Detroit Tigers’ rebuild would be better off if they got anything from first-round picks

Detroit Free Press

Jeff Seidel | Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — There were first-round draft picks everywhere you looked on Wednesday afternoon at Joker Marchant Stadium.

During warmups, Derek Hill was the first on the field. The Detroit Tigers’ first selection in 2014, Hill went through a routine by himself, stretching his arms and legs, as his teammates came out of the building.

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Christin Stewart was the next to arrive. He walked to the Tigers’ dugout, carrying a bag filled with bats. He was the first pick in 2015 but has struggled in the big leagues.

Then, here came Riley Greene — the Tigers first-rounder in 2019. Greene walked up to Miguel Cabrera and they bumped fists.

Yes, it figured to be a fascinating day at the ballpark.

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A glimpse into the future.

But nothing went as I expected, as the Phillies beat the Tigers, 4-2.

Which brings us to Spencer Torkelson, the Tigers’ first round pick last year.

When Torkelson got into the game, he played first base.

Whoa. What?

The Tigers drafted Torkelson No. 1 overall and announced the would play third base. He practiced exclusively at third last summer.

But he has started to work at first base during spring training, as we reported last week.

“In this season, I think he’s going to play primarily third base,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “But I think it’s important for him to get a game or two a week at first base and continue to develop that part of his game as well.”

It makes total sense.

“We can’t perfectly predict exactly when his opportunities are going to come or even where they are,” Hinch said. “So we’re going to keep it as part of his skill set.”

Manning looks comfortable, athletic

Yes, there was another first rounder out on that field.

Matt Manning, the Tigers first round pick in 2016, pitched two scoreless innings.

He looked composed and athletic, coming off the mound to field a soft ground ball.

“He’s such an athlete out there,” Hinch said. “Obviously, it’s the first time out and I was interested to see whether or not he was anxious or if he would kind of jumping off the rubber and trying to throw a billion miles an hour. He was pretty calm, collected, made some pretty good pitches and was all over the strike zone. So that was a very positive first step.”

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Learning lessons

It’s easy to catch fly balls off a fungo bat.

But nothing compares to the experience of a big league game, when the ball comes screaming off the bat and one false step can mess things up.

And that happened on Wednesday

The Phillies’ Andrew Knapp crushed a line drive, right at Greene.

Greene appeared to take a step forward, being aggressive, and the ball went over his head and two runs scored.

“He does everything aggressively, which I love,” Hinch said. “Obviously, that’s one of the tougher balls right at you, hit pretty hard. And the ball stayed in the air a little bit. … These things need to happen in order for guys to get a little bit of experience. He’s going to do things aggressively. And I that’s one of the things I love about him.”

About those top picks

This rebuild will be in great shape if the Tigers’ first rounders pan out. But they are still developing. And none are projected to make the Opening Day roster.

Torkelson and Greene are extremely young and still a year away. Hill needs to prove that he can hit. Stewart has hit .225 in 157 MLB games. And Manning is expected to start the season at Triple-A Toledo.

Still, it was fascinating to see them all together on Wednesday. But it was also reminder that the Tigers haven’t developed first-round talent.

Some are still young and developing.

One is injured — Alex Faedo, the first pick in 2017, is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Others are older and have reached a precarious point in their careers.

Don’t get me wrong. I still see encouraging signs. Manning was the best example on Wednesday. I expect him to reach Detroit sometime this season. And Torkelson and Greene look like everyday starters, sometime in the future.

And don’t count out Faedo.

But do you want to know the last first-rounder to do anything of note for the Tigers? Nick Castellanos, who was drafted in 2010. That seems like a lifetime ago.

And that’s one of the reasons why this rebuild is taking so long.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.

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