The Detroit Tigers are a rather predicable organization when it comes to their draft strategy. In the last three years, they have followed a pretty similar formula. Their first pick is spent on a prep performer with lots of upside to dream on and an improbably low floor. Derek Hill and Matt Manning are prime examples. The next few picks are filled with college pitchers who throw really hard but are plagued with command issues, such as Spencer Turnbull and Bryan Garcia. The occasional catcher is sprinkled here or there, such as Kade Scivicque or James McCann. Only after the seventh round or so do bats start to filter in with regularity. By that point, most players are nothing more than organizational fillers.
While this can be annoying at times, it makes preparing for the draft a lot easier. With that in mind, let’s take a look at eight player who might feature on Detroit’s draft board in the middle rounds.
Bryce Montes de Oca, RHP, Missouri
A starter from Missouri, Montes de Oca is an absolute behemoth, standing at a massive 6’8” and weighing in at 265 lbs. He uses all of that mass to his advantage, running his fastball all the way up to the high-90s. The rest of his profile is fringy, and he is likely a future reliever. Burke Granger, a writer for 2080 Baseball, who saw him play, explained to BYB what he saw.
One of the harder throwers I saw all spring which includes some of the bigger names in the college class. There's effort and the control wasn't great when I was there. Decent sinking action and average or better deception. His breaking ball was inconsistent. Even within the start that I saw it wavered between well below average and a tick above average. Throws every pitch from the stretch. Further looking like a reliever.
He checks all the boxes for a Tigers’ post-first round pick and doesn’t have any particular concerns besides the limited profile, so he could fit in to a bullpen at some point in the future as a future reliever. Something to keep in mind, though, is the fact he had TJS as a junior on high school, so that will be on the long-term radar.
Griffin Roberts, RHP, Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons’ closer, Roberts is a rare draft-eligible sophomore, and his time at college has been the Tale of Two Cities. After enduring the worst of times his freshman year, positing an ERA higher than the January temperatures in Michigan at 9.19 and walking 22 in 15.2 innings, he has really turned things around. In 50.1 innings, he’s whiffed 75 batters and kept his ERA at a respectable 2.15. However, his control still needs work, as he’s given out 29 free passes. While this is still a marked improvement, it is less than ideal.
Despite his control struggles, his stuff is more than enough to get him drafted. He’ll only show hitters a fastball and a slider, but they’re both powerful offerings. The heater runs as high as 97 mph and has late action, sinking last-second. His slider is also potent, resting in the 80s and peaking at 86 mph. He’ll throw it with tight spin and, according to MLB.com, at its best, it is plus as well.
Roberts has no future outside of the bullpen, and there is no wiggle room if he is to continue to experience the best of times. However, that 13.41 K/9 reveals his promise, and as far as future bullpen arms go, he’s a good one.
Kyle Johnston, RHP, Texas
A Texan who throws really dang hard? I’m already picturing him in a Whitecaps uniform. Johnston has served as both a starter and a closer in his time at Texas, and of the years that he’s played there, this season is proving to be his best. After opening the year in the rotation, he was utilized to fill the gaping hole in his team’s bullpen and locked down two saves. His command got shaky and he was moved back to the rotation afterwards, but his future in the sport is likely in a relief role.
His arsenal is good enough to start. He has three pitches, two of them plus. His fastball sits in the 92-94 mph range and he’ll dial it up to 96 mph most outings. His cutter is the other of the two, and it will often range from 88-90 mph, and he gets good lateral motion on the pitch. His changeup is not a pitch he uses nearly as often, but he does have one and it could be fringe-average with instruction and use.
While he has a good foundation to stick in the rotation long-term, his control is what will hold him back. Instead of the easy and smooth delivery that scouts like to see a power pitcher utilize, he has a complicated and somewhat jerky motion that will need to be toned down once he reaches pro ball. If a simplified delivery allows him to spot his pitches with more regularity, he can stay a starter. While he will never be a prospect of Micheal Koepch’s caliber, the young White Sox flamethrower proves this is a possibility. Unfortunately, the odds are overwhelming that he ends up in a bullpen somewhere when the dust settles.
Glenn Otto, RHP, Rice
Rice doesn’t have the greatest reputation when it comes to the pitchers it produces. The get hurt and burn out often enough to make scouts a little nervous when it comes to evaluating talent from that particular school. Therefore, it was a little alarming when Otto’s stuff started to back up at the end of the 2016 season, after pitching a personal high of 71.2 innings. However, it came back just fine this season and he’s still going to be selected relatively highly this year.
My scouting report of Otto written for Minor League Ball gives an explanation as to why:
Otto’s arsenal starts with an above average fastball. It sits anywhere from 91-93 mph, and he can run it up to 96 when he reaches all the way back. At the lower end of that range, it features late sinking life. Scouts project that velocity to grow higher in the future. Despite that, though, the fastball takes a definite back seat in scouts’ minds to another of his offerings: his curveball. Otto throws one of the best breaking balls of the draft class, a gorgeous knuckle-curve that will make you drool. It features 12-6 movement and is well above average in any category imaginable.
He isn’t a starter - he has neither the stamina nor the stuff to start and likely never will. However, he is a decent arm, and if the infamous Rice injury bug stays away, he has a chance to be a contributor in a big-league ‘pen. He doesn’t exactly have closer upside, though. His command is less than desirable and is not showing signs of improvement. In fact, this season, posted his highest WHIP of his college career. However, that is backed by a 12.22 K/9. The question is this: which will win out, his stuff or his command?
Dalton Varsho, C, Wisconsin/Milwaukee
While Kentucky first baseman Evan While may be this draft class’ king of unusual profiles, Varsho is a close second. Athleticism is in his veins, and being the son of a former major leaguer and current scout, he is able to get the most from his genetics. He has a good bat for a catcher, and it’s thought that he’ll have an average hit tool and power tool in time.
The strange part is his speed. Traditionally, catchers don’t have wheels, but Varsho is able to get moving; he receives a plus grade for his speed. He also has a weak arm, another thing that makes him unusual among his peers. However, he partially makes up for his arm strength with quick feet, and is able to get the ball out of his hand quickly.
When push comes to shove, he may end up being a bat-first catcher, but not everyone is convinced he’ll be able to stay there. There’s nothing particularly flawed about Varsho’s defensive actions, but the lack of arm strength is offputting. Some think he could move to left field if push comes to shove.
Connor Wong, C, Houston
While the Houston backstop’s play style is much more balanced than that of Varsho, Wong is still an unusual player. Like Varsho, he is faster than one would expect. He has good control of the strike zone and a swing that will allow him to hit for some average down the road. While he isn’t overflowing with strength, his smaller stature belies enough power to hit double digit bombs down the road.
There are only two things that may force give a team pause when considering the college receiver. The first — and much more important — of the two is his size. Wong is 5’11 and 180 pounds. He may not be durable enough to play 100 games per season behind the plate. The other is his lack of defensive polish. This shouldn't’t be much of an issue; he has all the raw talent to build off of, and should have average tools. He also has the advantage of quick feet behind the plate, something most catchers cannot truthfully lay claim to. However, teams may push him down the board a bit in favor of other players that will not need as much time to simmer in the minor leagues.
There are some who believe that if he can’t make it as a backstop, Wong could become a utility man. MLB.com cites the fact that he’s capable of playing almost every position as evidence that this is a possibility. He has the speed to play just about everywhere and isn’t an especially bad defender by any means. He also has experience as a catcher, which he could use in an emergency off the bench, even if that isn’t his role. In any case, whoever selects him will have an interesting prospect on their hands. It would be no surprise if he turned out to be the best catcher taken in this draft that features so few of them.