DETROIT -- The Detroit Tigers will go into the 2016 MLB draft with their highest overall pick since 2009. It's a two-edged sword, because while they'll have a chance to pick a player with better potential at the MLB level, offseason free agent signings prohibit them from selecting another player until the fourth round, at No. 115. It hasn't greatly altered their preparation for the draft, though, and the lack of surefire top draft picks have leveled the playing field a bit this year.
"It affects the money, drastically, just because with the new system, we don't have a second- and third-round pick." amateur scouting director Scott Pleis said on Wednesday. "So, they take that money away. We don't have (access to) that money. The first pick is quite a bit of money this year, and it's probably more than our total pool with one pick."
The Tigers will select a pick at No. 9 as a result of their 2015 season, in which they finished dead last in the American League Central, at 74-87. The last time they had a pick this high, Detroit selected right-handed pitcher Jacob Turner, whom they traded in 2011 to the Miami Marlins (along with two others) for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante.
The lack of a second- and third-round pick won't alter how the Tigers make their ninth overall selection, though. For them, the goal is to get the best overall player they can land, regardless of position. In the past, the organization has heavily leaded to hard throwing right-handed pitchers, and this year the name that jumps out is righty Riley Pint: a fireball pitcher who's said to top out at 102 mph.
Detroit has selected a position player first just twice in the last 10 years: Nick Castellanos (No. 44 overall) in the 2010 draft, and Derek Hill (No. 23) in 2014. They'd selected just one left-handed pitcher in that time when they drafted Andrew Miller in 2006. And whereas the draft featured clear-cut top No. 1 selections in the past to help define the order of the draft, that's not the case this year.
"It's not one of those years where (Bryce) Harper or (Stephen) Strasburg's out there, where you say, 'Hey, you know what? That guy's going No. 1,'" Pleis said. "The domino effect is you're going to figure out who likes who, and as you go through, it's very uncertain. As you always do, you see what you really want to happen, but then you prepare for what the reality is, and what's probably going to get to you, so you always have an idea: If these two guys go before us, we're going here."
One of the risks weighed includes going after a high school draftee or a pick out of college. It certainly won't cause the Tigers to shy away from going with one over the other, though. In some cases the risk for injury is greater with college players -- pitchers in particular -- because of the wear and tear on a player's body, as opposed to someone out of high school.
That's not to say high school players carry no risk, particularly in regards to pitchers who are under pressure to throw harder than ever before. But at least in the earlier years, players have become better prepared than in the past, and there are better training programs available to guard against undue injury. It certainly will play a factor, but it won't be the deciding one for Detroit.
"At the end of the day you have to weigh what's the best value you're going to get," Pleis said. "And you do weigh the risk, but would you walk away from one of the best guys in the draft to take a different guy you don't like as much? No. ... It depends on how they (pitch). Their size, delivery, arm action, athleticism, there's a lot of things that go into it. There is some concern -- cause kids are throwing hard, I've never seen so many 95-plus fastballs. I mean, it never used to be like that.
"But I think the kids (in high school) are bigger, they're stronger, they work out better, they're smarter, there's more information out there, so they know what they're doing when they're young."
One thing that would shy the Tigers away from picking a pitcher in the draft, would be if the player had Tommy John surgery in the past. They won't rule the option out completely, but it certainly would put the brakes on any potential pick until extensive scouting and research had been done. That, and a medical review, would both need to clear before the team would go forward with a player who carries that kind of risk in a draft.
The 2016 MLB draft begins at 7 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, and continues Friday at 12:30, before concluding on Saturday at 1 p.m.