Despite the many flaws associated with general manager Al Avila’s front office, more recently their pursuit of amateur talent in the draft has regained some goodwill from the fanbase. His 2018 and 2019 draft classes were generally well-received and the truncated 2020 edition was regarded by national media as one of the best in the sport. Detroit will enter the 2021 MLB draft with plenty of pressure on to make the right selection with their first pick. With no signs of a high rolling payroll on the horizon, this draft may have huge repercussions for their ability to build a sustainable winner.
Now that the young core of the rebuild is filtering into the major leagues, the Tigers hopefully won’t find themselves in such a good draft spot again anytime soon. That makes the third overall pick this year an extremely important one; they’re positioned to draft a known talent who can help the team get over the hump and be competitive even if the dry years persist. They can’t afford to misfire.
For that reason, despite being an outstanding prospect in a vacuum, Brady House would be the wrong selection for the Tigers.
House’ carrying tool is his magnificent raw power. He can put the hurt on a ball like few others with elite, 80-grade raw power. That puts him in some sparse company. Among every organization in baseball, FanGraphs gave that prestigious mark to only six prospects. What makes House’ power so projectable is the fact that he isn’t overmuscled to the point where he can just use his bulk to force long drives. Instead, he has incredible bat speed and a bat path geared for power. As he grows into a more maturely developed frame, his musculature will only make his power more impressive.
Hitters who can consistently tap into top-end power can always find a roster spot somewhere, no matter how dismal their other baseball skills might be. That’s what draws scouts’ attention to House. What makes him a potential top-five pick is that fact that he has a chance to develop into a more than just a slugger.
House is pretty young, even for a high school prospect, and he has the physical traits that excite player development staffs. A broad, 6-foot-3-inch frame and long arms provide him with the opportunity to be molded into whatever kind of build the team wants. The opportunity to build the the ideal body to house and utilize his exquisite raw power will be too much for some team to pass up.
There are some who believe he could stay at shortstop because he’s a better athlete than most players with his frame. Although it’s the minority opinion, if Detroit becomes convinced there’s a shot he can stay at shortstop, they may see him as a similar player as Bobby Witt Jr.
House’s strengths are obvious, and his weaknesses are everything else. The Athletic describes “a tendency to get long and... a rather noticeable hitch in his load,” which is a precursor to struggles against premium velocity and pitchers who tunnel well. His swing isn’t Blaze Jordan levels of stiff, but it’s far from a loose, whippy motion as well. Those factors combined will likely compel the team who drafts him to overhaul his swing.
In fact, it’s the general opinion of various scouting services that stiffness permeates almost everything Jordan does on the field. He’s a shortstop for now, but his lateral agility and straight-line speed are poor. House pitches for his high school team as well, and although he can throw hard, his arm plays down. It fact, it receives only an average grade from FanGraphs. His stiffness plays a part in that as well because he’ll struggle to make the throw on plays that require him to face away from the target.
His final position is an unknown at this point, but most evaluators point to third base as his destination. There is some talk of moving him to the outfield as well, though that may happen later in his career in a Nick Catsellanos-esque arc. There, his speed and agility would be less important and his arm would more easily be showcased.
A tricky task for any team, Detroit is particularly ill-suited for the job of crafting him into a big leaguer. They’ve had virtually no success with project hitters. The position players who have developed well within the system are either players with a reputation for being ultra-advanced (Spencer Torkelson), students of their own swing (Jake Rogers), or both (Riley Greene). Al Avila’s Tigers already fell in love with a powerful, long-levered player once in Parker Meadows and completely botched his development. They can’t afford to do that again with the third overall pick.
Expected draft range: 2nd-8th overall
Once expected to be in play for the first overall pick, House has fallen out of that competition to a pretty major extent and the conversation really starts with the Rangers. The current front office in Texas has skewed towards the players on the extreme ends of the risk spectrum. They’re more than willing to take on a major project player, like House, if the reward is big enough. They also like to subsidize that tendency by drafting players on the safe side, which is part of what has led lots of people to connect the dots between them and Jack Leiter.
The Tigers are the team most often linked to House, but he has potential landing spots all over the board. Part of the group of eight players who consistently grab spots at the top of mock drafts, he’s rarely allowed to fall past the Royals draft day projections, but it could happen. The reason for such a broad draft range is that we don’t know how teams will balance their concerns about his risk against excitement over his bat and there’s a whole glut of payers with similar future value projections at the top of this draft class.
The most solid link between the Tigers and House came via the July 6th mock draft on FanGraphs. “We had Detroit taking Brady House in our first mock, and sources indicate that he continued to impress the team in a recent private workout that reinforced the Tigers’ belief in both a plus hit and plus power tool,” they reported. If the team believes that he will be both a plus hit and power prospect, that makes him part of the same demographic as their last two selections — Greene and Torkelson.
ESPN also tossed their hat into that ring with a mock draft that came out on July 9th. If Leiter and Marcelo Mayer are the top two picks, they believe that one House and Jobe will be Detroit’s pick. “I’m leaning House, but it’s close and I’m getting conflicting info on their preference,” wrote Kiley McDaniel.