If the Detroit Tigers don’t take a position player with their first round draft pick this June, I may have to find a new job. Come draft day, if the Tigers opt for another arm — no matter how promising — Detroit’s fanbase will implode.
The Tigers have long been an organization that prioritizes arms in the amateur draft, taking pitchers early and often when they are on the clock. That has led to some big payoffs, like the emergence of Justin Verlander as one of the best pitchers of this generation. It is also a somewhat frustrating trait that makes it a little more difficult for fans to grin and bear it through the current rebuild. The cry to add an advanced bat to the pipeline has reached a fever pitch this season, and understandably so.
Fortunately, the 2019 draft class is loaded with high-upside hitting. One potential option for the organization as the big day gets closer is UCLA first baseman Michael Toglia. Built for baseball, he is a big corner infielder who checks in at 6’5 and just over 200 pounds of muscle. What does he offer on the field?
Draft day age: 20
MLB Pipeline draft prospect rank: 42
Previously drafted: 2016, 35th round
MLB Pipeline Scouting Grades: 1B Michael Toglia
Toglia is more athletic than you might expect of a typical first baseman. He makes the best of that athleticism on defense, playing an excellent game at first base. A left-handed thrower, he could be one of the best fielders at his position in the majors. Although that isn’t saying as much as if he played up the middle, it is still an impressive distinction that isn’t an unreasonable projection.
Given Toglia’s athleticism, some evaluators foresee a future in an outfield corner for the collegiate veteran. He has dabbled with the position in the past, but it’s not his primary position and might slow his ascent to the majors. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — it would allow Toglia more utility and more routes to the majors, along with more development time for his bat. As an outfielder, though, his range would likely be limited and he would be relying more on athleticism than ability.
Don’t worry, though. No matter where he ends up, the bat can play.
His defensive play at first may draw excellent reviews, but the batter’s box is where Toglia is at home. The evaluators over at Perfect Game note that he is able to use the whole field and drive the ball from pole to pole thanks to above-average extension in the box. FanGraphs praised his advanced feel for hitting from both sides of the plate, indicating that he can likely continue to switch-hit as a professional.
The athletic 20-year-old has a knack for making that contact count. “Toglia has a big, projectable frame,” writes Baseball America. “He has an easy swing with natural loft, and when he’s in sync his power comes easily.” That plus power plays from both the right and left side, and he’s a threat for extra bases every time he comes to the plate. He has shown that power consistently as the Bruins’ slugger, as well — he has posted isolated slugging numbers north of .200 all three years, resulting in a career .245 mark.
Doubles are fun, but ultimately, getting on base is the objective. Toglia isn’t afraid to do it by taking a free pass. He put up favorable strikeout-to-walk ratios in 2017 and 2018, and while the walks have never eclipsed the strikeouts, it’s a good indicator that he can continue to successfully navigating the challenges of hitting at higher levels.
That patience we just talked about? Well, Toglia can sometimes take that philosophy a bit far; he has been known to let his patient mentality get in the way of a hittable pitch at times. Along with the plentiful walks that he takes come plentiful strikeouts, as well. His patience numbers will likely be similar to those of current Tigers left fielder Christin Stewart.
Toglia’s defensive roles also put a cap on his ultimate value to a team. A first baseman will never be as valuable defensively as a shortstop and neither will a corner outfielder be as valuable as a center fielder. Those limitations will always be an impediment to his rankings on prospect lists and very well may put a ceiling on his draft position. Teams would often rather bet on a quick-twitch athlete who plays up the middle than a chiseled one who plays a corner.
Toglia is also a streaky player, which shows scouts two distinct versions of what he can be. The midseason version (once he gets into a groove) is an excellent prospect, but the early-season version is barely worth writing up. That leads to concerns that his cold streaks will be deeper and last longer once he is facing more advanced arms. That’s no guarantee that it will happen, and maybe he will rise to the challenge as he moves up the ranks, but there’s always a chance that things go sour.
There is also not a lot of growth left for Toglia as a ballplayer. He is more or less a known quantity, which tends to make evaluators a bit skittish on his draft-day value. There’s a huge emphasis on future value and the tantalizing promise of big, raw tools becoming gaudy on-field production. Toglia doesn’t have a lot of that projection — he is able to offer hard contact and highly competent defense, but not much to dream on.
Draft position: second round
Scouts are surprisingly consistent in their opinions of Toglia, slotting him in somewhere just after the first set of compensation picks. As it stands now, he should be available to the Tigers when they come on the clock with the 47th overall pick. It would be a little bit of a reach, but if the organization wants to take on an advanced college bat, he is one of the better deals available. There are corner infielders with higher upside in the class — one or more of Keoni Cavaco, Rece Hinds, and Tyler Callihan are likely to be available with the same pick. On the other had, Toglia has fewer questions regarding his well-rounded skill set, and will face a quicker rise to the majors.