The Detroit Tigers have had something of a pipeline with the University of Michigan’s baseball program of late. The Tigers have selected at least one Wolverine in each of the past three MLB drafts, and five overall since 2014.
It depends on how you look at it, though. Immediately prior to Detroit’s binge on Michigan players, they went six seasons (2008 to 2013) without drafting a Wolverine, and grabbed just three in all from 1999 to 2007. None of the eight selected in the past two decades have been selected all that highly, and not one of them has reached the majors (though 2014 pick Trent Szkutnik is currently at Triple-A Toledo).
Either way, that recent connection could potentially continue in 2019, and much earlier than usual. Lefthander Tommy Henry has some rather volatile draft stock after an up-and-down junior season at Michigan, but should be the earliest Wolverine taken in the draft since outfielder Ryan LaMarre, who went 62nd overall to the Cincinnati Reds in 2010. If Henry goes in the top half of the second round (i.e. before No. 62), he will have been the highest Wolverine selected since catcher Dave Parrish, a first round selection in 2000.
Let’s take a closer look at Michigan’s ace.
Draft day age: 22
MLB Pipeline draft prospect rank: 60
Previously drafted: N/A
MLB Pipeline Scouting Grades: LHP Tommy Henry
Henry’s stock took a big step forward earlier this spring as his raw stuff did the same. Previously sitting in the high 80s with his fastball, Henry started working in the low 90s, touching as high as 94 miles per hour. MLB Pipeline noted that Henry generates high spin rates with his four-seamer, while FanGraphs said “the fastball is TrackMan-friendly and plays up.” Baseball America, the high group on Henry, went into a bit more detail on his full arsenal.
Henry has a solid three-pitch mix, including a fastball that sits 91-93 mph early in games and a slider and changeup that both project as above-average offerings. He doesn’t have a high spin rate on his slider (2,200 rpm), but he makes the most out of what he has by creating good angle and tunneling the pitch effectively.
MLB Pipeline was also complimentary of Henry’s secondary pitches, describing them as “a changeup with fade and a slider with depth, both of which arrived in the low 80s.” They graded his changeup as the better of the two offerings, a potential above-average pitch with excellent separation from his fastball, especially if the heater is in the low 90s. Henry also generates good extension and tunnels his secondary pitches well, making them more deceptive than his raw stuff might indicate. He racked up plenty of strikeouts early on this season when sharp, including a 10-punchout performance against No. 1 UCLA on March 8.
Also, he has an 80-grade pitch face.
Henry has not maintained his stuff well throughout the spring, resulting in a big drop-off as the year has gone on. He has been tagged for five runs on four separate occasions during Big Ten play, and hasn’t gone seven innings in a start since a win over Michigan State on March 29. He was 6-1 with a 0.76 ERA on the season at that point, and has watched his ERA climb by nearly three runs over his last seven starts. He also has an unimpressive 38:14 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that stretch, and hall seven of the home runs he has allowed on the season have come following that win over MSU.
Unfortunately, there’s more to this than just facing better competition. MLB Pipeline went into a bit more detail in their evaluation.
Henry generated a bunch of ugly swings when he was on top of his game but hasn’t since his fastball dipped into the upper 80s and his secondary pitches haven’t been as sharp. He has continued to throw strikes but hasn’t been able to avoid barrels as easily as he did at the beginning of the season. His Draft stock has been as volatile as any college pitcher’s this spring.
This upper-80s velocity is what Henry showed while in the Cape Cod League last summer, when he was a mid-round pick without any of the buzz he has generated this spring. Even if the velocity returns to the low-90s, his raw stuff isn’t all that explosive — the low spin rate on his slider (2,200 rpm according to Baseball America) is okay, but not exactly the type of offering that will miss bats on its own at the professional level. Even if the secondary pitches stay sharp, he will have trouble working off of his fastball if it sits a bit lower velocity-wise than expected.
Draft position: second or third round
Henry’s stock is all over the place right now. He is listed as high as 47th on Baseball America’s draft prospect rankings, but also falls as low as 77th on FanGraphs’ board. In ranking alone, this is the difference of a full round, and it can potentially be even more than that on draft day. If teams are worried about his velocity, he could tumble down boards, but odds are someone saw him on a good day and is willing to gamble on his potential. If FanGraphs is right about his fastball being “TrackMan-friendly,” he shouldn’t fall too far.
Then again, he’s also in the first round of Baseball America’s latest mock as a potential under-slot sign, so who really knows.