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Tigers target college bats, arms on Day 2 of MLB draft

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The Tigers selected eight college players with their eight picks on the second day of the 2019 draft.

College World Series - Oregon State v Arkansas - Game Two Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

After taking a pair of high-upside hitters with their first two picks of the 2019 MLB draft, the Detroit Tigers continued that trend on Tuesday. Six of their eight picks on Day 2 of the draft were position players, including their first four of the day. They also skewed heavily towards college players, something they (and other MLB teams) typically do on day two.

The Tigers started the day by grabbing Tennessee third baseman Andre Lipcius with their third round pick, the No. 83 overall selection of the draft. Lipcius is solidly built, at 6’1 and 190 pounds, and started to produce more power in his junior season with the Volunteers. Detroit followed that pick with UCLA shortstop Ryan Kreidler, a glove-first player who broke out with a .919 OPS in his junior season with the Bruins. Scouts are still skeptical of his ability to hit at the pro level, but he is athletic enough to field multiple positions.

The Tigers took East Carolina left fielder Bryant Packard with their fifth round pick. Packard doesn’t have the defensive upside of some of Detroit’s other picks, but is a large individual — he stands 6’3, 210 pounds — and can hit for both average and power. He was taken with the No. 142 overall pick, but ranked 106th on MLB Pipeline’s pre-draft prospect list.

The Tigers took a quartet of players from big-name college programs with their next four picks. Ole Miss catcher Cooper Johnson was the first of the bunch, which made our friends at Red Cup Rebellion very happy. Next up was LSU righthander Zack Hess, a typical Tigers draft pick — he’s a big, hard-throwing righthander who might eventually end up in the bullpen. Arkansas shortstop Jack Kenley, Detroit’s eighth round pick, drew high praise from draft expert Jeff Ellis after a monster season for the Razorbacks. Ninth rounder Austin Bergner was also a bit of a steal, especially when he’s on.

The Tigers rounded out their day by grabbing Creighton first baseman Jake Holton, another power bat. He hit 14 home runs and 15 doubles for the Bluejays this year, and drew nearly as many walks (61) as strikeouts (68) in his college career.

If there’s a theme to be found among Detroit’s 2019 draft class so far, it’s power. Five of the Tigers’ first 10 picks could be loosely classified as potential power bats, including their first three picks and four of the top five. They have also found nice value in their mid-round picks, with Packard, Johnson, and Kenley all coming off the board much later than their pre-draft rankings would suggest (per MLB Pipeline). Bergner also showed up much earlier on Baseball America’s board (120th) than he did in the actual draft (262nd).

The Tigers have 30 more draft picks coming on Wednesday, the final day of the 2019 draft. We will continue our coverage then with an open thread and a live pick tracker.

Round 1 — OF Riley Greene

Greene is one of the best pure hitters in this year’s prep draft class. He possesses a smooth swing, excellent plate discipline for his age, and a feel for getting the barrel on the ball. Some scouts think he has a potential double-plus (70-grade) hit tool, and his power will continue to develop as he gets older and fills out his lanky frame. Previous concerns about his athleticism seem to be overblown, though he will likely slide to a corner outfield spot at the pro level.

Round 2 — 3B Nick Quintana

Quintana was drafted out of high school by the Boston Red Sox in 2016 as a shortstop, but slid over to third base at Arizona. He hit for power in all three of his seasons with the Wildcats, and led the Pac 12 with 77 RBI in 56 games played in 2019. He struggled in two seasons in the Cape Cod League, but was better last summer than the year before, and upped his walk rate in his junior season at Arizona. He projects as an above-average defender at third base with a plus arm.

Round 3 — 3B Andre Lipcius

Lipcius moved to third base after playing at shortstop in his first two seasons with the Volunteers, and could eventually slide further down the defensive spectrum at the pro level. He has a great eye at the plate and possesses “plenty of bat speed,” according to Baseball America. He tapped into his raw power a bit more in his junior season, with 15 doubles and 17 home runs in 61 games, and also swiped 10 bases in 11 attempts. He is a poor runner, though, so don’t expect many steals at the pro level.

Round 4 — SS Ryan Kreidler

Kreidler was the first “glove-first” player the Tigers grabbed, but if his junior season at UCLA is any indication, the bat could be a nice pick-up too. Kreidler hit .309/.378/.522 with 18 doubles and nine home runs this year, all career highs. Despite his height (6’4), he can stick at short at the pro level. He will be a plus defender anywhere else he plays in the infield, making him a useful utility option if the bat doesn’t quite pan out.

Round 5 — LF Bryant Packard

Packard might have gone a bit higher if he had been draft eligible after the 2018 season. He hit .406/.462/.671 with 14 home runs in his sophomore year at East Carolina. He continued that run in the Cape Cod League last summer, where he posted a .997 OPS in 18 games. Though his counting stats took a step back in 2019 (potentially related to a back injury), he improved his walk and strikeout rates. He isn’t much of a defender or runner, but might hit enough to be an everyday player anyway. He has “above average feel to hit,” according to our friends at 2080 Baseball, along with plus raw power.

Round 6 — C Cooper Johnson

Johnson has an absolute cannon for an arm, and is one of the best catch-and-throw backstops of the entire draft class. Baseball America graded Johnson’s arm as a true double-plus weapon, and scouts everywhere have raved about his work behind the plate. Unfortunately, his bat limits him to more of a backup profile, but could produce average power at peak. The Tigers will take just about anything they can get out of Johnson’s bat, though. As Baseball America put it, “If Johnson can just hit .230 in pro ball, he’ll play for a very long time.”

Round 7 — RHP Zack Hess

Hess moved between LSU’s rotation and bullpen throughout an injury-riddled junior season, but that didn’t impact his strikeout numbers too much. He punched out 82 hitters in 70 innings of work, though his walk rate left something to be desired. Hess sits in the low 90s as a starter with a heater that ramps up to 95 mph, along with a breaking ball that has shown some promise. Scouts see him as more of a reliever, but the Tigers may see if they can iron out his high-effort delivery as a starter first before converting him. MLB Pipeline noted that Hess is a bit of an analytical darling, with a pair of offerings that register higher spin rates than most.

Round 8 — SS Jack Kenley

24/7’s Jeff Ellis called Kenley his “favorite pick of the class” after the 21-year-old put up a monster season at Arkansas. Kenley hit .324/.441/.571 with 10 doubles and 12 home runs in 61 games with the Razorbacks, numbers that dwarfed what he put up in part-time duty as a freshman and sophomore. He may be more of a utility player at the professional level — a common refrain with most infielders taken at this point, really — but as Ellis noted, it’s worth paying attention when someone hits the way Kenley did in the SEC this year.

Round 9 — RHP Austin Bergner

Bergner was something of a legend as an amateur player, but never quite lived up to his considerable hype at North Carolina. He struggled again as a junior, posting a 5.21 ERA in 15 starts, but he struck out nearly a batter per inning throughout the season, and dominated Tennessee on Sunday to send the Tar Heels to the 2019 super regionals. Bergner sits in the low-to-mid 90s with late life on his fastball, but his secondaries are a bit inconsistent. He has both a promising changeup and curveball, but has struggled to find both at times (the curveball especially).

Round 10 — 1B Jake Holton

Like with Bryant Packard, the Tigers drafted Holton to do one thing: hit for power. Holton broke out as a junior at Creighton, with 14 home runs and 15 doubles in 54 games. This is especially impressive given Holton’s home park, a rather pitcher-friendly venue. Holton has plus raw power and a good eye at the plate. He drew nearly as many walks as strikeouts in his junior season with the Bluejays, and flashed similar plate discipline in two years at junior college.