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Early clarity for the Tigers dissipates in 2021 mock drafts

Detroit’s front office has been heavily connected to a small handful of players, particularly prep shortstop Marcelo Mayer, but he could be gone by the Tigers’ pick.

Al Avila
Feb. 12, 2020; Lakeland, Florida, USA — General Manager Al Avila watches the pitchers throw during their bullpen session.
Adam Dubbin / Bless You Boys

The Tigers’ season hasn’t been much to look at, in fact, you’re probably well-advised to avert your eyes instead. The roster has been reshuffled a few times and the offense has caught on as of late, but there’s no hiding the fact that the team is in shambles and still isn’t much better than their worst years. For draft junkies, it just provides an excuse to turn our attention to the upcoming draft class a little sooner.

Early mock drafts have the Tigers featured prominently, as they have for many years now. This time around, Detroit’s friendly neighborhood ballclub has the third selection in the draft, putting the front office in a great spot to land a premium talent.

This year’s class has a reputation as being one jam-packed with good players, and the Tigers certainly have a bevy of options to choose from at the top. However, while early mock drafts isolated two players as the preliminary likely candidates for Detroit’s selection, a greater variety has cropped up recently as performance and injuries rearrange the landscape. Of course, being that we’re still six weeks out from the actual event, everything is subject to change — final evaluations being done in the two weeks leading up to the draft are always a chaotic time.

Let’s dive in and see where the Tigers could be focusing in the 2021 draft!

Marcelo Mayer

The clear-cut top guy who the team’s scouting staff hopes is available when they come on the clock is Mayer. There have been some people in the draft sphere who loved Mayer from the very beginning, and they’re taking well-earned victory laps as he’s risen to the cream of this draft class. A prep shortstop from California, Mayer has big offensive upside and has a nonzero chance to stay up the middle or become a high-quality defender at third base.

There have been rumors swirling for a few weeks connecting the Tigers to Mayer, and when we did some poking around of our own, we came away with the impression that those are legit. When we asked a talent evaluator from a well-known organization to comment on Mayer, he said this: “Mayer is a long-bodied left handed hitter with huge offensive upside. Has a chance to play short but May outgrow it. Above average athlete.” Like Riley Greene in 2019, he’s one of the gems in this class, even if he’s not one of the most famous.

Kumar Rocker

Seen as the obvious early candidate for the 1-1 pick, Rocker has had a confusing season for the Vanderbilt Commodores and slipped from his perch as the prohibitive favorite. FanGraphs’ Kevin Goldstein sees him as the fifth-most likely player to be drafted with the first pick at this stage, placing his odds at 25-1. Goldstein also mentioned that Rocker has settled back into his dominant form after a slow start to the year, but teams could be dissatisfied with the fact that he only showed up with stuff worthy of a premium pick at the season’s conclusion.

When he’s right, Rocker is one of the most riveting amateur pitchers I’ve seen on tape. His 92-98 mph fastball velocity looks no more difficult than a game of catch and it features devastating armside run at the lower part of that range. Paired with a power slider that draws deeply ugly swings and flashes of above average command, he has one of the highest ceilings in this class. Some team that believes his first half was a fluke will be ecstatic to get him in-house.

Jack Leiter

When Rocker began to stumble, it was Leiter, his Vanderbilt rotation-mate, who took his place as the Messiah of draft Twitter and anointed probable first overall pick. His star has been tarnished by the microscopic inspection placed on any potential top pick. Now more likely to go in the 2-5 range than picked first, Leiter presents a relatively safe pick who will almost certainly be a big leaguer in a meaningful capacity but doesn’t have the sexy upside to dream on.

On the mound, Leiter has three plus or better pitches in his bag — a fastball that has touched 100 mph this season, and a pair of breakers. All three can be thrown for strikes or be used to draw bad swings, but he rarely has control over all three in the same outing. It’s more often the fastball that wanders than his slider or curve, which is a little concerning because fastball misses more often result in easy takes for the hitter, and thus more walks, or home runs from misses inside the zone. However, with his combination of velocity and riding life, he does have more margin for error than most.

His size and durability also raise flags, but small pitchers are less and less stigmatized as pitch counts have gone down in recent years. Leiter has slipped a bit from the clear favorite he represented early this season, but much of that has to do with the rise of a group of good prep shortstops that have been the flavor of the month. Leiter could still surprise and go in one of the top few spots, and barring an injury at the end of the college season, he’s highly unlikely to fall out of the top five.

Henry Davis

The 2021 draft is a good one for catchers, and Davis is the best in the batch. He’d be the best catching prospect to come through the draft in most ten year periods, but Adley Rutschman is a cut above anyone we’ve seen in a long time. Davis is similar to Rutschman in that he has tools on both sides of that ball that can easily translate to a pro setting and offer a tantalizing amount of potential to develop as well.

It’s hard to find a bad word about Davis, and he’s reasonably in play at any pick in the first 10 selections, including the top spot. The Athletic recently listed him as the top draft prospect in baseball, for example. He’s physical and hits line drives with authority. His swing is clean and he has a mature approach to hitting that allows him to draw plenty of walks — compare his 14.35 percent walk rate to a mere 10.65 percent strikeout rate in 2021. He has a reputation as a clubhouse guy with competitive drive. Don’t worry about the fact that the Tigers just invested in Dillon Dingler; good hitting catchers are at a premium in today’s league and it can’t hurt to have multiple in the pipeline.

Brady House

In Baseball America’s latest mock draft, the Tigers opted for House, a project player from Georgia with unbelievable raw talent. “A high school shortstop has been in the rumor mill lately at this spot and we’ve heard consistently throughout the spring that the Tigers really like House, his physicality and his power potential,” they wrote in the blurb about the pick.

Despite his top-shelf athletic gifts, power and corresponding potential, House is the one player in this group who the Tigers would probably be better off avoiding. There are prevalent questions as to whether his ability to contact the baseball will be sufficient at any professional level. Enough people believe in him that he’s probably going to be a top-10 pick, but it’s just not a good fit in Detroit. Neither the current regime nor the one that preceded it had a track record of success when it comes to crafting hitters who need lots of work as amateurs into productive major leaguers. Unless the Tigers have great faith in their newly revamped development system, taking a player of a type they don’t really have a track record of developing could be a mistake.

Jackson Jobe

If things get weird on draft day due to signing bonus shenanigans or entropy takes hold of things once picks are being made, Jobe is a dark horse candidate for the Tigers’ selection. He’s an outstanding player who dethroned Andrew Painter at the top of the heap among the high school pitchers in this class, but he’s not being broadly discussed as a top-5 draft pick. However, we were able to confirm whispers that Detroit has taken an interest in him and he is in the mix third overall.

Here’s what one source who requested to be anonymous had to say about him: “Jobe is a spin monster. Has ascended to the mantle of top prep arm on the combination of stuff and chance to start. Been up to 98 this spring, SL is the best prep breaker in the class, 3200+ RPM at times, 70 pitch. good CH, added a CB this spring as well. not as advanced as the SL, but similar spin metrics with plus future.”