Breaking down eight players Detroit Tigers could select No. 3 overall in MLB draft

Detroit Free Press

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The 2021 MLB draft is approaching, and the Detroit Tigers have the No. 3 overall pick.

This year’s draft is a bit more challenging than in recent history. The Tigers tabbed Arizona State slugger Spencer Torkelson as the No. 1 overall pick in 2020 and Auburn right-hander Casey Mize at No. 1 overall in 2018.

With a few days until the draft (Sunday-Tuesday), there isn’t a consensus top pick, which means there’s not an agreed-upon second pick. This leaves the Tigers in a state of uncertainty until the Pittsburgh Pirates and Texas Rangers make their choices.

Expect general manager Al Avila to trim his list to three or four players by draft night. 

“We always try to get the best guy available at the time that we pick,” Avila said June 11. “The fact that this guy might take an extra couple of years to get there, and this guy might get there sooner, at the end of the day, we’ve always made the decision to take the guy we feel has the highest upside.”

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Eight players are in the mix for most teams at the top of the draft: high school shortstops Marcelo Mayer, Brady House, Jordan Lawlar and Kahlil Watson; Vanderbilt right-handed pitchers Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker; Louisville catcher Henry Davis and high school righty Jackson Jobe. 

“I think they have preferences for Mayer and House over the other two high school shortstops,” ESPN draft expert Kiley McDaniel told the Free Press. “But if those guys price themselves really high or go one and two, I think they would talk about the other two guys. There’s just too many possibilities to really say with certainty.”

There’s also the debate between picking Leiter, an established college pitcher, or Jobe, a prep pitcher with high upside, assuming they’re available and the Tigers want them. Recent mock drafts suggest Mayer will go No. 1 overall to the Pirates, with Leiter at No. 2 to the Rangers. But that could change.

“If you take a high school righty (Jobe) at the top, then you are out of the high-end position player mix, which is what they need to make the playoffs,” McDaniel said, adding the Tigers would benefit from another premium bat alongside rising prospects Torkelson, Riley Greene and Dillon Dingler. “That’s why I think, all things considered, they’re going to take a position player. And if the guys they like aren’t there, then they’ll take a pitcher.”

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Leiter posted a 2.13 ERA with 45 walks and 179 strikeouts over 110 innings in 18 starts for Vanderbilt this season. His teammate, Rocker, had a 2.73 ERA, 39 walks and 179 strikeouts over 122 innings in 20 starts. For Louisville, Davis hit .370 with 15 homers, 48 RBIs, 31 walks and 24 strikeouts in 50 games. 

Here’s a look at the eight players the Tigers will consider at the No. 3 overall, with McDaniel’s exclusive in-depth analysis: 

SS Jordan Lawlar

Age: 18.

School: Jesuit High School (Texas), Vanderbilt commit.

Vitals: 6 feet 2, 190 pounds.

Bats/throws: Right/right.

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What McDaniel thinks: “Lawlar has been above-average-plus in workouts and performance in games. All five tools, but there’s not like that standout tool, and he had a little bit of contact issues early in the spring. He’s somewhere in the middle in terms of upside, floor, hit ability. He falls in the middle of those other three (high school shortstops). The argument would be he is probably the quickest moving of them. He’s the oldest and most realized, so he might move the quickest, but I don’t think he’s necessarily the highest upside or the highest floor. That’s why he was seen as No. 1 among those guys entering the year, had that concern at the beginning of the spring and then recovered well. Now he’s getting lost in the shuffle a little bit because he’s not the best at any one of those important qualities.”

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SS Marcelo Mayer

Age: 18.

School: Eastlake High School (California), USC commit.

Vitals: 6-3, 188.

Bats/throws: Left/right.

What McDaniel thinks: “Mayer is the upside version of Watson. He is arguably as good, maybe a little better, of a left-handed hitter. He doesn’t have quite as much now-power as Watson but has a better chance to stick at shortstop. But he’s a silky smooth, left-handed hitter. He has all the markers, and you could imagine this guy might be Corey Seager, but the now-tools aren’t as good as those other guys because you’re counting on him adding strength. He may have a high floor and a high upside, so you can see how the Tigers would land on him and House.”

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RHP Jack Leiter

Age: 21.

School: Vanderbilt.

Vitals: 6-1, 205.

Bats/throws: Right/right.

