Henning: Here is what the Tigers might be mulling this week as the MLB Draft approaches

Detroit News

Editor’s note: This is the 19th in a weekly series of stories in which Detroit News freelance writer Lynn Henning will rank the top prospects in July’s MLB Draft.

One benefit from $40 million spent on opening new TigerTown facilities at Lakeland, Florida, in 2017 can be appreciated this week in the three-story building beyond right field at Marchant Stadium’s Publix Field.

There are plush meeting rooms on the lower floor. They look like nice classrooms: spacious, with comfortable chairs and wide desk-tables, complete with video screens, writing boards — the works.

The main room, in particular, which can seat several dozen people, will be brimming this week with Tigers executives, area scouts, cross-checkers, analytics staffers, doctors, and any other personnel that can have influence on projecting college and high-school players.

This is the Tigers Draft Headquarters, this and other office areas that will be marshaled as a team from Detroit gets ready for Sunday’s start to the 2021 MLB Draft.

More: 2021 MLB mock draft 1.0: Will Tigers make pitch or come up short?

The group gathered along with Tigers general manager Al Avila will spend most of this week finalizing a draft board that approaches 1,000 amateurs.

The Tigers scouts and staffers will discuss, debate, mull, argue, and finally establish a pecking order that will determine who they probably prefer in what this year will be a 20-round draft that extends through July 13.

Breaking it down

So many aspects of player evaluation go into deciding a priority order as draft boards are assembled.

Overall skills, for sure, are the main criterion, but by no means a lone element.

Can a player be signed for the right amount of money — a big, big deal if the player is a high-school star already armed with a college scholarship. Or, perhaps, it’s a college junior who either will get an enticing amount or perhaps opt to return to school for his senior season, as Tigers reliever Kyle Funkhouser did back in 2015 when he spurned the Dodgers and accepted a senior year at Louisville.

Money talks, always, and it will affect any number of considerations the Tigers and 29 other MLB teams carry into each of the 20 rounds.

MLB teams, of course, are limited to a particular overall bonus-pool each year, decided by Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office, just as they are offered fairly firm allotments for each round. You can juggle some of the money, perhaps offering slightly less to a first-round pick who’s comfortable with the idea of becoming an instant millionaire, even if it’s $5 million versus $8 million. That concession can work very niftily for a MLB club if it offers more money in a later round to, say, lure a prep star from his college commitment.

What a team can’t do is exceed by 5% its Manfred-decreed allowance. There is tax paid on any overruns up to 5%. If a MLB club cares to blow past 5%, Manfred’s gendarmes soon will be notifying you of a forfeited pick in next year’s draft.

Some teams are notoriously cheap in forking over first-round money, notably the Pirates, which has brought a slim degree of drama to Sunday’s first round.

The Pirates are expected to opt for Marcelo Mayer, the prep shortstop from Chula Vista, California, and a player the Tigers are known to like very, very much.

Mayer and his agent, John Boggs, have made it known they expect a full stipend from the Pirates, which Manfred’s office has decided is worth a maximum, $8,415,300.

The Pirates probably will pay it. Their new general manager, Ben Cherington, isn’t known for fooling around. He also likes bats and offense and players who project in the manner of Mayer.

But that, by no means, is a final verdict. The Pirates always could decide to sign another prep shortstop of significant talent and promise, say Kahlil Watson of Wake Forest, North Carolina, for a couple of million less (Watson presumably would grab it) and use the excess cash to hunt bigger game in subsequent rounds.

With the Rangers expected to snag Jack Leiter, the Vanderbilt ace, second, the Tigers would be free to summon their draft-day dream, who is Mayer.

More: Tigers draft watch: Detroit’s decision could come down to these 2 pitchers

Tigers to pick from preps?

But such scenarios aren’t terribly likely to play out Sunday.

The Tigers likely will spend this week chewing on their more reasonable options: Jackson Jobe, a right-handed prep right-hander from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; or Brady House, a big shortstop and right-handed power-swinger from Winder-Barrow High in Winder, Georgia.

The Tigers, without question, know what it will take to sign any of the above three and will see no trap doors if any of the above trio is selected. Scouts and families have those conversations in earnest and understand each other going into draft day.

More critically, far more critically, is the question surrounding every player drafted: Is this an athlete who can contribute at the big-league level? That very much is a question proportionate to the round in which the player is selected.

This also is where the ever-evolving world of analytics comes into the picture. And it has greatly increased success rates in a draft historically notorious for inviting early-round disasters.

Where a scout’s eyes were the nearly exclusive evaluative tool of yesteryear’s drafts, science and analytics now are intricately involved. Specifically, how does a player’s body project as he gets older and bigger? What red flags emerge when a pitcher’s throwing motion is X-rayed?

Throw all of the data together in a MLB team’s analytics lab and a scout can be left in the cold as bio-science perhaps wipes away all those detailed notes a scout amassed over a couple of years. The guy he very much wants at a particular round of the draft might not be a guy the team’s computer profile blesses.

It is also known this week that the Tigers are keeping a most open mind as scouts and cross-checkers and analytics gurus converge on deciding between Jobe and House — and on any number of subsequent jump-balls the Tigers will confront in later rounds.

Jobe, in particular, comes with a gambling advisory: He is a prep pitcher, and prep pitchers, more than any single position in a draft, are dice-rolls.

More: Tigers draft watch: Why Jackson Jobe could be an option for Detroit at No. 3

Likewise, the Tigers cannot with any certitude say House will hit for enough average to guarantee a place on Detroit’s left-side infield.

Know that these topics are being deeply dissected this week in the Lakeland draft arena.

How much would a fan pay to be on hand for this priceless exercise in baseball discourse?

No more, probably, than a baseball scribe who wishes he had CIA-grade expertise in bugging a room.

The Tigers can regard that as a light-hearted fantasy. Their building security is known to be very good.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

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