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2011 Detroit Tigers Draft Preview: Looking at the Past

BYB is going a bit heavy on the minor league content this week and next. Why, you may ask? Because the 2011 First Year Player draft starts on Monday! I'll be presenting draft coverage over the next few days for the blog, starting today with a look back at a few more recent Tigers drafts.

This year, the Tigers first pick is at 76, midway through the second round. We gave up our first round pick, slated to be at 16, to sign Victor Martinez, and since Dave Dombrowski did not offer arbitration to any free agents, we did not gain a compensation pick. This means two things: first, that we won't land a top-10 talent, and landing a first-round caliber talent may be difficult. Second, it means speculating on who the Tigers will pick is futile. Now, we will look at a couple prospects that the Tigers might pick on Monday, but there might be more value in looking to the past to predict how things will turn out in the future.

So that's what will happen today. Join me as I look back on the last three Tiger drafts, looking for trends and data points that can be used this year.

2010 Draft

1s (44): Nick Castellanos, 3B, FL HS

1s (48): Chance Ruffin, RHP, Texas

2 (68): Drew Smyly, LHP, Arkansas

3 (100): Robert Brantly, C, UC Riverside

Other notable picks: Alex Burgos, LHP, FL Community College (5th round, 163 overall), Bryan Holaday, C, Texas Christian (6th round, 193), Kyle Ryan, LHP, FL HS (12th round, 373 overall)

The Tigers also lacked a first round pick last year, but did have a pair of supplemental round picks to compensate for the departure of Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon. With these picks, they grabbed Nick Castellanos and Chance Ruffin. Castellanos was a high school standout at shortstop, but his size meant a move to third base was clearly in the works. Castellanos has very good hitting tools and is expected to stay at third base. He was also expected to go early in the first round, but a high price tag caused several teams to balk. Not Detroit, who took him at 44 and then paid him $3.45 million to sign. Ruffin was less of a surprise; he was Texas' closer and had a four pitch mix coming out of the bullpen. His school and stuff reminded some of Rockies pitcher Huston Street.

Second round pick Drew Smyly is a finesse guy with decent stuff and a midrotation ceiling. Third round pick Rob Brantly is a catcher with a very smooth lefthanded swing and a good defensive reputation at catcher. I named him a sleeper coming out of the draft and he was my second favorite pick of the draft. Burgos is a young lefthander with remarkable poise for his age and is also a bit of a draft sleeper. Bryan Holaday was TCU's leader on the field and while his bat is iffy, he is a very good defender who projects as a backup catcher over the long-term. Kyle Ryan is another projectable left-hander out of a Florida high school that BA compared to first round pick Chris Sale.

2009 Draft

1 (9): Jacob Turner, RHP, MO HS

2 (58): Andrew Oliver, LHP, Oklahoma State

3 (89): Wade Gaynor, 3B, Western Kentucky

Other notable picks: Daniel Fields, SS, MI HS (6th round, 180 overall), John Murrian, C, Winthrop (9th round, 270 overall), Adam Wilk, LHP, Cal State Long Beach (11th round, 330 overall), James Robbins, 1B, WA HS (30th round, 900th overall)

This draft is notable for bringing Jacob Turner and Andrew Oliver, Detroit's two prized pitching prospects, into the organization. Turner was a top right-handed prep pitcher that some expected to go higher than 9th, but Detroit snapped him up when presented the opportunity. With a mid-90's fastball and a promising curve, many people thought of him as a Justin Verlander starting kit, and he projected to be a true top of the rotation pitcher. Andrew Oliver brought a mid-90's fastball and a good changeup to the table, but the complete disappearance of his breaking ball combined with NCAA scandal (regarding the retention of an agent) scared some teams off. The Tigers snapped him up and paid him $1.495 million dollars to play for Detroit.

