The MLB draft order has officially been set into place, putting to rest the question of whether the league would use 2020 records alone or combine those of this and last season to erase deviations caused by a small sample size. The former option is the one which will come to fruition. This means the Tigers will be in possession of the third overall selection in the 2021 MLB draft.
It’s prudent to keep in mind the actual event is still a long way off. A lot will change between now and then; the MLB draft is an unpredictable animal. That will no doubt prove even more so than usual considering the general lack of college baseball in 2020. We say it every year, but some aphorisms bear repeating because they always hold true. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s take our first look at some of the players that may be considered for Detroit’s first round selection next summer.
RHP Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt
There’s quite the fuss surrounding Rocker among fanbases with top-5 picks. The prodigious righty has performed to a superlative degree on the highest stage. He struck out 19 batters on the way to a no-hitter in the 2019 NCAA Super Regionals and is the current favorite to be the first overall pick. There’s still a good chance someone will supplant him — remember, neither Casey Mize nor Spencer Torkelson were early frontrunners for the top spot. If that happens, the Tigers could get a shot at Rocker.
The appeal is plain as day when it comes to Rocker. He sports a high-quality three-pitch mix and can throw mid-to-upper 90s fastballs with little effort. At 6’4 and 255 pounds, Rocker’s body type is exactly what pro teams are looking for in a starting pitcher. Even the smallest step forward in his command would cement his status atop this draft class. Holding steady would still make him a near lock for the top five picks, which is a rarity at this stage in a draft cycle.
RHP Jaden Hill, LSU
Someone could be forgiven for thinking Hill is the leading player in this draft class after catching him on the right day. The Louisiana State Tigers have utilized him as closer so far, so his stock could change drastically depending on how well he plays in a starting role. He certainly has a starter’s frame, standing 6’4” and a solid 233 pounds.
Based on stuff alone, it’s easy to see Detroit pouncing on the chance to add Hill to the organization. Depending on who you ask, both his changeup and slider are plus pitches, Anchoring his profile a fastball that features both velocity and life, he has the ability to simply blow away batters that get too fine. Paired with the right coaching fit, Hill has sky-high potential.
C Adrian del Castillo, Miami
The Tigers may believe they have their catcher of the future in Dillon Dingler, but a little healthy competition never hurt anyone. The book on del Castillo is heavily weighted toward the offensive side of the game. In an era of baseball dominated by high-octane lineups, his could be a real boon to team with playoff hopes, especially at the weakest position in the sport.
Even if del Castillo needs to move out from behind the plate, which is a real possibility, he could absolutely stay afloat at first base or left field. The backstop rarely strikes out and is willing to take free passes, but if a pitcher makes a mistake in the zone, he’s more than happy to give that ball a ride. He’s an exciting player who could be the best batter in a number of farm systems.
SS Jordan Lawlar, Jesuit College Prep
The Tigers will undoubtedly have the opportunity to draft someone with a more ready-made profile, but he’s still worth considering as a projection pick. His athleticism is worth betting on, as Lawlar has the tools to potentially play shortstop or center field with a high degree of competence. More importantly, he’s a remarkably intelligent hitter — a virtue the current Tigers regime has consistently been attracted to in the draft in recent years. He should develop more power as he matures into his man body. Even if he’s never able to take that leap, there’s still a degree major league upside here thanks to his speed, ability with the glove, and ability to unravel a pitcher’s process to get the pitch he wants.
3B Brady House, Winder-Barrow HS
The name of the game with House is his massive power. The high schooler is a shortstop for now but he’s likely to move to third base as a professional. That hardly matters if a team is willing to buy into his offensive upside. The lynchpin will be whether he can reign in his strikeouts against good pitching before draft day. All the other ingredients teams are searching for in a big-time prep player are there. He’s played against older players with impressive results. The only red flag is the stiffness in his swing that sometimes prevents from getting to pitches on his hands. If hitting doesn’t work out, he could also try pitching as a fallback option.
There’s a huge delta between his ceiling and floor, but a team who is confident they can get the best from House will invest a lot of money in adding him to the organization. For an in-depth explanation of how he creates his elite raw power, check out Prospects Live’s scouting report.
OF Jud Fabian, Florida
One of many studs on the Florida Gators team that went 16–1 before college baseball was shut down due to the novel coronavirus, Fabian is a quality prospect by way of his lack of weaknesses. He planted his flag in the pitcher-friendly Cape Cod league despite being younger than the competition and is one of the most polished hitters in the ‘21 draft class. He’s not the biggest power hitter, but he doesn’t get cheated either, and is one of the surer prospects in the draft class.
If he comes out with a better power stroke in in the upcoming season, it improves his chances of being a top-5 pick considerably. Basically, if you were dial Tigers 2020 draftee Daniel Cabrera up to an 11, you’d get Jud Fabian. He’s not the sexiest prospect on this list, but sometimes, you just have to eat your broccoli.
SS Kahlill Watson - Simmering just below the surface of a group of likely first-rounders dominated by college bats, Watson is a breakout candidate who could vault himself into rarified air with the group mentioned above. He has a good shot to be drafted in the first few rounds no matter what thanks to his defensive actions. Complimented by a contact-friendly lefty swing with power potential, a big spring on the showcase circuit puts him at the top of the class.
LHP Anthony Solometo - Possibly the best prep lefty in the class, Solometo is neck and neck with personal favorite Josh Hartle for the crown. He sits in the low 90s, but his fastball gets plenty of life and huge spin numbers that keep hitters off balance despite the middling velocity. With a plus slider that could be the best in the class and a gimmick delivery that is reminiscent of Chris Sale, it’s easy to see why evaluators are bullish on the southpaw. A little extra velocity or a third average pitch to add to his already plus combination could make him one of the best in the class.