Whatever the outcome of the proposed 2020 MLB season, the crux of the Detroit Tigers’ year isn’t changing. Holding the first overall pick for the second time in three years, the Tigers need to have a good draft. But simply finding a quality player with their first pick isn’t nearly enough.
Two years ago, when the Tigers held the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, they selected prep outfielder Parker Meadows to lead off the second round. This time, they will kick off the second round with the No. 38 pick. It would obviously behoove them to land a talented player here to keep a robust prospect pipeline flowing.
The 2020 draft class is widely considered to be uniquely deep in pitching. There’s a good chance that the Tigers will have a crack at a pitcher they view as a first round talent with their second pick and decide to play to their presumed strength as an organization. But if the Tigers really are stronger at developing pitchers, playing to that strength also could mean trusting themselves to take a less polished arm later on and make it work.
There should be some interesting position players to choose from at No. 38 overall, particularly if other teams stockpile arms late in the first and competitive balance rounds. The Tigers could take advantage by selecting a position player here, and look to add pitchers later on. There should still be plenty of talented arms still available.
Let’s take a look at some position players given second round grades by other major publications. We’ll tackle pitchers in a separate preview.
C Drew Romo - The Woodlands (TX)
Currently, Texas prep catcher Drew Romo holds the 38th spot on Baseball America’s top 400 draft prospects rankings, and is ranked 38th on FanGraphs’ draft board as well. He draws very good reviews for his arm and his work behind the plate. A switch-hitter, Romo is expected to grow into above-average power, but there are plenty of questions about how his hit tool might develop.
Romo’s hands work a little better as a lefty, while his right-handed stroke is a little stiffer. There’s a decent approach developing, but overall he shows limited signs of developing an average MLB hit tool. On the other hand, he is well built with obvious power potential, and is already capable of spraying hard line drives to all fields.
Still, despite the fact that both sites have him as the 38th ranked talent in the draft, Romo seems unlikely to be the Tigers’ choice. His stock is still closely tied to his throwing, blocking, and receiving. With the advantage of soft hands behind the plate looking likely to be diminished by automated pitch calling in the very near future, a second round grade is a tougher sell for a glove-first catcher.
While those skills do help mitigate some of the risk, there is quite a bit of risk present. High school catchers are historically a treacherous proposition on draft day. There are exceptions, and Romo has enough defensive polish and offensive potential to be picked in the 30-50 range, but it’s hard to see the Tigers taking a catcher at No. 38 overall in this draft, let alone a prep catcher with average raw and little physical projection remaining.
Need should never be the driving factor on draft day, but between Jake Rogers, Grayson Greiner, Cooper Johnson, and Sam McMillan, there is solid defensive depth at the position. What the Tigers need is a high quality starter with strong two-way ability. Romo might get there eventually, but unless they are more enamored than most teams with his bat, the Tigers seem unlikely to bite here.
OF Daniel Cabrera - LSU
MLB Pipeline currently has Daniel Cabrera ranked as the 38th overall prospect in this year’s draft class. The 21-year-old corner outfielder was well regarded coming out of high school, but was a strong commit to LSU, and has put together a nice college career there.
Cabrera is a well-rounded player, but his contact ability stands out. He is regarded as one of the more refined hitters in the draft. The drawback is that his power has never grown enough to project as better than average. For an outfielder, albeit one with enough arm for right field, a profile lacking better than average speed and power makes for a narrow pathway to everyday work in the major leagues.
On the other hand, Cabrera has used that smooth, compact left-handed swing to hit everywhere he has played. He hit in high school showcases and tournaments. He hit in college. He hit on the Cape last summer. The bat gives his profile a strong foundation, as Cabrera has better odds to hit than just about anyone likely to fall to the Tigers. The upside may just be a little lacking against some of his competition to be the 38th overall pick.
Baseball America ranks Cabrera 41st, while FanGraphs pegs him at 25th and out of the Tigers’ reach, citing the security of his strong hit tool.
One thing the second round does have going for it is a decent crop of young shortstops. Obviously, finding high end talent at key positions is the main issue facing the Tigers rebuilding effort. Willi Castro and Wenceel Perez are pretty unlikely to become The Guy at short, so let’s peruse some of the options the Tigers should have available to them in the second round.
