When draft season comes around, there is often much speculation and deliberation over which player teams will take. The MLB draft is an infamously infuriating beast to try to predict, but some teams are easier than others due to a well-established reputation for picking certain kinds of players. The Tigers are the foremost in that group, and have spent many of their top picks on high-octane arms from the high school ranks. MLB.com prospect expert Jim Callis acknowledges this in his recent mock draft, saying “What’s the easiest thing to do in a mock draft? Give Detroit a power arm.”
However, he notes an interesting twist this year. After predicting that the Tigers would take yet another fastball-first prep arm, Callis mentioned that there was “persistent talk” of Detroit breaking the mold this June. How? It seems as though the scouting branch of the Tigers’ front office thinks highly of Drew Waters, an athletic prep outfielder from Georgia.
There is a bit of a disparity in this category, as scouts’ opinions strongly differ from those of Waters himself. First and foremost among his skills is his speed. The outfielder is a true plus runner and Waters is a smart player, using it well. He has enough speed to be a true threat on the bases and utilizes it to his advantage in the field. MLB Pipeline gave his speed a 60 grade, and other publications have offered similar reports.
Fielding is the better of his remaining talents, affording the young player the opportunity to play a premium position long-term and raising his value in the draft. His speed also contributes to his slick glove in the field, because playing center field requires the most range of all the outfield positions, and perhaps any position. He also has a better-than-average arm, which contributes to his value as a center fielder. However, it is little more than the proverbial cherry on top, considering playing center field requires less arm strength than any other position.
In addition to his pure ability, Waters is confident that he can stay up the middle long-term. When he spoke to Bless You Boys, he said:
I feel like I’m going to stay in center field just because of my athleticism and because of my speed, but I feel like if I were to make the move to right field, I would be very effective at it, just because I am super athletic and I do have a big arm. Organizations are staring to put true center fielders in all three positions and I feel like in any of those three positions I can have an impact, but as of right now, I’m gonna say center field.
While Waters has the ability to bat competently from either side of the plate, he has consistently demonstrated good power from the left side. Waters played in the Perfect Game National, and posted some of the best exit velocities of the entire day: 104 miles per hour, by his recollection. MLB Pipeline graded both his hit tool and power as league average, more than acceptable for a true center fielder with plus speed.
There aren’t many weaknesses in Waters’ game. However, due to the skill set he features, his ceiling isn’t as high as one would hope from such an early pick as the 18th overall that the Tigers are considering him with. His power is a bit shaky from the right side, and his swing is keyed to hitting line drives rather than power blasts. His hit tool from either side is also a bit questionable, and likely will not ever develop beyond league average.
While Waters will never have to be an extraordinary hitter to maintain a spot on a big league roster, either as an everyday player or a fourth outfielder, a defense-minded player will never have as much value as an offensive-minded one who is an acceptable fielder. However, if the power that he demonstrates once in a while isn’t a mirage and can take a step forward with professional instruction, that will put this whole section more or less to rest.
If the Tigers truly are as interested as some think he is, Waters will be taken with their first pick in the draft. If he is not selected by the Tigers, it’s a good bet that he’ll be taken with a compensation pick or at the beginning of the second round. His ceiling is that of a center field mainstay with a decent bat, but it’s more realistic to believe that he’ll end up a fourth outfielder. His floor isn’t all that high, either, so the washout potential is stronger than in other cases.