“Process over results.”
This is a common refrain you will hear in baseball circles, especially those based in analytics. Baseball is a game rife with randomness, and even the best-laid plans can often go awry. A hitter may make excellent contact and hit a sharp line drive, but if it goes right to a fielder, it’s still an out. A pitcher may execute that fastball inside or down and away, and still get beat. But, given enough chances with the right approach — the right process — a player will find success.
This draft could blow up in the face of Al Avila and the Detroit Tigers. In fact, probability says it will. They have taken a number of high-risk prospects with their first 10 draft picks, many of whom will likely flame out. First overall pick Casey Mize seems like a safe bet to be a really good pitcher for years to come, but there is a lot of uncertainty after him. Fourth round pick Kingston Liniak is as raw a player as you can find in the draft, and others (like seventh rounder Eric de la Rosa) are of a similar mold.
But for a franchise that has a reputation for taking low-ceiling position players and hard-throwing college relievers, it’s hard to not be excited about the Tigers’ new process.
Take Liniak, for instance. The son of a former Rockies prospect (and nephew of former big leaguer Cole Liniak), Kingston has a ballplayer’s body. He stands 6’2, and has the type of frame scouts dream on. He is a plus runner and defender, and with a bit of added muscle, could turn into a legitimate five-tool talent. He’s a loooong way from even landing on a top prospect list, let alone the big leagues, but has more raw potential than most Tigers draftees in the past decade.
De la Rosa is in the same boat. A lanky junior college outfielder, he may draw comparisons to former Tigers prospect Steven Moya due to his massive raw power and... underwhelming approach at the plate. While this comp may make Tigers fans cringe, remember that having a prospect like this isn’t a bad thing. The problem wasn’t Moya himself, it was everything around him. If De la Rosa figures out his approach at the plate, he could be an All-Star.
While these are two of the riskiest prospects the Tigers have taken, the refrain is the same. Nearly every pick is raw, but with loud tools and considerable upside. Sixth rounder Hugh Smith is a 6’10 behemoth who throws in the high 90s. Ninth rounder Tarik Skubal throws in the mid-90s from the left side. Eighth rounder Jeremiah Burks is a double-plus runner who could fit in a number of positions. Even second rounder Parker Meadows is a bit of a project: a young, lanky outfielder who could hit for power and play above-average outfield defense.
In short, Al Avila is swinging for the fences. Premium homegrown talent is the most valuable currency in baseball these days, and Avila is doing everything he can to find a superstar or two. This approach started last year, when they reached for Reynaldo Rivera in the second round, and has become fully weaponized once the team’s analytics department was up and running.
With all this potential comes considerable risk. High school players are the riskiest types of draft picks, and even the college players the Tigers have drafted have lower floors than most. Some of the pitchers could eventually turn into relievers if starting doesn’t work out — hey, it only took the Tigers 15 years to realize this — but the positional talent could fall flat on its face and never reach the majors.
But if we eventually look back on this 2018 draft and wonder what happened, remember this feeling (or this very article, if you’re feeling generous). Remember the optimism we had when the Tigers shunned their long-earned reputation and actually aimed for draft picks with high upside. We’re a long way from knowing what the results of this draft will be, but given the current farm system and the state of the modern game, the Tigers’ draft process is more solid than it has ever been.