The Detroit Tigers are in a prime spot to have an outstanding draft. That’s not just because of their awful record last season, but also because they qualified for the first round of Competitive Balance selections, which will be slotted in directly after the first round of the draft. Thus, they have the 3rd, 32nd, and 39th overall picks and will be able to get their hands on some talented players as a result.
Though the 2021 draft is a little light on top-end talent, it has some nice depth. Detroit’s scouts have had their plates full through the draft cycles and their hard work will finally pay off this weekend. Let’s take a look at a few of the players who are reportedly being considered by the team for their second and third picks in the draft.
SS Trey Sweeney, Eastern Illinois
The player in this list most likely to be selected before Detroit comes on the clock is Trey Sweeney, who was liked to the team by the July 9th mock draft from ESPN. Sweeney is a shortstop for now but most evaluators see a move to third base in his future. That’s not a problem; his bat should be able to float the profile at either position. He hits for power and drew twice as many walks as strikeouts in 2021.
His batting average for balls in play was inflated this season, but it was an impressive performance even after normalizing for luck. FanGraphs also expressed some concerns about his swing mechanics and athleticism, but college hitters with his offensive profile usually do something in pro ball. He fits in with recent Tigers draftees and it makes sense to see him connected with the team.
RHP Andrew Painter, Calvary Christian HS (NJ)
Painter was presented by ESPN as the Tigers’ second pick in the draft, which would have looked like a massive steal a few months ago. He’s a hard-throwing sinkerballer with a fantastic frame and projectable secondary stuff. Depending on who you ask, his changeup or his curveball are his best non-fastball pitch. MLB Pipeline praises his athleticism, which leads to projectable command, and FanGraphs gave a shoutout to his feel for the slider.
Speculatively, the price tag on Painter may be a bit of a problem if he’s picked outside of the top 30 picks. He was considered a mid-first-round pick for most of his high school years and has fallen a little out of favor for little identifiable reason. His commitment at Florida places him at a good school for developing pitching and he’d instantly become one of the most talked-about prospects for the 2024 draft class. The Tigers could afford to throw some extra cash his way, but if they try to drive a hard bargain, it’s easy to see him gambling on himself.
2B Connor Norby, East Carolina
Not all that thrilling of a prospect, Norby has leveraged a well-balanced and broadly competent skillset into a likely top-50 spot in the upcoming draft, and ESPN mocked him to the Tigers with the 39th pick. The best skill in his possession is his contact ability, which FanGraphs projects as above average, but attributes it more to his bat control than pitch recognition. He put up hilarious numbers in college and will make a quick transition to the pros thanks to his no-nonsense, low-maintenance profile.
The concerns with Norby stem from the fact that he’s pretty unimpressive from a talent perspective despite being able to do everything well enough. That leaves a cap on his eventual ceiling. The Tigers haven’t been put off by that in the past. He could pop in pro ball if he adds a little extra power or somehow moves to shortstop, but he’s smallish and slowish, so there’s not really any reason to believe it will happen. Don’t get me wrong, Norby is a fine prospect. He’s just not fun to dream about.
OF Daylen Lile, Trinity HS (KY)
Lile falls into the category of hitters who Detroit has been shamelessly pouring a ton of resources into in recent drafts. He has an uninspired defensive profile, but he should do fine enough if he’s put in the correct role. Instead, he’ll get drafted because his swing is pure and refined, which is especially impressive for someone of his age. “Natural feel for the barrel from the left side; strength continues to come in every look,” summarized Perfect Game.
Lile is a more developmental player than most players with his gorgeous swing because he isn’t physically developed yet, which is a complaint that MLB Pipeline got more vocal about. Though he won’t be as tormented by the craftier segment of low minor pitching as many of his peers, going toe-to-toe with power pitches may prove to be a tougher ask. Once he gets on track physically, there’s a fast track to the major leagues awaiting him. Some players take an eternity to put on the muscle, though, and for that reason, he’s one of the few players who I’d advocate for going to college.
He could be a much more dangerous hitter in three years, and even if the muscle doesn’t come, the added experience will still get him points with the league.
‘21 @PGAllAmerican Daylen Lile keeps his hands inside here and gets a base hit the opposite way. Has always hit and is a good athlete too, chance to play CF. #PGDraft #PGHS @PG_Scouting @B_Sakowski_PG pic.twitter.com/AAQzmIt6OV— Perfect Game Ohio Valley (@PG_OhioValley) April 1, 2021
Extra Credit: SS Jackson Merrill is a Maryland high schooler with a visually pleasing left-handed swing path and some bat speed. His late-cycle rise may not have been enough to plant him in the early second round, but ESPN linked the Tigers to him.