for prioritizing pitchers who threw hard at the top of the draft. In Al Avila’s first picks as GM, he drafted two hard throwers within his first four draft picks in right-handers Mark Ecker and Bryan Garcia – both of whom have an outstanding chance to reach the big leagues in the future.
In a draft high on ‘pitchability’, but seemingly low on velocity, Montes De Oca is considered a wildcard. With a sinking fastball approaching a legitimate 100mph, he also boasts a plus-slider to fit the repertoire of a lights-out closer. The concern is his arm, having had Tommy John surgery as a high school junior in 2013, and ulnar nerve transposition in 2016. The talent is there. If Tigers doctors haven’t red-flagged him, he could be the choice near Round 5. Expect the Washington Nationals and Chicago White Sox to have significant interest, as both teams have drafted the right-hander in previous years.
Richard Palacios, SS, Towson
Richard’s family has a Tigers connection, as Richard’s father, Richard Sr., made it to Triple-A with the Tigers during his playing days. He’s also considered to be an analytical darling due to a high on-base and low strikeout percentage. This season, Palacios is hitting .301 with an astounding 52 walks to just 16 strikeouts (.457 OBP) and 25 stolen bases in 55 games. Though he may not be able to play shortstop long-term, he has a chance at second base or centerfield.
It’s also worth noting that the Tigers have drafted from Towson University, Palacios’ current team just two seasons ago when they made infielder Brady Policelli their 13th Round selection and moved him to catcher, where he’s enjoying a solid first full season in Class-A West Michigan. Palacios should be picked in the first 5-7 rounds.
Others Potentially on Radar:
Mike Siani, OF, William Penn (PA) Charter
J.T. Ginn, RHP, Brandon (Miss) HS
Matt McClain, SS, Beckman (CA) HS
Jonathan Ornelas, SS, Kellis (Ariz.) HS
Zack Hess, RHP, LSU
Jonathan Engelmann, OF, Michigan