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Draft Mailbag: How valid are concerns about the Tigers drafting Jackson Jobe?

The social media backlash after Jackson Jobe was drafted by the Tigers was severe, so let’s take a look at some of the specific concerns,

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Tigers used their first pick in the 2021 MLB draft to select high school righty Jackson Jobe. The best prep pitcher in the class, Jobe will bring both high-end talent and an element of financial flexibility to Detroit’s draft class. It was somewhat puzzling pick, as a number of more talented players who were also linked to the team were still available, and was received with all the fire and fury the team’s fanbase had to offer.

True, he’s not the player most Tigers fans wanted, but the tsunami of negativity seemed unusual in its severity. It felt like an overreaction to me, so I took to Twitter and asked you to explain why you were skeptical of the pick. Here is a sampling of the responses provided, along with my take on how valid that concern may or may not be.

“This is just further proof that Chris Ilich sees the team as an investment portfolio, he’s cheaping out like he always does!”

I didn’t get this exact response to my Tweet, but I’ve seen it all over my timeline and in conversations regarding the Tigers’ selection of Jobe and I wanted to get it out of the way first. Not only is it a misconception, it also establishes the false precondition that ownership’s unwillingness to spend on big-ticket free agents will have a similarly detrimental effect in the draft.

Let’s be very clear: Detroit’s front office drafted Jobe with the intent of paying him less that the slot value of the third overall pick, but those savings aren’t going to be pocketed by the man who writes the checks. Instead, the express purpose of shaving some cash off one player’s signing bonus is to add some extra padding to another draftee’s bonus. In that way, the team has the financial flexibility to persuade a player to turn pro despite falling past the range of picks with a slot value meeting his bonus demands.

Drafting Jobe is not a by-product of penny-pinching in the draft day war room, nor is it impacted in any way by their budgeting for free agents. They spent every penny of last years’ allotted bonus pool, even dipping into the penalty-free 5% overage that each team is allowed, and likely will do the same again this year.

[exhales deeply] Okay, so this is the big one. For months, we were promised that the Tigers had Marcelo Mayer at the top of their board. The prep shortstop was considered the top talent by most media outlets. It was the broad consensus that if Mayer fell to the third pick, Detroit would snag him. In the end, he was on the board when they came on the clock, and the team chose Jobe instead, which is the source of most of the grumbling.

The biggest issue with this objection to selecting Jobe is that Mayer wasn’t the slam-dunk talent that many Tigers fans are portraying him to be. He’s a better prospect than Jobe, sure, but he wasn’t the clear-cut top guy in the class. Many of the publicly available draft rankings had him at the top of their list, but here’s the dirty secret of those kinds of lists — they’re rarely founded completely on scouting done by the media outlet.

There’s a not-insignificant chunk of feedback from pro teams that goes into crafting those rankings. For much of the late-stage draft cycle, teams’ feedback indicated that the Pirates would be picking Mayer first. Thus, he was the top-rated prospect. However, the granular order of the top three prospects particularly and the top tier of prospects more generally was very mushy. As easy evidence, take a look at the FanGraphs big board. For their money, the top prospect in the class could have been Jack Leiter or eventual top pick Henry Davis.

Losing out on Mayer stings. He’s a good prospect with a bright future. At the same time, he’s hardly without flaw. There’s questions about his defensive future and how much power he’ll add to his game. It would be a mischaracterization of the situation to say the Tigers passed on a blindingly obvious choice.

Here’s a valid line of reasoning! Drafting Jobe with the idea of saving money to spend later is a scary proposition. On the team’s part, it’s an expression of confidence in their own abilities to correctly asses the talent available and navigate negotiations for signing bonuses that fit the bigger picture for both sides. It’s completely reasonable to have doubt in general manager Al Avila’s ability to accomplish those things. I myself wrote a strongly worded segment to that effect on Sunday afternoon.

However, justifiable anxiety that the Tigers would squander their opportunity to pay a subsequent draftee some extra cash against Jobe’s slot value was put to rest by the fact that they drafted Ty Madden with the 32nd overall pick. Viewed as the big faller of the draft, experts expressed their befuddlement regarding his slide over and over and over again. When Detroit eventually put an end to his fall well below his expected draft range, it was lauded as one of the best picks of the day.

One reason Madden may have fallen is that while most fans look primarily at the talent of players available, teams also give a high degree of importance to how well a given player will fit their system. The resulting variance in draft rankings from team to team usually winds up letting someone slip through the cracks and landing in a draft range below what he would deserve based on talent alone.

In FanGraphs’ Day 1 Draft Mega Chat, Kevin Goldstein also described “a weird messed up feedback loop” that happens when a player falls. Teams begin to assume that other organizations have intel they do not and stick to their own rankings even more closely. The further a player falls, the more intense this loop can become, resulting in bizarre outcomes such as Brady Singer being drafted 18th overall.

There’s still plenty of time for the rest of the Tigers’ draft to be a dud, but they’ve already added two of the top ten players in this draft class. When you play the underslot/overslot game, this is exactly how you want it to go. Locked and loaded for two more picks in the top 100 and another one barely outside that range, the Tigers are in prime position to come out of this draft with a haul.

Let’s take this point by point.

First, concern over the durability of pitchers as a group is fair. There’s a reason the TINSTAAPP school of thought came to be; any pitcher can break at any time and there’s not much that can be done to stop it. However, as far as pitchers go, I’m less worried about Jobe than I would be about some other players in this class. As a 6-foot-3-inch, 180 pound teenager with room to fill out, he should have sufficient size to withstand a starter’s workload. Additionally, the athleticism that he brings to the mound is beneficial in that it allows him to operate a delivery that Prospects Live describes as having “no mechanical flaws.”

Secondly, I’ll agree the concern that there aren’t any shortstops in the system does hold some water. Unless you’re a Wenceel Perez true believer or want to buy into Zack Short’s 18-game sample with Detroit, there really isn’t a shortstop of the future in the system. An examination of the Tigers’ pipeline, though, will reveal that the depth at nearly every position has been thinning over the past year or two as players either wash out or graduate. Refreshing the pitching depth after two offense-heavy drafts is hardly a sin on Avila’s part. Although, APerez has a point — if the team wants a homegrown shortstop, he’s probably not in the organization yet.

Thirdly, in a well-run organization, the draft should be totally disconnected from MLB personnel choices. Except in very rare cases, the players being selected are too far away from the major leagues to meaningfully factor into roster choices for three years or more. The idea that drafting Mayer, who this final section of the comment was presumably referencing, could have or should have barred the Tigers from opening the checkbook for a free agent shortstop is not rooted in reality. They were always going to approach free agency the same way regardless of who they picked in the draft.

This one is a two-edged sword, and neither side can justifiably be ignored. On the one hand, the inexperience of a player with few competitive innings under his belt sets the stage for a long slog tough the minor leagues. It’s no small task to craft and perfect a full and effective assortment of pitches and Jobe has only had 52.2 innings of pitching put his training into practice. On the other hand, his low milage decreases the chances of suffering structural damage in his arm early in his career. Whether that trade-off is worth it is a tough question to answer.

It’s important to remember, though, that small sample sizes are much more dangerous when judging performance statistics than quantifiable skills. You can’t defraud a radar gun or Rapsodo unit, no matter how brief the sample size. The Tigers drafted Jobe based on their confidence in his athletic traits, velocity, and extraordinary ability to spin the ball. His inexperience will probably force a longer development timeline, which is non-ideal, but the skills he demonstrated are real.