Gaynor was a college third baseman with a good bat and a mediocre glove projected to go in the third round. Fields was a Michigan prep star with a strong commitment to the University of Michigan, but the Tigers lured him and his tools to Lakeland with $1.625 million dollars. Murrian is a solid catching prospect with decent contact skills and a good glove. He projects to be a backup at this point. Wilk is a finesse lefty who quietly dominated the low minors with his 89 MPH fastball, refined breaking stuff and excellent control. A potential fifth starter, Wilk is currently waiting for an opening in Toledo. The Tigers paid James Robbins $100,000 to jump right from high school into pro ball due to his solid bat and power projectability. Plate discipline is still an issue for Robbins, currently in Class A West Michigan.

2008 Draft

1 (21): Ryan Perry, RHP, Arizona

2. (67): Cody Satterwhite, RHP, Missisippi

3. (99): Scott Green, RHP, Kentucky

Other notable picks: Brett Jacobson, RHP, Vanderbilt (4th round, 133 overall), Alex Avila, C, Alabama (5th round, 163 overall), Andy Dirks, CF, Wichita State (8th round, 253 overall), Robbie Weinhardt, RHP, Oklahoma State (10th round, 313 overall)

This is the infamous "reliever draft", in which Detroit took six relief prospects in the first ten rounds. Ryan Perry was the best of those pitchers, with an upper 90's fastball and a power slider. He has seen time in the bullpen for Detroit. Cody Satterwhite had a phenomenal fastball and breaking pitches with potential, but control set him back. He underwent labrum surgery after signing. Scott Green had a high 90's fastball and a power slider, but he had problems with control and consistency with his breaking pitch. He has not pitched yet this year. Brett Jacobsen had a fastball in the mid-90's and a deceptive delivery that the Orioles are currently enjoying- Jacobsen was the price Detroit paid for Aubrey Huff in 2009. Robbie Weinhardt was a 10th round pick without a power fastball- instead, he had a sinker with good life and good command. He is currently in Toledo, and was just designated for assignment.

The Tigers did draft two hitters in 2008, and they did a pretty good job with the first, catcher Alex Avila. At the time, Avila was a player with very good hitting tools, especially power (he hit 17 home runs his senior year at Alabama), but who had caught for one year. Avila was a project turned good and arguably the best pick in this draft. Andy Dirks was a player with no real standout tools, but who turned into a solid performer in the Tigers system. The Tigers rewarded his excellent performance with ample promotions and you can currently see him playing in Detroit.


We can tell several things from these last few drafts. First, Detroit is willing to spend lots of money to get the players it wants. Detroit went over slot in 2010 and several times in 2009 in an attempt to grab the players it wanted. 2009 was probably the year Detroit had the most success at doing this, picking up Jacob Turner, Daniel Fields, Andrew Oliver and James Robbins at above slot deals.

Second, the Tigers like college pitching, especially bullpen arms. Detroit took bullpen arms high in both 2010 and 2008, and one of the criticisms of Andrew Oliver in 2009 was that he could potentially end up in the bullpen. Detroit even goes for college starters though, as evidenced by Drew Smyly and Alex Burgos (and several others) most recently. The Tigers will not hesitate to take high school pitchers if they believe they are good enough, though. Jacob Turner is the most obvious case, but biting on Kyle Ryan in the 12th round of the 2010 draft was a shrewd move that could pay off in the long-term.

Third, the Tigers may prefer pitchers, but look closely when they take a hitter early. Out of the hitters I mentioned, Castellanos, Brantly, Fields and Avila are all special players with starting upside, if not more. The others all have a chance to contribute on the major league level. This is an organization that is not known for drafting impact hitters, but that somehow manages to draft solid position players. That's not to say Detroit is perfect on this regard- this sample is deliberately chosen to emphasize certain picks, and the Tigers still have a tendency to produce way too many fourth outfielders, but do not underestimate the potential of position prospects.

In the end, the draft may be a total mystery to newspaper columnists and bloggers. I will promise you this: the Tigers will have us talking about the draft sometime next week. Whether that's because we stole away a top prospect or because we chose eight relief pitchers in the first fifteen picks, I don't know. But we'll be talking one way or another.