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MLB draft 2017: RHP Alex Lange is right in the Tigers’ wheelhouse

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The LSU ace’s stock has slumped this spring, putting his status as a potential first round pick in doubt.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Cal State Fullerton vs LSU Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

After collecting three talented prep players with their last three first round picks, the Detroit Tigers may look for a more polished product in the 2017 draft. That could take the form of a position player, but we all know the Tigers love a hard-throwing right-handed starter more than anything.

LSU standout Alex Lange is very likely to be available with the 18th overall pick. However, a possible selection by the Tigers looks much less likely than it did just a month ago. Concerns over Lange’s high effort delivery and inconsistent command has soured many scouts belief in Lange as a future MLB starter. As a result his status as a probable first round pick is in real jeopardy at this point.

Lange is a solidly built right-hander, standing 6’4” and weighing in at 210 pounds. The Missouri native was sought after in the 2014 draft initially, but was firmly committed to attending LSU. He was excellent in his freshman year, posting a sub-2.00 ERA despite occasional struggles with his control. Those control issues seemed to bite him in his sophomore year, but Lange rebounded this spring with a good campaign as the leader of a high quality rotation, restoring his draft stock into a low first round selection likelihood.

Strengths

While not quite a flamethrower, Lange’s fastball sits comfortably between 92-94 miles per hour and features excellent finish in the zone. He will touch 95+ mph at times, and has added gas during his college career. While he is probably close to his velocity ceiling, it’s not impossible he could comfortably cruise closer to 94 mph as a pro. With his best command, Lange is able to work the fastball to all parts of the zone and overpower lesser bats.

Lange’s breaking ball is a high quality power curve with the ability to miss a lot of bats. MLB.com grades it as a 60, or plus, on the traditional 20-80 scouting scale. He has used it to rack up 342 strikeouts across 291 innings in his three years of college ball. Several scouts regard it as one of the most polished curveballs in the 2017 draft class.

MLB.com’s Jim Callis praised Lange in a conversation with SEC Country prior to the current college season.

He was unbelievable as a freshman. Wasn’t as sharp last year, but still had a pretty good year. He’s got a 92-96 (mph) fastball, power curveball. He sometimes overthrows a little bit and loses some control.

Beyond his pure stuff, Lange draws really high reviews for his maturity and competitiveness. As the leader of a fine rotation in the SEC, Lange has been the team’s ace this season and a workhorse throughout his college career. He has displayed excellent durability and projects as a pitcher who should adapt very well to a professional workload. For a team looking for a future mid-rotation starter, a pitcher who draws those kinds of accolades and has averaged over six innings per start in a highly competitive conference are big points in his favor.

In speaking to Baseball America, LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn made clear that there’s a lot more to Lange than his raw stuff.

“Obviously, the stuff is what it is, and he’s got really good stuff,” Dunn said. “But without the makeup and the pitchability, stuff is only going to take you so far. You have to have those other characteristics. I think that’s what elevated him into the guy that he’s been.”

Head coach Paul Maineri echoed those sentiments.

But he’s got one quality that just jumps out to me that he shares with all those other guys—he’s an absolutely fierce competitor. He’s the nicest guy in the world off the field. But on game day, he’s a totally different cat.”

Weaknesses

There are two key issues teams have to evaluate in regard to Lange. His mechanics are reasonably solid, but will get out of whack, particularly when Lange reaches back for more in tight spots. That trait leads him into bouts of wildness, with a tendency to overthrow when in trouble. He smoothed those issues to a degree early in the spring, but still walked over three batters per nine innings this season. Most pitchers his age are still a work in progress in this department, however. It’s certainly possible that pro instruction and repetition could help smooth out those kinks.

Lange’s other issue is a changeup that has perhaps gone backwards during his college career, as Minor League Ball’s John Sickels noted. The pitch was well regarded when he first drew heavy attention in high school. To his credit, he continues to mix the changeup in even on nights when his feel for it isn’t at its best. But he will have to hone that pitch in order to become a major league starter. A team that isn’t comfortable with his potential will likely view him as a future reliever and pass in the first round.

A fine outing in late March against Florida brought this report from Baseball America.

He threw both his curveball and changeup with slightly slower arm speed than when he threw his fastball. Lange appeared to be throwing his changeup with a football-type grip, getting on the side of it and cutting it to his glove side. He wasn’t afraid to his it against right handed hitters, and its presence allowed him to pitch at three speeds.

Outlook

There are some elements in Lange that the Tigers would like, but at this point taking him with the 18th pick would be over-reaching. He has a high enough floor to make him a very low risk pick in the second round, though he’ll presumably be gone by the time the Tigers come around a second time. The fastball-curveball combination are plenty good enough already to make him a likely reliever. Questions will revolve around how much projection he has left, and whether he can maintain both his maximum velocity and his control as he works to become a major league starting pitcher worthy of a first round selection.

There seems enough skepticism in Lange to make him a guy teams won’t be willing to reach for. While MLB Pipeline still has Lange slated for the 23rd pick in the first round, ESPN’s Keith Law’s recent mock draft estimates a very late first round or early second round selection point for Lange. Possibly teams with the lower first round picks will prefer to reach with someone with more potential upside. If that turns out to be the case, don’t be too surprised to see Lange slip into the second round and be snatched up as something of a minor value pick early on.