With the 2019 campaign in the rear view mirror, the Tigers rebuild is proving to be a slow and arduous process. A 114-loss season was bested only by the 2003 club, which dropped 119 games. Think about that. Since the major league baseball schedule expanded to 162 games in 1961, only one other club in team history lost more games than the 2019 Tigers.
From 2011 to 2014, the Tigers won four consecutive Central Division titles. The string of success cost the system much of its depth as the from office traded away prospect after prospect to chase a World Series. The result has been hard to watch. In the last three seasons, the Tigers are 135 games under .500. Yet, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel.
The last four first-round picks, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo, Casey Mize and Riley Greene, have given the system some depth. Mize was the first overall selection in 2018, and for the second time in three years, the Tigers will pick first overall in 2020.
While it may be a little early to project the top candidates to go fist overall, it’s never too early to dream about the future after a 114-loss season.
The strength of the Tigers system is undoubtably pitching. Much of it resided at AA Erie this year. Mize, Manning, Faedo and Tarik Skubal formed a nucleus that may help the big league rotation soon. Yet, although the strength of the system rests with its pitching, the projected top overall pick in next year’s draft is also a pitcher. He may be too good to pass up.
Below are some early candidates that the Tigers will consider with the top overall pick.
Emerson Hancock-RHP, Georgia
As a senior at Cairo High School in Georgia, Emerson was 11-1 with a 0.75 ERA. He was selected in the 38th round of the 2017 draft by Arizona, but decided to attend Georgia. At 6’4″ 215 lbs, he has a durable body. His fastball reached upper 90’s at Georgia where he was 8-3 with a 1.99 ERA as a sophomore in 2019. He led he ACC and was third nationally with a 0.84 WHIP. Hancock has front-end-of-the-rotation potential and with Mize and Manning, they could, from a potential standpoint, form a lethal group.
Spencer Torkelson-1B, Arizona State
In 2018, he broke Barry Bonds’ ASU freshman record and led all of Division 1 with 25 home runs. A high contact and low strikeout rate is part of an impressive package for player with his power. Righthanded-throwing and hitting first basemen have typically given clubs pause at the top of draft boards, but Torkelson may break the mold. Torkelson hit .351 in 2019 with 23 home runs and 66 RBI’s. Below is a Prospect Pipeline video of Torkelson.
Blaze Jordan-1B-3B, DeSoto Central HS, Mississippi
A Mississippi State commit, it’s very likely Jordan will be drafted high enough to forgo college ball. A prospect with tons of pure power, he reclassified to be eligible for the 2020 draft and would be the youngest player in the class. He became a YouTube sensation, hitting 500-foot home runs as a 15-year-old.
Pete Crow-Armstrong-OF, Harvard Westlake HS, California
A plus defender with speed, Crow-Armstrong is more of a line drive hitter with potential to develop his power. Considered one of the top overall players in the draft, he comes from a high school that recently produced first round picks Lucas Giolito, Max Fried and Jack Flaherty. A Vanderbilt commit, Crow-Armstrong possesses a smooth left-handed stroke that utilizes the entire field.
Austin Martin-3B-2B-SS, Vanderbilt
A contact hitter with more walks than strikeouts in 2019, Martin hit .392 with an OBP of .486 for Vanderbilt. He has the potential to develop his power and was a good defender at multiple infield positions. Martin was hitting over .400 last year heading into the College World Series, before settling at .392. He won the batting title in the talent-rich SEC and played third base at Vandy, but has the versatility to play the middle infield positions as well.
Plenty can change between now at the end of the college season. Injuries or lack of production can alter the order in which players are drafted, especially the top overall pick. The Tigers are rich in pitching prospects and could use an additional jolt to its stable of position players, like the selection of Greene gave them last year. The old baseball axiom that you can never have enough pitching though always seems to ring true. That may be why it will be too tough to pass on Hancock.