SS Nick Loftin - Baylor
This is an easy one. Loftin was my hope for the Tigers in the second round as the college season got underway and the Baylor shortstop showcased some newfound power. Adding some leg kick unlocked more home run potential for him this spring, and there has been plenty of buzz about him as a result. He was already a good pure hitter with fine bat-to-ball skills and the tools to play above-average shortstop.
Unfortunately, his work in the shortened college season was enough to send his stock up into the late first round in some quarters. There are certainly still some questions about his ability to hit for enough power, but fewer about his ability to make plenty of hard contact.
It’s possible that Loftin’s stock could be a bit overinflated, and actually end up lasting well into the second round. Slightly underwhelming exit velocities may have teams hoping to land him there rather than spending a first round or Comp A pick. However, it’s still real hard to imagine the Tigers getting a crack at him at 62 [Ed.: I don’t know if he even gets to pick 38]. If he falls to the Tigers here we would be very happy.
SS Harold Coll - George Premier Academy (NC)
If Loftin is the hope for a good-hitting college shortstop falling to the Tigers at 38, Coll is the reverse: sort of a teenage dream reach, perhaps. The prep standout has been on the radar for his speed, slick glove work, and strong arm for some time. Questions about the bat have kept him on a likely path to his college commitment to North Carolina, but Coll’s physical development kicked into high gear over the offseason and sent his stock soaring this spring.
FanGraphs currently has Coll ranked 66th in the class, right in a tight group with a pair of interesting, but light-hitting college shortstops in Alika Williams and Anthony Servideo. Prospects Live is far and away the highest on Coll among the major sites, ranking him 34th overall and the second best shortstop in his class behind bona fide first rounder Ed Howard. Baseball America and MLB Pipeline still have Coll way down their boards.
Coll is a right-handed hitter with a good-looking swing and fairly good hands to boot. His slender 5’11” frame, and a little too much trouble with velocity, had him off the radar and headed to college as of last summer. Things changed as he built some good muscle over the offseason without losing any of his plus speed. He showed up man-sized this spring with emergent raw power that forced some reevaluations.
There are contact concerns here, and Coll doesn’t have a college track record to focus his likely outcomes. But the upside is substantial, and he has the physical tools to mitigate some risk. He has plus speed and the agility and hands to play good shortstop, with a strong arm as the kicker. Couple that with above average power potential and we’re quite interested.
In the end this is admittedly a little too much of leap to expect the Tigers to make at 38. There will be quite a bit of serious pitching talent available that will fit their eye. Coll would suit them better in the Comp B round or at the top of the third, but the closer we get to the draft, the less certain he is to be there. He feels like the guy at least a few teams would love to land in the second round. If not, he may well decide just to go to school.
The Tigers aren’t necessarily scared of riskier prep talent; see Meadows, Matt Manning, and Derek Hill. With a safe pick assured at 1-1, maybe they will surprise us and take a shot here. More likely, and continuing our theme, they will be more comfortable with an arm, which is fine. There are plenty to choose from. However, if they get a second crack at him, they may be one of the few teams who can manage to meet his price to turn pro, and they should probably try to do that.
SS/3B Jordan Westburg - Mississippi State
The hunt continues here for a quality draft prospect on the left side of the infield. Westburg is big, physical athlete with more raw power than Loftin, but isn’t as good a pure hitter. He’s also more likely to move off of shortstop as a pro. The power and speed combo here is still appealing, but the key issue is that the hit tool needs work if he’s going to approach maximizing his power potential. That has not been a specialty of the Tigers in recent years.
Westburg’s 6’3” frame is built to add more muscle and help him max out his power, but most believe it will come with somewhat diminished speed. He’s already a bit of a fringy athlete at the shortstop position, though he may be good enough to handle it a few years before converting to third or second base. Straight line speed isn’t the issue. There’s just a limit to his quickness and flexibility that is likely to rear its head further as he fills out.
In the plus column, Westburg has trimmed his strikeout rate over the past two seasons, and dropped it under 20 percent in the abbreviated 2020 college season. He also mashed on the Cape last summer, which added a little extra sizzle to his profile. That positive trajectory and overall potential makes him a fairly attractive option. If he gets to the second round, Westburg is another one who might be overmatched in the Tigers’ eyes in comparison to the pitchers that should be available at 38, but could be smart pick.
