Five years ago, the Detroit Tigers were ahead of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central standings. They were about to embark on the infamous postseason run that would culminate in that pitch. Today, Detroit is in the middle of a rebuild with only a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. The standings that fans pay attention to are the opposite kind, the race to pick first overall next June.
While general manager Al Avila found his team the winners last season, that likely won’t be the case this year. That doesn’t stop us from looking ahead to the draft class that awaits. Here are some of the top names who look to join the pro ranks in the 2019.
C Adley Rutschman, Oregon State
While his teammate Nick Madrigal got most of the attention during the College World Series, Rutschman is just as much of a prospect. The Oregon State backstop has natural ability both at the plate and behind it. He set a College World Series hits record and performed well all season long, but the bat isn’t his focus. “To me, defense wins ball games,” Rutschman said to The Oregonian. “I take catching more seriously than anything because if I lose my focus for one second the pitcher is not getting my best.”
C Shea Langeliers, Baylor
The 1b to Rutschman’s 1a, Langeliers doesn’t quite match Rutschman’s product in the catch-and-throw department and won’t make as much contact. He’s an excellent ballplayer, though, and hits for enough power to profile as a regular. The Baylor stalwart is a much more attainable target for Detroit, barring any major changes to the way things stand right now.
RHP Daniel Espino, Georgia Premier Academy (Ga.)
The early frontrunner in my very official “Most Likely to be Linked to the Tigers” rankings, Espino would have been a dream come true for the Dave Dombrowski era front office. Espino runs his fastball up to 99 miles per hour and has a power breaking ball to back it up. Perfect Game gave their commendation that trademark cold, unfeeling style. “Flashed a firm change up that should continue to develop,” they wrote. “Elite level arm strength, a plus second pitch in his slider and has always thrown strikes.” A high-ceiling talent that would fit the system like a glove, Espino is one to watch.
3B Rece Hinds, IMG Academy (Fla.)
Power, power, power is the name of Hinds’ game. He’s your prototypical third baseman, with a lot of thump in his bat and a cannon for an arm. According to 2080 Baseball, he can throw up to 98 miles per hour across the diamond and has exit velocities that reach triple digits. Hinds is fun to watch play, and while he needs refinement in the field, he’s not a likely DH long-term. There is still room for him to fill out and add more strength, which could add to his already prodigious pop. His impact bat would fill a definite need in the Tigers’ system, albeit one at a position of burgeoning depth.
SS Bobby Witt Jr., Colleyville HS (Tex.)
The prep shortstop has been gaining momentum as the top player in 2019’s class. He’s a hyper-athletic specimen who has the potential to be a premium hitter and stick at shortstop. “Witt plays the game like he constantly has something to prove,” writes Prep Baseball Report, “and appears to be constantly challenging himself to get even better.” With a gorgeous swing and plenty of electronic ink to his name, Witt finds himself in a similar situation to Brice Turang at this time last year. Unless he underperforms like Turang did, Witt will be off the board before the Tigers are on the clock.
LHP Nick Lodolo, Texas Christian University
If this lefty lives up to expectations, it will be the second time he has been drafted in the first two rounds. He spurned the Pittsburgh Pirates after they made him the 41st overall pick in 2016, and has greatly improved his stock in college. He throws a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and a breaking ball that shows potential. He has a great pitcher’s build and uses that large frame to create an uncomfortable downward angle. Lodolo comes with less risk than he did as a prep, with just as much upside. That works for me.
SS CJ Abrams, Blessed Trinity Catholic (Ga.)
This middle infielder can really fly. However, there are some who question whether he really belongs at short. His speed would work better in center, and his arm would provide excellent defense there. That would also take some of the pressure off his offensive ability, which includes bat-to-ball skills but only gap power. In any case, he’s a premium athlete with obscene potential. Abrams will probably earn comparisons to Dee Gordon — like the one MLB.com gave him — on the regular.