Here on the cusp of the MLB Draft, every team in the league is facing their own iteration of the same unusual situation. The Tigers’ dilemma, fortunately, doesn’t extend into the first round. Virtually every industry expert and reliable mock draft pegs Spencer Torkelson as the soon-to-be first overall selection, possibly to be heralded as the team’s top prospect. Things become much more interesting once the Detroit brass are on the clock the second time.
Once the smoke clears on Day One of the draft, the Tigers will be on the clock until DayTwo commences, putting them in a fantastic position to sit back and survey the entire situation before making a decision on who to draft. Considering the chaos-inducing circumstances this year, that could prove an important advantage.
However, the rumor mill continues to circulate whispers that the Tigers are looking seriously into drafting a collegiate shortstop with their second selection. Teams don’t just say to themselves, “we’re taking a shortstop here,” so if that rumor has any teeth, it presumably refers to a specific player. The question is who?
Let’s take a look at some of the shortstops who could draw the team’s attention.
Nick Loftin, Baylor
Loftin’s stock has been climbing for months and he’s now the undisputed top college shortstop in the class. Although he’ll almost certainly be taken before the Tigers have a shot to make him their second pick, he probably represents the best case scenario for the team at 38th overall. He’s a low risk prospect who does just about everything well, even if his skills don’t dazzle. His sudden power surge in the shortened season makes him interesting because it cemented his potential to impact both sides of the game.
Nick Loftin is hitting for more power early this season, as evidenced by his mammoth home run Saturday.— Teddy Cahill (@tedcahill) March 1, 2020
That's really good news both for @BaylorBaseball and Loftin's draft stock https://t.co/K48PZSnSuE pic.twitter.com/pp0zQCFr9K
The only fault one can find with Loftin is, like Williams, he has a probable lack of star potential. The team who drafts him, though will be treated to a player with a ton of polish and a decent chance to play every day up the middle. If the Tigers get the opportunity to draft Loftin in the second round, they should absolutely pounce on that chance.
Jordan Westburg, Mississippi State University
A less extreme version of the situation with Martin, Westburg is a fantastic athlete but there are questions about where he’ll play on the field and whether he’ll hit enough to play in the majors. Supporters of the profile see a rare combination of above-average speed and plus raw power, and it’s a tempting combination. If everything clicks for him on the offensive side, it would be enough to float the profile regardless of where he plays on the field.
Despite his lofty potential, Detroit may not be the greatest landing sport for Westburg. The team may rightly see his potential as a part of their future core (and while no one wants to go on the record, I’m hearing that the Tigers’ interest in him is solidifying). However, Prospects Live pointed out that the team’s player development staff may not be a good fit for him. There’s some work to be done to unlock his power, and he’ll need it if he’s forced to transition to third base, despite the fact that he’d probably be a good defender at the hot corner.
Alika Williams, Arizona State University
As a member of the Arizona State Sun Devils, Williams is a teammate of Torkelson and thereby was able to perform in front of Tigers scouts as a result. The biggest weapon at his disposal is his premier defensive ability. Scouts have no doubt in his ability to stick at the position long term. Prospects Live describes him as having “quick footwork and hands” and MLB Pipeline praised his ability to make throws from a variety of angles and on the run.
The offensive side of his game is where risk begins to creep into the picture. For what it’s worth, he consistently demonstrates good understanding of the trike zone and FanGraphs pointed out that his bat speed is above average. However, his slender frame doesn’t have a ton of room to fill out and frankly it’s what allows him to make best use of his sometimes wanting footspeed. Because of this, his offensive ceiling isn’t too high and he could easily wind up as a utility guy.
Casey Martin, Arkasas
If the Tigers are prioritizing athleticism in their search for the shortstop of the future, Martin will feature heavily in the conversation. Once upon a time, he was considered one of the best prospects in this class. Things haven’t gone as planned for anyone, though, and for Martin, that means he may not be drafted in the first round. Despite his freakish athletic abilities, everything about his actual on-field gameplay leaves room for questions.
His eventual defensive home is the first and easiest question to answer. He probably doesn’t possess the instincts to stick at shortstop, but his footspeed and arm strength will allow him to transition to third base, second base, or center field if he has to move off the position. The team who drafts him can probably just choose where he’ll play and wipe their hands of the situation. However, Martin essentially epitomizes the expression “boom or bust” when discussing his offense.
There’s no question that the coaching staff that winds up with the responsibility of developing Martin will attempt a swing change. He strikes out too often to allow things to stay the way they are. There’s also the question of how much power he’ll eventually provide, and opinions range from fringe average to plus. If he takes to the changes, he’ll be a valuable player. If he doesn’t, there’s probably no path to the majors for him.
Freddy Zamora, Miami
Zamora dropped down draft boards and isn’t expected to be drafted in the first round despite preseason indications that he’d be strongly in play at that range. That’s largely thanks to the fact that he was unable to play any meaningful baseball during the truncated 2020 season between a suspension for violating team rules and an ACL injury. Zamora is in the conversation for the best defender in this year’s shortstop class, and while Alika Williams takes the cake, there’s no doubt Zamora will stay at the position.
With a decent combination of fielding ability, plate discipline, and potential for growth, there’s no doubt that he will be a quality pro prospect. The determining factor in how highly Zamora is drafted is how his medicals look. If teams believe that his ACL won’t be a problem in the future, look for him to be taken relatively early.
Anthony Servideo, Mississippi
One of the few players to whom the 2020 season was kind was Anthony Servideo. His first two years at Ole Miss, he was blocked at short by eventual second round draftee Grae Kessinger, but he stepped into the limelight this season and didn’t disappoint. He demonstrated his ability to stick at shortstop while throwing his offense into a new gear. At short, his motions are fluid and Prospects Live commended his first step reaction and arm accuracy. These are the attributes of someone who will stay at the position as a pro.
As an offensive contributor, he has the potential to outclass most shortstops with his natural feel for the position. Thanks to a leg kick he crafted during the offseason, Servideo’s power output has jumped significantly and it makes him a much more interesting prospect. He also has a knack for laying off bad pitches and doesn’t feel the need to abandon his approach just to get at his power.
Undoubtedly, scouts would have liked to see him maintain that level of performance over the course of a full season. If the changes he made stick around for the long haul, however, teams who pass up on Servideo may end up looking at him as the one that got away. Still, like most in this general group of shortstops other than Loftin, it’s hard to imagine any of them peaking the Tigers’ interest at 38 with the wealth of strong college pitching available.