UPDATE: The Tigers have selected RHP Jackson Jobe with their first round selection.
The first round of the 2021 MLB draft is scheduled to take place on Sunday evening, and the Tigers’ first of two selections is the third overall pick. Detroit fans have become accustomed to seeing their team perched atop the draft order; they’ve selected first, fifth, and first again in the last three drafts, respectively. Unlike in those years, there is no clear-cut top player in the 2021 draft class. Instead, it’s a big, tangled mess of players who each have supporters across the league and the media.
The group of players who most consistently show up at the top of mock drafts has basically included the same eight guys for a while now. At least six of these players will be available to the Tigers when they make their selection third overall, so let’s take a look at what each could bring to the organization.
SS Marcelo Mayer, Eastlake HS
It’s no secret that the Tigers’ preference among top players in this draft is for Eastlake high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer. He’s a low-maintenance hitter with a realistic chance to hit for both contact and power. Every scouting report out there talks about how poised he is at the plate, how well-timed and balanced his swing is, and how well he knows the strike zone. Even if he has to move off of short, he could be a plus defender at second or third base and has plenty of offensive game to float the profile. Unfortunately, he seems to be the Pittsburgh Pirates’ preference as well and is the favorite to be picked first.
RHP Jack Leiter, Vanderbilt
Though he’s not as refined as Casey Mize was in 2018, the list of players with a higher floor than Leiter to come through the draft in the last half-decade is pretty slim. If everything clicks, he’ll be able to boast four above-average to plus pitches with plus control and above-average command. His fastball shows above-average velocity for a starting pitcher and it has an exceptional movement profile, but hitters had no problem squaring it up when his command went fuzzy at one point during the season. His season’s performance wasn’t enough to separate him from the pack, but it’s easy to see Leiter as one of the first 2021 draftees in the majors.
SS Kahlil Watson, Wake Forest HS
Watson is an electrifying power/speed athlete who has the defensive motions to stay at shortstop. His development will largely hinge upon whether he is able to better identify breaking balls as he faces professional pitching. His sub-6 foot stature isn’t a big deal in modern baseball, but it could give a more traditionally built player the edge if the Tigers’ draft-day decision is made on a razor-thin margin. There are also some concerns about his final defensive home, but that’s due to his arm, not his coordination, range, or fundamentals.
RHP Jackson Jobe, Heritage Hall HS
Jobe is far from a one-trick pony. The slider may be the flashiest of his pitches, but there are reasons for optimism in both his curveball and changeup as well. He can induce swings and misses on all three of his softer pitches. There are reports of his slider cresting 3100 rpm, which makes it the most potent weapon in his bag. He provides better velocity than most starting pitchers, but the movement on his fastball is uninspiring. It has tailing action rather than rising action, which isn’t ideal for drawing swings and misses. However, athletic pitchers like Jobe tend to be easier to project for consistent velocity and improved command down the road.
RHP Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt
Rocker’s most impressive pitch is a fastball that sits in the 93-96 miles per hour range and has the rising action that induces swings and misses at every level of professional baseball. He also draws rave reviews for his slider, which is the real punchout pitch. His other two pitches have some projection, but the fastball and slider are the weapons here. His draft stock took a hit thanks to inconsistency in 2021, which called into question his fastball quality and durability. Some last-second rumors have been tying him to the Texas Rangers second overall.
IF Brady House, Winder-Barrow HS
House’s appeal is simple, he hits the ball really, really hard. What makes his 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. However, his long-term defensive home is an unknown and his stiff swing will need to get a significant facelift to perform in the major leagues. The Tigers have no track record of success with this kind of player, but they seem to like him quite a lot and have been connected to him with increasing frequency as draft day drew closer.
SS Jordan Lawlar, Jesuit Prep
Lawlar entered the season as the top prep player on many draft boards, but he is increasingly being seen as the man on the outside among the four prep hitters in this group. He can be counted on defensively, both in terms of his ability to get to the ball and in his defensive motions. The grace that comes so easily to him on defense only shows up in spurts at the plate. At times, he demonstrates outstanding feel to hit, while at others, he succumbs to swing and miss problems. Tightening up that consistency will be imperative to his professional success.
C Henry Davis, Louisville
Davis has gotten virtually no attention in relation to the Tigers, which is strange because he most closely adheres to the archetype the team has been targeting over the last two drafts. Offensively, he’s a beast and hits for giant power without sacrificing too much in the way of barrel control or swing mechanics. There’s also plenty of evaluators who believe he can stick behind the plate, which only increases his value because of the lack of offensively capable catchers. Some have pointed to Dillon Dingler as a reason not to draft Davis, but it’s not easy to develop catchers, and even if they both merit starting jobs, one can easily to traded away or used in a hybrid multi-position role.