Well, we still don’t have baseball, but we do have the 2020 MLB amateur draft, albeit in an extremely truncated form. That will have to do. As we’ve pointed out over and over this spring, the draft was the heart of the Tigers’ season anyway. Now, we’re just hours away from the most important nights of the years.
With 5-6 podcasts and a whole sheaf of articles written, I’ve had a decent opportunity to sample popular opinion at the major national sites. As a result of all these conversations, I’ve got a few final points on my mind in the final hours before the 2020 draft gets underway.
This may not be the same old Tigers
Ok look, they’re probably the same old Tigers. Al Avila is still General Manager. David Chadd is still the Assistant GM. Scot Pleis has been the Amateur Scouting Director for a decade now. The guys who make the final call haven’t changed.
While they’ve done well in the most important part of the draft, the first round, and landed themselves a Tarik Skubal two years ago at Scott Boras’s urging, we’re going to have to see more consistent performance beyond the top pick. This year, that top pick is basically decided already, and it would behoove them to hit with one of their next few selections in order to call this a success.
We know these guys. They like their arms, they like SEC performers, and they’ve shown no aptitude for drafting and developing hitters. While the Rey Rivera fiasco of 2017 may be the nadir, they have probably reached for a bat in each of the past two drafts and have tripped and fallen on their collective faces a bit. Yes there is time for Parker Meadows and Nick Quintana to turn things around, but in both cases, the Tigers appear to have taken a player high in the second round that many other teams had graded into the third round.
You have to earn the benefit of the doubt at some point. Until then, we’re going to be real wary if the Tigers do something similar again.
However, the organization is making strides in building their technology game. Few teams are as heavily into capturing Rapsodo data and high-speed camera footage from amateur players as the Tigers. And with the addition of Dr. Georgia Giblin last offseason, they have a sports science and research program underway that could be providing them insights they didn’t have in past drafts.
In addition, the Tigers now have a highly regarded hitting coach as Director of Player Development. Kenny Graham’s impact hasn’t been felt yet, but we can hope that if the Tigers reach a bit for another bat, it’s because Graham specifically wants to work with the player. The same might be said for former USC head coach Dan Hubbs, who the Tigers hired as Director of Pitching Development and Strategies last summer. Hubbs experience and recruiting work could be another x-factor in the Tigers’ decision-making.
Skepticism is seriously advised, but there are at least some fresh, well-regarded voices in the room.
The Tigers will have all night to sleep on their second round pick
Perfect Game USA Scouting Coordinator Brian Sakowski made a point on a recent BYB podcast to emphasize the advantage of picking first in the second round. That’s a key observation. After the first round and Comp A portion are completed, the Tigers will have all the options available to them laid out on a buffet, and they’ll be able to discuss the situation for almost 24 hours before they pull the trigger with the 38th overall pick to start Day Two of the draft.
This could be particularly important as this draft has extenuating circumstances that could make it less predictable than ever. Rumors of teams reaching in the first round so that they can save money are floating around the Twittersphere. And since top prep bat Dylan Crews decided to opt out of the draft this year, there has been a lot of talk about the potential signability of other prep players outside the top handful of guys.
All of which is to say that there could be some wild first round surprises.
Teams are also contending with a whole new remote process since they can’t gather together in a draft room as usual. Anyone who has been forced to switch to video call meetings or conferences over the past three months can imagine the challenge of having to make a hugely important decision in just minutes using remote methods. The fact that the Tigers will have the board laid out for them fresh tonight should help them cope with any major surprises in the first round.
The bats are disappearing fast as expected
A consistent theme from top evaluators is the fact that this draft class isn’t all that strong at the top, but beyond the top 5-6 guys, there is a deep pool of players who could go anywhere from the back half of the first round all the way down to the beginning of the third. Much of that group is composed of college pitching.
As one might expect, that fact has added to the value of the top 20 or so position players. Teams picking outside the top 10 know they can take a bat, and find roughly comparable pitching talent much later in the draft. As a result, recent mock drafts are showing just about every bat we’re collectively interested in at 38 selected before the Tigers get a crack at them. Maybe they pick up a Jordan Westburg or a Masyn Winn, but expect an arm here if you weren’t already.
The Tigers are getting love nationally for their pitching program
As mentioned earlier, the Tigers technology push has been widely noticed around the game. They’ve gone from one of the least sophisticated teams in these terms, to one of the fastest rising development programs around. The addition of Hubbs has been hailed as a strong hire, and with pitching already their area of relative strength in player development, look for continued success.
However, while they’ve done a nice job with pitchers like Matt Manning and Alex Faedo, we’ve yet to see results at the major league level. Reserve judgement, but we can hope that the Tigers will remain a pitching factory even when they aren’t stockpiling arms at the top of the first round.
The question then, is how might these improvements change their posture in the draft? Most industry folks will repeat “best player available” like a mantra, and rightly so, but of course, if teams could easily identify the BPA at each spot, the MLB draft would be more like football. In reality, teams do work their board until they believe they’ve got the players in order, but the differences between their 30-70 guys ranked are probably a lot finer than most people imagine.
To put it simply, there are an awful lot of ties. And how a team goes about sorting those equivalently graded players is impacted by a lot of factors. As a team that should have some developing confidence in their ability to identify good pitching talent in the middle of the draft, the ties on the Tigers’ board might go to the hitter, particularly if something happens in the first round to really shake up their draft boards.
Go big and then go home
Finally, with only five rounds, there would appear to be ample room for a team with the second largest bonus pool to do damage all the way throughout the truncated draft. But that’s probably not the ideal path to success.
Normally, after the top 2-3 rounds, teams are hoping to collect a grab bag of interesting players from rounds 3-15, usually college juniors, in the hope of finding one or two more strong prospects. That range of rounds 4-15 is a bulk business. With no way to stockpile a lot of mid-round college players, the likelihood of the Tigers landing someone good after the first couple picks is sorely diminished.
As result, they may be best served after, presumably, taking Spencer Torkelson, by a willingness to heavily commit their remaining money to the next 2-3 guys selected, trying to pull the best three players they can. In the fourth and fifth round, college players are going to have no real option but to sign based on whatever is left of the bonus pool. We won’t really know exactly how this all plays out until everyone is signed, but look for the Tigers to go big early, and not worry about whether they can sign the final few names on their list.
Who will the Tigers take in the second round?
Yeah we don’t know either. Mississippi State right-hander J.T. Ginn is starting to seem more likely. We don’t love it, but we wouldn’t be surprised. We would be surprised by the selection of SS Carson Tucker, Jordan Westburg, or Masyn Winn. Cole Henry out of Louisiana State continues to be on my mind as a guy the Tigers probably love and wouldn’t mind reaching for a bit. A few riskier upside plays could be centered around pitchers in the mix like Dax Fulton, Alex Santos, or Justin Lange, who seem more likely to have the Tigers’ interest than the position players who should be there.
If I’m going to take a wild swing here? I’ll say Jared Kelley, the hard-throwing prep right-hander out of Texas.
But let’s just see how the first round shakes out. We’ll know a lot more by midnight tonight.