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Tigers select two players, lose one in MiLB Rule 5 Draft

Detroit selects RHP Elvis Alvarado and RHP Nick Kuzia in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft.

San Antonio Missions v Amarillo Sod Poodles Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

Normally it would be time for Winter Meetings. Fans would be hoping their team makes a flurry of moves and plucks a gem from the Rule 5 Draft. This is not that year. The lockout has halted almost everything. Normally following the Rule 5 Draft MLB portion, there is a minor league portion that goes almost unnoticed. Because of the lockout rules, only that minor league portion happened on Wednesday. And it took center stage. The Detroit Tigers made two selections, RHP Elvis Alvarado from Seattle and RHP Nick Kuzia from San Diego, while losing RHP Ruben Garcia.

There are more open-ended rules when it comes to this draft. Teams can protect a certain number of players, and can pick through multiple rounds should they choose, but once a player is selected they are free to be moved around the organization. Technically they will start in Triple-A, but that is just how things are done. There is no rule forcing them to stay there like in the MLB phase of the draft. It’s worth noting the MLB phase, the same phase that brought Akil Baddoo to Detroit, will still happen once the lockout ends.

Largely, these picks add to organizational depth. That doesn’t mean there aren’t success stories. Most recently Arizona’s Tyler Gilbert threw a no hitter in the same year he was selected in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. He is not alone, there are several players who contribute in the majors.

Because this is facilitated through Triple-A rosters, teams could only make selections if their roster was under 38 players at that level. The Tigers entered the day at 35, meaning they could make up to three picks. They made two, putting their Triple-A roster at 37. Again, either of the two picks can be moved freely throughout the organization, so this is just a procedural placement.

Who Did Detroit Select?

With their first round pick, the Tigers selected Elvis Alvarado from Seattle’s organization. At a glance, the numbers are not that enticing. The 22-year-old righty was an international signing for the Washington Nationals in 2017. He was later traded to the Mariners in 2019. He spent all of 2021 playing in Low-A Modesto where he accumulated 45 innings with a ERA north of six, 33 strikeouts, and 32 walks. So what did the Tigers see?

For one, Alvarado throws hard. His four-seam averages around 97 MPH, and tops in triple digits. His two-seam is about the same, and both are high spin offerings. He get such easy velocity on these pitches, too. All of these fastballs below are 98+ MPH.

The fastballs are really nice pitches when he can command them, which is a huge issue as shown by his high walk totals. That leads to the rest of his arsenal. He throws a slider and changeup, though not nearly as much.

The slider is the most used secondary, but it lacks the same kind of positive data as the fastball. It’s a hard slider, averaging in the high-80’s, but other than that there’s a lot left to be desired. Command is certainly an issue. Alvarado can have trouble getting it to the bottom of the zone, so it hangs in the upper-third. The velocity difference from the fastball helps it to not get crushed too often.

Velocity separation is more important when it comes it his changeup. Alvarado gets about nine MPH difference between the changeup and fastball, which is fantastic. It can generate a similar shape to the two-seamer as well. With the similar command issues, it’s hard to showcase well.

The command issues are apparent, but the base here is really good. His loud fastballs are a great place to start for Detroit’s development system. The first step is reigning in his command, and that may be a real challenge. After that it’ll be about maximizing what they can from either the changeup or slider.

The other pitcher selected by Detroit was Nick Kuzia from the Padres organization. On the surface Kuzia is a more obvious choice. He pitched in both Double-A and Triple-A with a combined 3.42 ERA while striking out 71 batters and walking 27 through 52.2 innings. He was an undrafted free agent by the Padres out of high school back in 2017.

In 2021, his primary pitch was his slider. It was generally low-80’s. It’s a very high spin pitch that generates a lot of whiffs, especially considering how much it gets used.

That pitch is his bread and butter. He commands it well and it works to both sides of the plate. His arm action is more of a slinger. So when he locates it to the first base side of the plate, there is more movement generated than when he backs it up inside to righties.

The slider usage opens up doors for the fastball to be the out pitch. It generally is in the low-90’s, topping out at 96 MPH. There is a two-seam variation, too. He likes to work it low in the zone for strikeouts, and it does well there.

Kuzia rounds out his arsenal with a seldom-used changeup. It’s more of a change of pace when he works multiple innings at a time. In the short stints, it’s the slider/fastball combination that leads the way.

The difference between these two pitchers right now is enormous. Alvarado has some ingredients, but will likely see most of his time in Lakeland or West Michigan. Kuzia should start in Toledo, and could see time in Detroit if he performs. Both are relievers.

One thing that’s clear is what the Tigers are prioritizing in their targets. Both Kuzia and Alvarado have at least one pitch that grades out with good data. Alvardo with his high-octane fastballs and Kuzia with is slider. Building from that one pitch is what turns a minor league Rule 5 selection into someone who can contribute at the highest level.

Who Did The Tigers Lose?

Ruben Garcia was selected by the Houston Astros in the first round of this draft. That was the lone name taken from the Tigers organization. Garcia climbed as high as Double-A Erie in 2021, amassing 72 strikeouts, 34 walks, and 12 hit batsmen across 56.1 innings of work. Surface level numbers show that he’s kind of just a more refined version of Elvis Alvarado. Though Garcia doesn’t throw nearly as hard.

Unlike the two pitchers the Tigers selected, Garcia does not have good spin numbers or data on either of his pitches. He throws a fastball that tops out at 97 MPH, and a slider that’s in the mid-80’s.

One of the reasons that Garcia is so well liked is that those two pitches look very similar out of his hand before diving in different directions. He can spot them both up around the zone when he is on. The Astros got a very interesting reliever, and with their penchant for development it will be fun to see what they do with Garcia.

Why Does This Draft Matter?

This portion of the Rule 5 Draft is generally just used for organizational depth. Alvarado and Kuzia may never see the light of day in the big leagues and no one would be the wiser. However, I think this is an important draft when looking at what’s being prioritized right now in the organization. There’s a lot more to it, but the two pitchers in have good spin numbers and the one pitcher out does not.

As we see the front office personnel changing, and we see the team starting to move in a direction that appears to be trying to compete, it’s imperative to have a direction in every decision made. This draft reinforced what we already knew. The front office is adopting more of a forward thinking approach.

Either way, there are two new members to the Detroit Tigers organization. In a lockout, this counts as roster moves right? Once it’s all over, there will be the MLB portion of the Rule 5 held, and we could potentially see another player entering the system. And you can bet the team will be looking for a similar profile, should they decide to take a chance on a pitcher.