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Tigers prospect Brock Deatherage made a strong impression in pro ball

The athletic outfielder took the minors by storm after being drafted in 2018.

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Jay Markle/Bless You Boys

Most Detroit Tigers fans didn’t take much notice when Brock Deatherage’s name was called on draft day. A 10th round college senior who strikes out too often doesn’t raise the same excitement generated by picks like Casey Mize or Parker Meadows.

That relative anonymity didn’t last long for Deatherage, though. He captivated fans after clobbering three home runs during his first game as a pro. He held their attention with that spectacular surname. A promotion to West Michigan put him in the heart of Tigers nation and turned him into a cult icon (among Tigers Twitter, at least).

If I were given the ability to create a baseball player from scratch, he would probably end up bearing a striking resemblance to Deatherage’s build. With large, strong hands and forearms and broad shoulders, every ounce of him is lean muscle. That lends itself well to baseball, providing speed and moderate raw power potential. His performance tells a similar story.

Brock Deatherage 2018 Stats

GCL Tigers 10 6 4 7 0 .556 .600 1.889
West Michigan 195 25 2 18 15 .313 .369 .443
Lakeland 52 12 1 12 4 .333 .404 .467
Total 257 43 7 37 19 .326 .385 .504

Despite that sterling debut, the focus of his game is elsewhere.

“I’m not a home run hitter,” said Deatherage in an interview with The Athletic’s Max Bultman I was able to sit in on. “It’s not really, when I go up there, my ultimate goal — especially hitting in the middle of the order, it’s still not part of my game. Speed’s my best attribute, by far.”

That much is evident when watching Deatherage play on a regular basis. He’s a double-plus (70-grade) baserunner with the smarts and awareness to make himself into real weapon on the basepaths. Pair that with enough experience to outclass low-level pitchers at the plate, and you have a recipe for success in the low minors.

His defense is good enough to stick as a center fielder, too. That excellent speed works well when patrolling the outfield, and he has above average footwork in part thanks to a football background. His arm isn’t overpowering, and he trades strength for accuracy. It works well enough up the middle, though, and it puts the bow on an above-average package in center.

Don’t get swept away by the excellent numbers and athleticism. There is a glaring flaw that could sink this Titanic. While Deatherage has the tools to squeeze every bit of value out of batted balls, his ability to consistently make contact doesn’t project well. The outfielder was able to post gaudy numbers in the Midwest League because pitchers made mistakes more frequently than he did. It’s not hard for a collegiate veteran to make a low-level hurler immediately regret a bad fastball. It’s a different story when said hitter is facing a pitcher with premium velocity, a decent breaking ball, and the ability to keep it out of his wheelhouse. When faced with a challenge, premium hitters are able to adjust in the middle of an at-bat. Good ones can adjust mid-game. Deatherage can do neither at present. Instead of sending a screaming line drive into the a gap, he ends up flailing at nothing.

An inability to change one’s approach and adapt from at-bat to at-bat doesn’t bode well for the future. There’s a reason Deatherage looked like a man among boys in West Michigan after his promotion: he is one. Unless something major changes, that won’t last as he moves up the minor league ladder. He handled a short stint with the High-A Lakeland Flying Tigers with aplomb, but he’s one of those players liable to run into a wall once he graduates to the upper minors. With luck, he will hit his way to Erie early next season, and that transition will serve as an excellent litmus test as to how he will fare going forward.

He may yet pull it off, though. Deatherage is a hard worker, and mentally tough. His high-effort style of play is a joy to watch when everything is clicking. The road ahead is rocky, but it’s possible he can develop his approach and discipline at the plate. If he can just manage to continue putting the ball in play, his speed should ensure that he’s on base with some regularity, even if the raw power fades from his in-game profile.

His hyper-aggressive approach, raw power, and energetic style will remind Tigers fans of JaCoby Jones, albeit with a little less to offer on defense. By all accounts, Deatherage excellent in the clubhouse as well. His violent name belies a modest demeanor and good sense of humor — Whitecaps manager Lance Parrish called him a natural leader. If everything works out, it’s entirely possible he will be able to carve out a role on a major league club in the future.