Major League Baseball's amateur player draft will take place on Thursday, June 9. For the first time in 15 years, former president and general manager Dave Dombrowski is not leading the Detroit Tigers' front office. Former right-hand man Al Avila will be in charge of the team for the his first draft.
Here is a look at the three best and worst drafts that the Detroit Tigers had in that 15-year period with Dombrowski calling the shots. For purposes of this exercise, we will only be looking at the players that the Tigers drafted, whether they went on to play for Detroit or another club. We will not get into players that were acquired in trades.
2004 Draft: The Tigers selected Justin Verlander with the second overall pick in the first round out of Old Dominion. He contributed to the Tigers' run to the World Series in 2006 and was the ace of the staff when the Tigers won four consecutive division titles from 2011 to 2015. Verlander is credited with 44.7 rWAR thus far in his career, and still counting.
2005 Draft: Fourteen players selected in this draft made it to the major leagues, and this is the only draft where the Tigers picked up multiple 10+ WAR players: Cameron Maybin and Matt Joyce. Add Burke Badenhop and Casper Wells, and you have four of the top 10 draft picks by the Tigers in the Dombrowski era. We won't count Alex Avila, who was selected in the 34th round but went to Alabama instead. He will count in the 2008 draft when the Tigers actually signed him.
2002 Draft: In Dombrowski's first draft in Detroit, Curtis Granderson was selected in the third round, and has accumulated 41.6 WAR over his major league career. Joel Zumaya was taken in the 11th round, and contributed to the Tigers' 2006 World Series run with his triple-digit fastball.
Notice that the three best drafts are all over 10 years ago. That's not merely because players have had time to develop, but also the fact that the club simply has not drafted well for quite some time. Not having a first round pick is a big loss, as in 2010, 2011, and 2012, but there was no third rounder like Granderson, nor a fifth rounder like Avila, selected later in the draft since 2008.
Following is a summary of the Tigers drafts since the 2002 season, showing the number of players who made it to the major leagues and their WAR totals.
|Year||MLB Players||Total rWAR|
We've stopped counting at 2013, because it's way too soon to grade the players drafted in the past two seasons, none of whom have yet made it to the major leagues. Of course, WAR continues to accumulate over a player's career, so those who have been in the major leagues longer have had a chance to accumulate a higher WAR. Hope springs eternal for the crop of young players selected in the past two seasons who now dominate the list of the top Tigers' prospects.
The 2010 draft could yet wind up being a good year, with Drew Smyly, Nick Castellanos, and Kyle Ryan being still a work in progress.
2003 Draft: Not only did the Tigers set an American League record with 119 losses during the 2003 season, but they managed to pull off a complete disaster of a draft. Pitcher Kyle Sleeth was taken with the third overall selection, and never even made it to Toledo.
Five players made it to the majors, each posting a negative WAR. Jay Sborz, Tony Giarratano, Virgil Vasquez, Jordan Tata, and Brian Rogers combined to tally a net - 2.2 WAR. Dusty Ryan was taken in the 48th round and played 27 games as a backup catcher, with +0.1 rWAR. The team did manage to trade Rogers in 2006 for Sean Casey, so there's that.
2012 Draft: Final results are not yet in on this draft, but it's looking like a big bust so far. Jake Thompson could yet become a productive pitcher, but Drew VerHagen and Devon Travis are the only players to make it to the major leagues. Every other player has already been unprotected and unclaimed in the Rule 5 draft. There may be another sleeper, but if there is, he's presently in a coma.
2009 Draft: First round pick Jacob Turner and second round selection Andy Oliver lead this class of prospects who never panned out. Add over-slot-bonus-baby Daniel Fields, who was taken in the sixth round and paid handsomely to forego a scholarship to the University of Michigan, and it all adds up to a total bust of a draft class. Negative 1.7 rWAR, saved only by the mega-trade that sent Turner to Florida in exchange for Anibal Sanchez, but we're not counting trade value here.
One star player, or just a couple of decent players can change the outcome of a team's entire draft season. The Tigers have not drafted a 5.0+ WAR player since taking Drew Smyly in 2010. As poorly as Dombrowski's draft selections have turned out, it's probably a good thing that he got into the habit of trading them for major league players. Avila hopes to do better, and develop talent within the organization.