The Tigers don’t hold the top pick in the 2021 MLB draft, but they’re still neatly positioned to pick up plenty of good amateur talent this summer. Detroit holds the 3rd, 32nd, and 39th picks in the draft, which combine for a tidy sum of $11,385,300 of slot value. In other words, if the team is smart about how they approach the upcoming draft, they could make quite a splash.
If it seems a little strange the the team would have three picks in the top 50, that’s because it hasn’t happened before during the Tigers’ current rebuild. The 32nd pick was granted to Detroit as a part of Competitive Balance Round A. Unlike standard picks, it can be traded pre-draft and is not based on the previous year’s win-loss record. They were awarded the selection because they were one of the 10 lowest-revenue teams in the major leagues.
Let’s take a look at some of the players who Detroit could consider selecting with their Comp A pick.
LHP Anthony Solometo, Bishop Eustace (NJ)
One of the most fun players in this class to watch on tape, Solometo is one of the more memorable pitchers in a class full of high school arms. His loose sidewinder delivery provides him with a ton of deception as hitters are faced with a flurry of limbs as they try to read the ball out of his hand, although some believe his extension could stand to improve. He’s able to command it to both sides of the plate despite getting a lot of life out of the pitch at any part of his 90-94 mph velocity range. “Slider is a high 70s banger with serious depth and horizontal tilt,” wrote Prospects Live in their very positive scouting report.
The only thing holding Solometo back from being a solid first round option is his lack of a third viable pitch. It’s a tough row to hoe as a two-pitch pitcher, but pitching coaches are getting smarter about developing guys who can’t throw a real changeup. Additionally, Solometo isn’t the same kind of two-pitch guy as the ones Tigers fans became accustomed to under Dave Dombrowski. He doesn’t bullheadedly rely on an arrow-straight power offering. His peripheral traits give him every edge to make it work.
SS Izaac Pacheco, Friendswood (TX)
Now that the top players in Detroit who have prospect eligibility are hitters, it can be easy to forget just how barren it was just a few years ago. Pacheco feels like an easy fit with the kind of hitters Avila has targeted in his effort to turn around the lack of offense in the pipeline. He’s the definition of a guy who “bats angry”, and the only reason he isn’t a first round lock is because of his lack of positional certainty.
What hold Pacheco back is that he’s not a quick twitch guy and only projects to get slower as he gets bigger. However, he doesn’t need to rely on his athletic abilities to make it work as a pro. His instincts are just fine and he’s playing shortstop for now, so there’s a nonzero chance he’ll stay there going forward and he’ll almost certainly get a shot as he enters the MiLB. Teams will care more about his swing path and bat speed that are geared for in-game power. Dudes who can hit always find a home, and a team who believes in Pacheco’s bat will find him a defensive home.
OF Christian Franklin, Arkansas
One of the most divisive hitters in this draft class, Franklin is a rare college bat in the immediately post-first round conversation. He would easily rank among the best players in this class based on traits alone. He’s fast and plays the field well, projecting to stay in center field long-term, but he also has the arm to slide over to either corner if needed and excel there as well. He also hits huge home runs and will occasionally unlock a jaw-dropping nuke on an a mistake in the zone.
Unfortunately, he struggles with strikeouts and it doesn’t project well to pro ball without meaningful growth on his part. It’s not that he has poor feel for the strike zone, he does take plenty of walks, but he whiffs too much in the zone. Namely, because it’s not a secret that his swing has a hole, pro pitchers won’t respect him enough to throw a ball and give him the opportunity to walk, and those who can execute with command find him quite pitchable.
His physical gifts may be enough for him to make up for his shortcomings to a certain extent, but the Avila-era staff have nothing to show for themselves as a track record of success with this kind of player. He’s a lot of fun, but discretion is the better part of valor. Franklin is a high variance player and needs a good system fit, and Tigers are probably one of the worst possible landing spots for him.
RHP Tommy Mace, Florida
The imposing, 6-foot-7-inch frame that Mace carries allows him to make the best of his sometimes pedestrian stuff. He gets a boatload of plane on his fastball and can accentuate the vertical movement on his curveball. His giant extension also ups the effective velocity on his his fastball, which can bump 96 mph on the regular. The Florida ace also has unusually good body control for a man of his size, which yields a clean delivery and projection for reasonably good command. The whole package isn’t terribly exciting, but he plays with heart and there’s something to be said for throwing four pitches without putting up any red flags. A little tuning of his stuff and you could have a nice mid-rotation arm here.
After a third inning where #Gators Tommy Mace seemed to lose feel & wasn’t as sharp, he bounced back pounding the zone in the 4th and going 3-up/3-down while striking out 2 batters.
One K was heat up stairs and other was a solid slider away. Enjoying watching him throw tonight. pic.twitter.com/Q76qXzyFCP
— Mike Kurland (@Mike_Kurland) February 20, 2021
Mace went undrafted in 2020 for two main reasons. First, his fastball looked hittable during his brief stint before baseball shut down, and teams didn’t want to spend one of their few picks on him if his heater really had backed up for good. As it turns out, it was just rust and it’s looked a lot better in 2021. The other issue was lack of consistent distinction between his offspeed pitches, which can still plague him. On a good night, the slider and curveball can both get swings and misses. On a bad night, they slurry together and wind up looking more like a cutter or slurve and won’t keep the hitters off the fastball. If the Tigers can get him to be a little more consistent, they could easily make him an unsexy but reasonably effective pitcher.
OF Ethan Wilson, South Alabama
There’s some difference of opinion regarding where Wilson stands within this class and the low range of that discussion puts him firmly within the realm of possibility for Detroit with the 32nd pick. He’s another power-first hitter, although his profile isn’t as extreme as Franklin’s. He can put the juice into a pitch, but he doesn’t struggle with contact to the same degree and isn’t as good in the field.
2021 South Alabama OF Ethan Wilson gets behind in the count but singles sharply back up the middle. Not a great runner, bad jump w/ 2 out hit and 45 speed gets thrown out at 3rd #MLBDraft pic.twitter.com/yzFAIyiWcJ
— Keanan Lamb (@keananlamb) May 1, 2021
There’s a good chance that if Wilson played in a better conference, he’d be more well-regarded by draft evaluators. However, it can be difficult to look at a guy playing on a team well below his talent level and discern just how good he really is. The ceiling for Wilson is as a steady corner outfielder who carries his weight in the lineup and hits 20 bombs, but the floor is Christin Stewart. He’s not a flashy prospect, but he’s the kind responsible teams often target because, in volume, these players tend to work out better for team building than the fun developmental projects.
A personal favorite is LHP Josh Hartle, a refined high schooler with some fun offspeed stuff who makes pitching look easy. Ole Miss’ ace RHP Gunnar Hoglund is talented enough to be taken in the first two dozen picks, but his recent UCL reconstruction could scare off teams. He might make a good candidate for an overslot deal in this round Local kid SS Alex Mooney had some serious first round buzz, but he hasn’t taken the next step so far this spring. Prep hurlers RHP Thatcher Hurd and LHP Gage Jump are spin-based projection projects. Curveball-slinging LHP Christian MacLeod is a low-risk lefty who has better stuff than most players of his archetype.