It’s rare the Tigers have access to a top-10 skills player in the MLB draft, especially when they don’t have a pick until No. 18 overall. But this year the crop of exciting talent is so dense, and certain skills so over-valued, there’s a real chance the Tigers might have some exciting options available to them when their first pick comes up.
One of those options is high school senior Nick Pratto out of Huntington Beach, California. He has played as both a pitcher and a corner infielder, but is likely to be used as a position player at the professional level. The Tigers are notorious for selecting hard-throwing pitchers, but Pratto is a very exciting option for the team if he falls to them.
With many people suggesting the Tigers may be changing their draft approach this year, Pratto might just be a perfect fit for the club as they look towards a new future. In their recent mock draft, Perfect Game had Pratto slated to go to the Tigers. MLB.com has also been on the Pratto to the Tigers bandwagon, which suggests more than blind guessing at where he might end up.
What has scouts most excited about Pratto is his bat. This doesn’t really come as much as a surprise, given his history in the world of top prospects. While he was in consideration as a two-way player coming into the season, and could have been a first round selection either as a pitcher or a first baseman, his bat has taken a big step forward and there is no doubt he will be taken as a position player this June.
His best attribute is his pure hitting ability. Pratto excites teams with that tool more than any other. It can be hard to stand out among a group of first baseman with enviable bats, but he has the best hit tool of the batch. In fact, none of the high schoolers that are available to teams this June are more skilled at making consistent contact. It is a plus ability, and he will thrive on high average above all else, but he does have other skills to lean on.
First among these is his defense. This is not what one would expect from a first baseman, but Pratto’s skill set plays as well on the field as at the plate. He has a plus glove and an above average arm that comes from pitching for years. Often, first baseman with good bats are forced off the position and are made into a designated hitter — as in the case of Edwin Encarnacion — but it is doubtful that this prep lefty will suffer the same fate.
Power is the only aspect of his game with an unpredictable and uncertain future. John Sickels of Minor League Ball puts it well, saying, “It’s not so much a weakness as a question: how much home run power will he develop? ... Everyone expects him to get on base while hitting for average and showing a strong glove but whether that will make him a solid regular or an All-Star will depend on the power.”
Pratto isn’t overly concerned about the power himself, saying this to me in our interview:
I’ve always believed in developing the hit tool first and then letting the power come later. It’s hard to hit 30 home runs without being... a hitter as well. I think that gives me an advantage over other hitters, and I think that is going to allow me to hit that 30 home runs, and more, hopefully.
In any case, while scouts are able to envision him hitting double-digit home runs, the crown jewel of his skill set is, and likely always will be, his masterful ability to make contact. The extra power may or may not come, but if it does, it will be the proverbial icing on the cake, making the overall package that much more appealing.
The only tool of Pratto’s that gets rated below average is his speed. This is not a shock at all, as he’s a first baseman. There are very few first baseman who are good runners, and the ones that do have decent wheels are often moved to an outfield corner. His speed — or lack thereof — really won’t be much of a hindrance in the long run, as it’s not crucial to the position. It is also only a tick below average, making it even less of a concern.
What is far more concerning to teams is the type of player he is. While the plus bat and glove are encouraging, Pratto falls into a risky demographic: high school first baseman. While there are examples of outstanding success from that group, such as Adrian Gonzalez and Freddie Freeman, MLB.com points out that Pratto is smaller than both, and may never have the power of either. This may end up being a non-issue, however. People get skittish with this type of player because of the natural deterioration of defense and speed over time, but Pratto’s glove is one that promises a lot of innings on the field before he is forced off of it.
In any case, his bat is loud enough to drown out any concerns, and there will be a team in first round that decides to take a chance on it.
On the surface, it seems like the Tigers have absolutely no shot at Pratto. However, the MLB draft has a reputation as a mercurial and strange beast. Recent mock drafts have seen him take an unexpected slide, with MLB.com’s two most recent attempts both seeing Pratto reach the 18th pick. If the Tigers do manage to snap him up, then they will have an exciting prospect on their hands, one with a real chance to become an All-Star. His absolute ceiling is that of a .290 hitter who hits 30 bombs annually. His more realistic ceiling is still bright, but more along the lines of a .275 hitter who hits 20 home runs. His floor is a little concerning and I’m not certain what it is. High school first baseman are a risky profile, but he does have pitching as a fallback option if hitting doesn’t work out.
Thank you to Nick Pratto for the picture and quotes used in connection with this article.