SS Alika Williams - Arizona State
This 21-year-old shortstop is yet another Arizona State product. A true talent shortstop with good instincts, hands, and dexterity, Williams has the tools to play the position at the major league level eventually.
Baseball America ranks him 31st overall, while FanGraphs has Williams at 65. MLB Pipeline checks in ranking him 40th.
Williams is a good contact hitter already with a low propensity to swing and miss. He’s walked more than he’s struck out over the past two seasons, and while his power is of the gap variety at present, the contact has continued to get louder. His slender 6’2” frame produces good batspeed already, and he could add a little more muscle from here. If the Tigers believe in the bat and think he can still add a little more power, Williams should be available to them.
There are quite a few interesting shortstops with everyday defensive potential at this level of the draft and relatively solid hit tools. Williams, Masyn Winn, and Freddy Zamora fit this mold but almost uniformly their offensive potential is a bit fringey.
Unless the Tigers are uniquely big believers in one of them, they’re probably going to hold off on the lighter hitting shortstops until the middle rounds.
We’ll conclude with two of the best bats the Tigers are likely to have a look at in the second round. Both are problematic from a defensive standpoint, but could boost a system seriously lacking in potential impact hitters.
C/1B Austin Wells - Arizona
If the Tigers do decide to take a backstop, Arizona catcher Austin Wells could be their guy. MLB Pipeline still has him as a late first rounder, while FanGraphs and Baseball America have him in the second. The bat generally draws first round grades, but there is substantial skepticism that he can develop into an everyday catcher at the major league level.
The bat may make that a bit of a moot point for some. Wells hits left-handed, with a smooth, powerful stroke and good hands. He displays plus raw power and an excellent approach. He may well hit enough to play first base or some corner outfield if the Tigers can’t make an everyday catcher out of him.
Wells arm strength is the key question defensively, as his arm has faded from plus to fringe average during his college career. That decline has been accompanied by some arm trouble. His receiving and blocking also leave a lot to be desired, though the value of the former is almost certainly headed for a steep devaluation as the automated strike zone arrives.
He does carry average speed, so it’s possible that Wells winds up in a corner outfield spot, and the bat will play at those positions. It’s also possible that a smart team that handles arms well could unlock a little better arm strength for him. The Tigers could play to both strengths and needs by taking him for his first round quality bat, and hope to develop him defensively.
There are enough questions there for him to potentially be passed over into the second round, and Wells has the option of returning to school and hoping to make a better impression defensively next year. It may be hard to imagine the Tigers taking a catcher who may not be a catcher with the 38th overall pick, but the bottom line is that if he gets to them he’ll probably be the best hitter left on the board.
1B Aaron Sabato - North Carolina
This 21-year-old masher is a born designated hitter. He doesn’t have even the modest athleticism of Spencer Torkleson, but the potential first overall pick may be the only one in the class with more power than Aaron Sabato.
Sabato went undrafted as a prep prospect in 2018, then came out and cracked 18 home runs in his freshman season in 2019. He was on the same path this spring, blasting seven long balls in just 19 games with more walks than strikeouts. The track record is short, but impressive. There are swing and miss issues at play, but he has a solid approach, takes his walks, and the power is just undeniable.
Currently, FanGraphs has him 33rd, while Baseball America has Sabato ranked 35th and sums up the crux of his profile succinctly in their report.
With almost all of his value tied to his powerful bat, teams will want to be convinced he is able to regularly tap into that power, but scouts typically put an average or solid-average hit tool on Sabato.
While I’m not a pro scout by any means, Sabato’s hit tool deserves a little more skepticism than those average hit tool grades would indicate. If he’s truly drawing 50 hit, 65 power projections, the Tigers shouldn’t get a sniff at him even if he’s a true designated hitter. Major league baseball is destined to add 15 designated hitters anyway. Hard to believe that will be temporary.
Defensively, Sabato can’t really do anything for you. He runs poorly, and grades below average at first base. If you’re looking for a big fella who can mash but doesn’t do anything else very well, this is your guy. There is a lot of risk in a player like that this high in the draft because he absolutely has hit, but there is some consensus that he’s a solid bet to do so.