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MLB Draft Mailbag: Who could the Tigers draft besides Casey Mize?

Auburn’s Casey Mize is the odds-on favorite to go 1-1, but who else could the Tigers take first overall?

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-LSU vs Oregon State Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The MLB draft is just over three weeks away, and interest in who the Detroit Tigers are targeting is ramping up in a big way... even if it’s not a big secret. Auburn righthander Casey Mize is the consensus top player in this year’s draft, and his stock is holding steady as he continues to lay waste to the rest of college baseball. His numbers are ridiculous, and his scouting report is just as glowing.

But is he a lock to go 1-1? There is still plenty of time left until draft day, and the top prospect in the draft isn’t always the one that goes first overall. Let’s dive into a special MLB draft edition of our mailbag.

Son of Sparticus: If you had to take a position player with the first overall pick in the draft, who would it be and how bad would you get lambasted for not taking a pitcher?

I think the Tigers would actually receive more ridicule if they drafted another pitcher above Mize at 1-1. He has established himself as the top prospect in the draft, and his track record speaks for itself. Florida’s Brady Singer is the only other pitcher who can compete with what Mize has done in the SEC this year, and I don’t think Singer is nearly as good of a prospect. I would be absolutely floored if the Tigers took a pitcher over Mize.

But a position player? I could see it. Oregon State’s Nick Madrigal is a hell of a player, even if he doesn’t eventually slide over to shortstop. He hits for average and some decent power given his diminutive stature, and is a double-plus runner who won’t embarrass himself at the keystone. He draws comparisons to Jose Altuve and Dustin Pedroia because of his size, but those two (and many others) are proving that height doesn’t really matter if you’re really good at baseball. If he were 6’1, he might be the clear No. 1 pick, not Mize.

Another guy I like who wasn’t mentioned in our roundtable discussion is Georgia Tech catcher Joey Bart. I haven’t seen much of him (or any draft prospect, really), but the profile is something to drool over. He is built like a tank, hits for average and power, has a plus arm, and according to reports, has improved considerably behind the plate this season. He might be a first round talent based on the bat alone, but will almost surely go in the top 10 because he could stick behind the plate too. A two-way catcher like this is a franchise-changing player, and one I wouldn’t be upset about the Tigers grabbing if they sour on Mize for whatever reason.

As I mentioned above, I’d be surprised if the Tigers take anyone above Mize, but especially a pitcher. Righthander Carter Stewart is the “favorite” to usurp Mize as the first overall pick thanks to a big, athletic frame, a mid-90s fastball, and a curveball that many consider the best in this year’s draft class. Stewart generates a very high spin rate with his fastball and curve, something that may be appealing to a Tigers front office that prioritized some of those measures at times in last year’s draft (fourth round pick Gio Arriera was supposedly one of those such selections).

If the Tigers pass on one of those two, I imagine they would take Florida righty Brady Singer over lefties Matthew Liberatore and Shane McClanahan. Singer is the ace of a Florida program the Tigers are very familiar with, and former teammates of 2017 first rounder Alex Faedo. The Tigers have infamously been enamored with big, hard-throwing SEC pitchers in the past, and Singer certainly fits that mold, with a mid-90s fastball that runs hard to his arm side. He has come on strong in recent weeks, and is coming off a shutout in his last start.

Of course, so does Mize. That’s why he’s probably the pick.

danross70: What should the plan be for the 2nd pick? Who do you like who might be available in the 2nd and 3rd rounds for the Tigers? Any chance of trading for a competitive balance pick?

The Tigers could go in a lot of different directions with their second round pick, and should take a flexible approach on draft day. This year’s class is particularly deep, if not very top-heavy, and there could be several talented players still available at No. 44 overall. One pitcher I’m hoping falls a bit more is Ole Miss lefthander Ryan Rolison, a draft-eligible sophomore who is the No. 12 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s board. It seems nearly impossible, based on that ranking, that Rolison would fall so far, but he dropped to No. 30 overall in Baseball America’s latest mock draft and has apparently been battling some mechanical issues throughout the spring.

Odds are Rolison wouldn’t make it to No. 44 overall. Other teams would probably get the same idea as the Tigers before then and gamble that they could fix the lanky lefthander to grab a potential top 10 talent further down the board. But it could happen, and I think that’s a little more intriguing than your run-of-the-mill names further down the board.

But of those names? The 6’11 Sean Hjelle, who Jay profiled earlier this spring, could be an intriguing pick. Stanford righthander Tristan Beck might also have more talent than his ranking — MLB Pipeline has him 27th — lets on. Wake Forest righthander Griffin Roberts is another player we have our eye on here at BYB, but I’d like him a lot more as a third rounder.

The real reason why I’m not terribly enthused about the arms that will be available in the second and third rounds is because there are a number of decent bats who should fall to that range. Clemson outfielder Seth Beer is an all-bat prospect in the Christin Stewart mold who would go much higher if he didn’t run like a catcher. MLB Pipeline called Beer “the most polarizing prospect in the draft” thanks to his excellent hitting ability and not-so-excellent everything else. He will probably fall thanks to some struggles during his limited action in wood bat events, but it’s hard to see his skills not at least somewhat translating to the pro ranks.

If I had my pick of the litter? I’d go for Duke outfielder Griffin Conine. He hit 13 home runs for the Blue Devils in 2017 and was one of the best players in the Cape Cod League last summer. Had he maintained this production in 2018, he would have generated top 10 buzz, if not consideration for the No. 1 overall pick. But as you might be guessing, he hasn’t done that. Conine’s mechanics have been a bit of a mess this spring, as he is hitting .248 with 51 strikeouts in 165 at-bats. He is still drawing walks and hitting for power, but the swing and miss concerns will follow him into this year’s draft; he has dropped all the way to No. 65 on MLB Pipeline’s board. Conine probably won’t fall that far in the actual draft, but could ultimately be a bargain if he sorts out his swing in pro ball.

ColoursYouHave: What would have to happen for the Tigers to NOT take Casey Mize in the draft? Also, how long after drafting Mize will it take for him to reach the majors?

Assuming Mize is the top player on their board, there are only really two reasons why they might not take him 1-1. The first is an injury, or something that shows up in a pre-draft physical. If this happens, expect Mize to drop like a rock in the first round and potentially return to Auburn for his senior season. But this seems unlikely with just a few weeks until draft day.

The other is based on bonus demands. As the definitive top player in the draft, Mize could ask for the full bonus allotment at No. 1 overall, which is now a shade over $8 million. No player has gotten the full bonus at 1-1 since the new system was put into place, though, as a lot of teams cut deals with players under slot to save money for elsewhere in the draft. If Mize plays hardball and the Tigers can land a deal with someone else way cheaper, they may value that $1-2 million in bonus pool money more than the difference between Mize and the [X] number player on their board. That money could be used to land a tough sign or two in the later rounds, whether it be one of the players listed above or a toolsy high school talent a bit further down the board.