clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

MLB draft 2015: Which college pitchers should the Tigers be interested in?

New, comments

The Tigers love young power arms, and this year's MLB draft is loaded with them.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Every team has certain draft stereotypes. Some teams like to play the lottery with high upside high school talent. Others will take the best player available, no matter the position or level of competition. The Detroit Tigers love college pitchers. There's a reason for that. Unlike most prep talent, college pitchers have matured physically and are already competing at a higher level. While scouts may project that a 17-year-old will add three to four miles per hour on his fastball, there is no need to do so with a 21-year-old who just posted an ERA in the low twos at an SEC school.

This strategy has not always sat well with some Tigers fans, especially as the club has dipped into the later reaches of the first round of the draft. There are still plenty of talented high school players available at this point -- Mike Trout was drafted 25th overall in 2009, for instance -- while the elite college talent has already been picked over. Still, this has not stopped the Tigers from banking heavily on power college arms in recent years.

On that note, here are some of the players that may be available when the Tigers make their first pick of the draft, at No. 22 overall.

Kyle Funkhouser - RHP, Louisville

Both Keith Law and Fangraphs' Kiley McDaniel predicted that Funkhouser will fall to the Tigers at No. 22 overall in previous mock drafts, but the Louisville righthander has been projected as high as the No. 4 overall pick. The former projection fits, as Funkhouser is a stereotypical Tigers draft pick: a big, burly workhorse with a heavy sinker and biting slider. Funkhouser's changeup needs work, and he has had some command issues at times. His delivery isn't as smooth as you would expect from a guy his size, and the "reliever" tag has already been thrown around by some.

Funkhouser went 8-5 with a 3.25 ERA and 99 strikeouts on 105 1/3 innings for the Cardinals this season. His command issues showed up at times, as he allowed 43 walks, or 3.67 per nine innings. Opponents hit .231 against him with just two home runs, and he threw the lone complete game of Louisville's season. He was named an All-Conference player and a First-Team All-American by ABCA, while other publications handed him Second or Third-Team honors.

Walker Buehler - RHP, Vanderbilt

Another big righthander, Buehler was the Tigers' projected draft pick in Baseball America's first mock draft of the season. This is the lowest I have seen Buehler fall, however, as more recent mock drafts have him getting snatched in the No. 10-20 range of the first round. He doesn't have the accolades of teammates Dansby Swanson or Carson Fulmer, but he held opponents to a 2.97 ERA in 14 starts. Buehler struck out 81 batters to 25 walks, and allowed a .262 batting average in 78 2/3 innings.

Buehler is a bit undersized at 6'1", but that hasn't stopped him from working in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball. He gets plenty of sink on the heater, which pairs well with his power curveball. The bender has plenty of late movement, and is the better of his two breaking pitches. Buehler's slider is also a potential weapon, as it sits in its own velocity band. Buehler also throws a changeup, but, like most college pitchers, it is a work in progress.

Jon Harris - RHP, Missouri State

While most college pitchers are physically developed, Harris may have some projection left on a lanky, 6'4" frame. Weighing in somewhere between 175 and 190 pounds now -- he has been listed at both weights -- Harris has a prototypical pitcher's build. He sports a fastball-curveball combination similar to Buehler's, but his velocity lags a tick behind at 90-92 miles per hour. Many scouts believe that Harris could add velocity as he adds weight, offering some rare upside to a premier college arm.

With the lanky delivery comes command issues, though. Harris breezed through the competition he faced in the Missouri Valley conference, walking just 35 batters in 97 1/3 innings with 113 strikeouts. However, he threw 13 wild pitches and hit six batters this season. It was clear that Harris was a step above his peers, as he amassed an 8-1 record and 1.85 ERA in 14 starts. Harris offers more risk and more reward than your typical college arm, but could be a worthy gamble if he falls to the Tigers. He has been projected as high as the No. 4 overall pick.

James Kaprielian - RHP, UCLA

Kaprielian is one of several college pitchers that could slot anywhere from the mid-teens of the first round to the compensation pick round, depending on how the winds blow on draft night. A 6'4" righthander from California, Kaprielian led the Pac 12 with 108 strikeouts in 106 innings pitched this season. He went 10-4 with a 2.03 ERA in 16 starts for the Bruins, allowing a .226 batting average along the way. He did allow seven home runs on the year, but limited opponents to just 21 extra base hits overall.

Kaprielian sports a smooth delivery with a fastball that sits anywhere from 90 to 94 miles per hour. He also features a slider, curveball, and changeup, but the two breaking pitches are well ahead of the changeup developmentally. Scouts like Kaprielian's ability to keep his offspeed pitches down, and think his changeup could become an above average pitch down the road. They question his ability to miss bats at the next level, however, and project him as a potential mid-rotation arm if everything clicks.

Phil Bickford - RHP, College of Southern Nevada

Bickford pitched for a small school in Nevada last season, but he has been anything but low profile. Originally drafted with the No. 10 overall pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013, Bickford did not sign. He instead attended Cal State Fullerton, but departed one year later after an impressive showing in the Cape Cod League last summer. This was by design: had Bickford stayed with the Titans, he would not be eligible for this year's draft. A volatile talent, Bickford could go anywhere from the top 10 to out of the first round. Baseball America projected him to the Tigers in their third mock draft of the year.

Nate Kirby - LHP, Virginia

The consensus top lefthander in this year's draft, Kirby is not even a shoo-in to be a first round pick. He doesn't have the type of power stuff of a typical top pick, sitting in the high 80s to low 90s with his fastball. His changeup is more developed than your typical college pitcher, but his slider lags behind. A lat strain derailed Kirby's season in mid-April, though his previous body of work was quite impressive. He was the Co-ACC Pitcher of the Year and a First-Team All-American in 2014 after going 9-3 with a 2.08 ERA. Before his injury, Kirby had upped his strikeout numbers, fanning 74 batters in just 59 1/3 innings.

Cody Ponce - RHP, Cal Poly Pomona

Like Jon Harris, Ponce is a bit more raw than your typical college pitcher. Listed at six feet, six inches tall and weighing upwards of 240 pounds, Ponce is a massive individual. He is surprisingly athletic for his size and sports a mid-90s fastball, which leads many to wonder why he's pitching at a small school and not one of the major programs within a stone's throw of his campus. He throws a mix of four pitches, including a cutter and curveball that have been projected as plus pitches down the road.

Easily one of the top Division II prospects in this year's draft, Ponce was slowed by a shoulder strain this season. He allowed a 3.36 ERA in 75 innings this year, striking out 52 batters to 29 walks. Even against inferior competition, Ponce's numbers lag behind his projection right now. He is still inconsistent from pitch to pitch, and will benefit from the additional reps and attention he will receive at the professional level. He is a gamble, but one that could pay off in a big way.

Michael Matuella - RHP, Duke

Another high-risk, high-reward player, Matuella was originally projected as a potential No. 1 overall pick. The Duke righthander only made six starts this season before succumbing to injury, and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery in April. Now, Matuella is expected to fall into the lower first round (if not further), where an established club may take a gamble that he fully recovers. He has also had lower back issues in the past, further complicating his draft status.

The potential reward is substantial. Matuella can hit the high 90s with his fastball, while his lanky delivery has drawn comparisons to former Tigers starter Doug Fister. Matuella sported a 2.78 ERA and .190 batting average against as a sophomore in 2014. He ranked second in the Atlantic Coast Conference with over 10 strikeouts per nine innings of work, leading to a Preseason All-America selection prior to 2015. Keith Law ranked Matuella second on his top 30 MLB draft prospects last October, before the injury bug bit.