DETROIT--Because of the emphasis being placed on having left-handed pitchers as a strength and commodity, it was easy to expect the Tigers to go into the 2014 MLB Draft seeking a left-hander first and foremost.
That was not the case this year; in fact the Tigers had their sights set on anything but a pitcher, left- or right-handed. For only the second time since 2008 — the Tigers' third baseman Nick Castellanos was selected in 2010 — the Tigers opted for a position player for their first-round pick before picking up a right-handed pitcher rather than a lefty on day one of the draft.
Rather than seek out a pitcher first — left or right handed — as many teams were hoping to do, Tigers Vice President of Amateur Scouting David Chadd and Director of Amateur Scouting Scott Pleis decided to shake things up. They selected 18-year-old center fielder Derek Hill of Elk Grove High School in California (6-2, 195 pounds), a right-handed hitter with top speed and a quick bat.
The second day resulted in a more pitcher-heavy acquisition, with half of the players drafted right-handed pitchers. Two catchers, a third baseman and a center fielder rounded out the day, and all but one of the players selected were playing at a college level.
Hill has been called the best center fielder to come out of high school since Torii Hunter. Hill made adjustments to his game during the season — something not easily accomplished mid-season — and the player who visited Comerica Park for a workout was completely different than the one at the start of the season.
Hill had done more than enough to convince the Tigers scouts early on that he was their man and come draft day, Chadd and Pleis had their sights set on no one else. All the Tigers could do was hope that no other team picked him up first. "The enthusiasm that (Hill) plays with, he's got electric speed, he just enjoys himself on the field," Chadd said. "He's got bat speed, he's got base-stealing instincts, there really isn't a part of Derek Hill's game that I don't like. He has fun when he plays, he's just a joy to watch."
The Tigers classified Hill's overall abilities as an 80, the top score, which Chadd and Pleis stated isn't something they do often. They added that one of the advantages of Hill's all-around abilities is his speed, needing only about three steps before reaching his top speed.
Spencer Turnbull was the second-round pick for the Tigers, a right-handed pitcher (6-3, 230) out of the University of Alabama who has been classified as a workhorse in regard to his overall approach to the game. If there's one area for immediate improvement, it would be his walks. Turnbull walked 47 batters in 93 innings.
Grayson Greiner was the Tigers' third pick and the first on day two of the draft. A right-handed hitter (6-6, 220), Greiner is quite tall for a catcher but the Tigers believe it will not interfere with his ability to catch on any level. "Yeah he's large, but he's mobile; he moves well," Chadd said. "He was Team USA's catcher last year, primary catcher. So he's handled pitchers of major league caliber so we know he can catch, we know he can throw. Outstanding makeup and we think he's got the leadership qualities to catch, and catch at the highest level."
Greiner's experience at the major league level — as a result of being on Team USA — is expected to put him ahead of the curve, behind the plate. However, the Tigers do not believe that Greiner's height will necessarily translate to power at the plate. "I don't think he's a power hitter, I wouldn't classify him as that," Chadd said. "I would classify him more as a gap-type hitter. He does have some power but I think he's more of a contact-gap. There's some strength in his swing but again, I think his game, if you want to talk about strengths to his game I think it's going to be the catch and throw abilities. And you will have some offensive production with it as well."
Adam Ravenelle is a right-handed pitcher (6-3, 195) out of Vanderbilt University who was the Tigers' fourth round selection. He has pitched out of the bullpen to this point, but the Tigers believe he can be a starter. "Ravenelle we took as a starter, he's had delivery and arm action to allow him to start; for whatever reason he's always been in the pen in Vanderbilt, we think he can start," Chadd said.
Shane Zeile is the second catcher selected by the Tigers, a right-handed hitter (6-1, 195) from UCLA who has been catching for about two years. His hitting ability is still somewhat ‘up and down' but Zeile's catching will be the focus, something the Tigers believe can become polished with time. Apart from Greiner, Zeile was classified by the Tigers as two of the best talents available to them at the time of the draft. Shane is the nephew of Todd Zeile, who played in the big leagues for 16 seasons.
Ross Kivett is a right-handed center fielder (6-1, 195) out of Kansas State University, selected in the sixth round by the Tigers. Kivett has played several positions — including shortstop and second base — but that has not hindered his ability to play well no matter the location. He is an average but well-rounded player who has the capability to adjust to any situation with ease and can hit. "If you look at historical statistics he's been pretty phenomenal," Chadd said. "He's always hit wherever he's been. He's a base-stealer, he's a baseball player. Not that he has a lot of pluses, he doesn't, he's got a lot of averages across the board but he's a very good player and a very good baseball player."
Joey Pankake — not the breakfast, although his name is pronounced the same — is a versatile third baseman (6-1, 200) out of the University of South Carolina, selected in the seventh round. Like Kivett, Pankake has played more than one position (he spent two years at shortstop, can play second base and the Tigers are considering him for catching duties) and just moved to third base this year. "Very, very good defensive player and again, I don't think Pankake's going to bring us, from an offensive perspective, I don't see him being plus plus power," Chadd said. "But I see him more of a gap-to-gap type hitter and a really good baseball player."
Artie Lewicki is the first of three consecutive right-handed pitchers selected by the Tigers, coming in as the team's eighth round pick. Hailing from the University of Virginia, Lewicki (6-3, 212) is a steady starter even late into the season. "We just happened to catch him in a mid-week start as he was coming off the oblique (injury) late in the year," Chadd said. "He was 92-95 for seven (innings), plus breaking ball, very easy fluid delivery on the mound, arm works well, repeats his delivery, three strikes. It was a surprise, really for us, late, to see a pitcher of that caliber."
Josh Laxer is a reliever, more specifically he is seen as a closer for the Tigers, the ninth round selection. Laxer is a right-handed pitcher (6-1, 210) from the University of Mississippi. Paul Voelker closed out the Tigers selections for the second day of the draft, a right-handed pitcher (5-10, 185) currently attending Dallas Baptist University. "Voelker might have the best chance of going to the bullpen because everything he has plays up a lot out of the pen," Chadd said.
While selecting some left-handed pitchers or hitters would have been nice, it just didn't fit into the Tigers process this year particularly with so many teams looking specifically for players with the same criteria. "Left-handed pitching is something you're always trying to find in the draft. It's just the way it falls," Chadd said. "If you could just go up there and pick your favorite player in every round, if it worked that way it'd be great but there's other clubs out looking for left-handed pitching as well."
As the third and fourth days of the draft progressed, the Tigers did eventually pick up four left-handed pitchers along with four catchers and eight infielders. The Tigers also drafted Magglio Ordóñez Jr., the son of retired Tigers' right-fielder Magglio Ordóñez, who played for the team from 2005-2011. The Tigers took Ordóñez Jr. in the 38th round.