By most accounts, the Detroit Tigers broke from their recent conservative drafting strategy in the 2018 amateur draft. Here’s a look at how the top 10 selections performed in their introductions to professional baseball this summer.
1. Casey Mize — RHP, Auburn University
Tigers fans waited until late July to catch a glimpse of the first overall pick. After a dress rehearsal in the Gulf Coast League and a sparkling debut with Lakeland, Mize was touched up a bit in his final three outings. With 114 2⁄3 college innings under his belt in 2018 (by far the most of his career) and a six-week layoff in between college and his pro debut, we saw about as much from Mize as we could have hoped for.
2. Parker Meadows — OF, Grayson HS (GA)
The 6’5 Meadows quietly had a very solid professional debut. He displayed raw power down in the Gulf Coast League, blasting four homers in just 22 games for the Tigers’ West squad, earning a mid-August promotion to Connecticut. An awkward slide into third base kept Meadows sidelined for a little over a week, and limited him to just six New York-Penn League contests, where he was 6-for-19 with a pair of walks. Expect the Tigers to challenge him with an Opening Day job in West Michigan in 2019.
3. Kody Clemens — 2B, University of Texas
Clemens did exactly what we hoped he would do in his pro debut. He hit for power; he hit for average; he even flashed some better-than-expected leather at second base. Midwest League pitching was no match for the seasoned college hitter, as he posted an .864 OPS in 174 plate appearances with the Whitecaps. Clemens went hitless in his first three games with Lakeland, but closed the season with a 7-for-17 burst. He should start 2019 back in Lakeland, with an early or mid-season promotion to Erie likely in his sights.
4. Kingston Liniak — OF, Mission Hills HS (CA)
Liniak, the second high school outfielder taken by the Tigers this season, did not adjust to professional pitching quite as well as Meadows did. The fourth rounder struck out 64 times in his first 213 plate appearances (29.5 percent) and drew just eight walks (3.8 percent). This is typical for a recent high school graduate who is exposed to premium velocity for the first time. The Tigers gave him a taste of action with Connecticut after the Gulf Coast League season ended, which suggests that will likely be his 2019 landing spot after a stint in extended spring training.
5. Adam Wolf — LHP, University of Louisville
The first of three lefties selected in the first 11 rounds by the Tigers, Wolf made a couple appearances in the Gulf Coast League before moving up to Connecticut. After five appearances, he sported a lofty 5.28 ERA. Wolf didn’t allow a single run in his final five starts, however, yielding just nine hits in 15 innings. Drafted at the end of his junior campaign, Wolf won’t be 22 until December, and will likely open 2019 in the West Michigan rotation.
6. Hugh Smith — RHP, Whitworth University (WA)
Hugh Smith was one of the most intriguing picks by the Tigers in this year’s draft. At 6’10, he has complicated mechanics that need refinement. There are whispers that he can already touch 99 miles per hour with his fastball, with room to add a couple more ticks when the coaches get him cleaned up. Tendinitis in his shoulder delayed his professional debut, although he was scheduled to be working down in the Instructional League this fall. Smith is a project with high risk of flaming out, but a high ceiling.
7. Eric De La Rosa — OF, Grossmont College (CA)
Speaking of high-risk, high-ceiling prospects, Eric De La Rosa certainly fits that bill as well. Tall and thin with lots of projection and raw power in his 21-year-old frame, De La Rosa was hot and cold across three levels. After a little bit of action in the Gulf Coast League, De La Rosa was promoted to West Michigan and promptly overwhelmed. A step back down to Connecticut saw him put together a seven-game hitting streak with Connecticut. Then he slipped into an 0-for-22 slump, but finished the season back up in West Michigan with another six-game hitting streak. He has terrific speed and a pretty swing, but struggles with pitch recognition and will chase too many pitches out of the zone right now. A full season with the Whitecaps is exactly what he needs.
8. Jeremiah Burks — IF, Fresno St.
Another college junior draftee, Burks got off to dismal start, posting just a .105 batting average with Connecticut in the month of July. After missing nearly two weeks for an undisclosed injury, Burks finished the month of August with a .314 batting average and .405 on-base percentage, aided by a 9-for-24 stretch across six games. A shortstop in college, Burks played all 32 games this summer at second base, where his arm and athleticism should play just fine.
9. Tarik Skubal — LHP, Seattle University
Skubal was completely dominant in 22 1⁄3 innings, allowing just one earned run and fanning 33. Another high-upside selection, Skubal comes with his share of risk, as he has already had Tommy John surgery. He was placed on the disabled list in early August and did not return. The Tigers’ system is short on power lefties, and Skubal could progress quickly if he can get and stay healthy.
10. Brock Deatherage — OF, North Carolina State
No other draftee made quite the splash that Deatherage did this summer. Aside from having an 80-grade last name, Deatherage demanded our attention when he bashed three home runs in his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League, and then followed that up with a grand slam the very next day. He was immediately summoned to West Michigan where he became a fan favorite, posting an .812 OPS, swiping 15 bags in 46 games, and earning a season-ending promotion to Lakeland. There are still questions about how his approach will play once he gets to the upper levels of the minors, but it’s safe to say Deatherage has far exceeded expectations.
Tigers prospect Brock Deatherage - open face slow mo— Jason Woodell (@JasonAtTheGame) August 18, 2018
Athletic build, plus bat speed. Consistent hard contact, excellent feel for the barrel. pic.twitter.com/WtG1N8jCDB
Though most of these players have a long way to go before hitting the majors, and some may never make it there, these early glimpses of what they have to offer should have Tigers fans very excited for the future.