The uniqueness of this year’s MLB draft is a topic that has been covered over and over and over, but there’s still no other lens through which to view the upcoming event. There has never been a draft cycle quite like this one, and hopefully, there never will be again. For the teams and players involved, the name of the game is money, and negotions that take place behind closed doors take create variables we would have no way of knowing. Therefore, it will be tremendously difficult to get a read on who the team may be interest in drafting with their picks in what would normally be considered the “middle rounds.”
However, while it’s tough to say who the Detroit Tigers may be interested in drafting, let’s take a look at some of the players who match the Tigers’ preferred archetypes in rounds 3-5.
OF Jesse Franklin, Michigan
Pretty much the only thing evaluators can agree on is that Franklin has plus raw power. After that, everything is a question. Whether he can get to that power consistently is the factor most influential in whether he’ll be a major league player; anyone who can hit will find a place in the bigs, regardless of their defense. There’s also questions about where he’ll play defensively. His routes in center field can be shaky at times and his arm doesn’t hold up in right field, so if he has to a corner, it will be left. His approach has been called into question as well, and some people thought he was selling out for power last season. All of these issues are compounded by the fact that he broke his collarbone in the offseason and didn’t play at all in 2020.
Drafting Franklin will be a gamble. On the one end of potential outcomes is a player who shows up in pro ball having returned to 2018 form at the plate and demonstrates much better plate discipline than last season, allowing him to get to his power more consistently. If that’s the player you’re able to smooth out in center field, a George Springer-esqe outcome isn’t off the table. On the other hand is a player who is continually frustrated at the plate and never quite fits at any of the outfield positions, making him a depth outfielder.
SS Shay Whitcomb, UC San Diego
His status as the best pro prospect in DII ball doesn’t make Whitcomb a good candidate to be drafted in the early rounds, but the Tigers were linked to him in a report at Motor City Bengals. If the Tigers decide to draft Whitcomb, they’ll be getting a player who is probably being underrated thanks to the quality of competition he’s faced and the depth of the draft class he’s associated with. He’s got a great frame and an easy stroke despite his odd setup.
That isn’t to say there aren’t legitimate concerns when it comes to Whitcomb’s development. He’s probably going to be a second baseman when all is said and done because his arm isn’t ideal for short and he’s not extraordinarily rangy. He’s also a candidate for a swing change because the unorthodox way he cocks his drive leg forces him to rotate his hips in order to get into launch position. It could cause issues against consistently premium velocity, which he hasn’t faced in DII ball. However, the Tigers have been unafraid to target players they like at an earlier than expected draft position. He may play into their plans as early as the third round, but the fourth or fifth round is more realistic.
LHP Burl Carraway, Dallas Baptist
Carraway is the top relief arm in the 2020 draft, and there’s some feeling among evaluators that he could contribute immediately in the major leagues. He packs some serious heat from the left side, running his fastball up to 97 miles per hour and duping hitters with a plus curveball that acts has his primary out pitch. There’s work to be done on his command and the lack of any distinct, usable third pitch restricts him to single-inning duties. However, a team looking to cash in quickly on their draft class may turn to Carraway with a higher than expected pick.
“DBU’s coaching staff is nationally recognized for their quality and commitment to data,” commented Spencer Morris of Crawfish Boxes, “so it’s fair to wonder how many more steps forward Carraway has in him as he’s already had access to high quality instruction.”
OF Blake Dunn, Western Michigan
Part of an unusually strong group of draft-eligible players from the state of Michigan, Dunn was a champion multisport athlete in high school and his massive athleticism translates well to the baseball field. He has similar building blocks as current Tigers minor leaguer Jose Azocar or center fielder JaCoby Jones - he’s speedy and talented in the field, his bat packs a punch, and he guns down runners with double-plus arm. He can legitimately lay claim to four above-average or better tools. The determining factor for success is whether he can develop his ability to hit the baseball to a playable level.
The fact of the matter is that offensive acumen has become a non-negotiable trait for major league baseball players. Dunn will need to prove that he can stay afloat offensively all along the way, and his track record doesn’t suggest it’s a sure thing. He floundered in the Cape Cod league and he doesn’t face premium competition with the Broncos. He’s eager to be a professional, and whichever team drafts him will be taking on a project, but it’s one that could pay off in a big way.
RHP Landon Knack, East Tennessee State
Knack is quietly the top story among draft fanatics because as the top senior in the class, he has legitimate claim to a top-five rounds selection on the basis of talent but his age presents major complications. His fastball velocity took a jump this year and he backs i up with a quality breaking ball, a usable changeup. MLB Pipeline deems him as having potentially plus command, which gives him the definite look of a starter. His performance with East Tennessee State in the shortened season was a resoundingly high note as well, striking out a whopping 51 batters over the course of four starts and allowing only 3 runs.
Unfortunately for Knack, his track record of good performance is very short and he’s going to be 23 years old in July. Even though he’ll be offered extended college eligibility, he has little leverage in negotiation because the youth-obsessed MLB would be totally disinterested in an amateur who is almost 24 years old in 2021. He’ll be a quality addition to the farm system of whichever team drafts him but projection models hate older players and if he stumbles at all in his pro debut, he’ll fall off the map again.
SS Trei Cruz, Rice
If you’re a fan of players with good bloodlines, look no further. Cruz comes from a family of successful ballplayers, including his father, who was in the league for over a decade. The main draw with Cruz is his strong track record of performance with Rice. He batted .305/.393/.519 as a sophomore and was even hotter in the 16 games he played this season before the shutdown. As a switch-hitter, he offers plus bat speed and demonstrates good plate discipline.
Despite his patient approach, Cruz strikes out too often. According to Prospects Live, his non-ideal strikeout rate is due to the fact that “the barrel doesn’t stay in the hitting zone all that long, leading to whiffs and mishits.” With fringe-average speed and an average arm, he also not a great fit at short long term. More likely is a career at second base, where there’s not as much pressure in the field and he can focus on refining his craft at the plate. The bat might also play at left field, but it’d be under more pressure if he’s an outfielder and the team who drafts Cruz will probably want him to stay on the dirt.