What McDaniel thinks: “Physically, delivery, approach-wise, very similar to the Walker Buehler, Trevor Bauer kind of guy. The limitation would just be: Does the command continue to improve? A lot of home runs given up, that’s the scary part about pitching up in the zone. If you can’t get those spots, then you’re going to give up home runs. … He has the style of the modern ace, in terms of the shape of his stuff and how he attacks. He has the analytical approach and does stuff with Driveline. You have that on your side. While Kumar may have peaked amateur-wise as a freshman and has sort of just done a version of that going forward, Leiter continued adding elements. His dad (Al Leiter) was a really good big-league pitcher, and he seems to have his head screwed on in such a way that he continues improving and also has the stylistic stuff and the performance in college. He checks all those boxes.

“The risk for Leiter is that he’s on the small side, college right-hander with now-arm speed. It’s the demographic of, well, if he gets hurt, is he the same guy? If the command doesn’t get that much better, he could be a reliever or an inconsistent third-fourth starter. There’s just a lot of different ways to imagine this not going well. … Sometimes, it just takes a little while. In some ways, you can avoid all of those inherent risks by just taking a position player. That sort of seems better. … I think teams are talking themselves out of taking pitchers.”

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C Henry Davis

Age: 21.

School: Louisville.

Vitals: 6-2, 210.

Bats/throws: Right/right.

What McDaniel thinks: “If there was no robot ump on the horizon, he would be seen as a long shot to be a catcher. He’s got a huge 70- or 80-grade arm, no problem there. Pretty good athlete. I think some teams will look at him and say, ‘We can figure this out.’ In terms of framing and the intricacies of catching, it’s just not there. He’ll have balls get to the backstop at a much higher rate than anybody else. Ten years ago, it would be like, ‘Oh, this guy’s going to play first base, third base, left field, right field, designated hitter and emergency catcher.’ But it’s going to be .270 (batting average) with pretty good approach and 25-30 homers. You’re just buying a bat. The downside is, even with a robo-ump, there’s going to be some value lost in not being a standout defensive catcher. The type of hitter he is, he’s a little more of a strength-based guy. It’s not Evan Gattis (former six-year MLB catcher), but it’s more in that range of guys, whereas these high school hitters up high, it’s loose, bat speed, athletic. There’s a way to look at it and be like, ‘Is he going to have trouble against 97 (mph) on his hands more so than a guy with a different swing?’ If you just line it up with the performance and tools, you’d think this guy should go No. 1 overall. He’s a catcher who tore up the ACC … but there’s a little bit of a chance to peak early in the same way Rocker might have that sort of discussion around him.”

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SS Brady House

Age: 18.

School: Winder Barrow High School (Georgia), Tennessee commit.

Vitals: 6-4, 215.

Bats/throws: Right/right.

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What McDaniel thinks: “House has the highest upside. He’s most recently similar to Bobby Witt Jr. (Kansas City Royals), where there is concern about how much contact he will make. But the upside is .270 (batting average), 35 homers and can play shortstop. I think he’s the highest risk-reward guy, and the Tigers really like him. He’s absolutely in the mix for Detroit and will be discussed there. I think that’s part of the reason why: He’s the highest upside guy.”

RHP Kumar Rocker

Age: 21.

School: Vanderbilt.

Vitals: 6-5, 245.

Bats/throws: Right/right.

What McDaniel thinks: “With Rocker, it’s the swing-and-miss with the fastball, just from the analytical approach of what the shape of the fastball is and how much rise there is. He has to pitch off his breaking ball, so you’re looking at more of a Joe Musgrove (San Diego Padres). He’s going to be throwing cutters, breaking balls, things like that. He’s also physical maxed out. You kind of worry, is he going to peak earlier and not be quite as dynamic as Leiter? … He has some markers that make you think (he could end up in the bullpen). He’s probably weighed 250 pounds since he was 16 years old. His dad (Tracy Rocker) was an NFL defensive tackle, has been a D-line coach for a long time. He’s been sitting in the mid-90s and looking like a defensive lineman for six years now. That’s always a concern: Has he peaked physically and velocity-wise, and will he lose his athleticism more quickly than other players? But also, he hasn’t really been hurt or struggled in a real way since he was 16 either. There’s more concern with that than with Jobe or Leiter, but I don’t think he’s just going to fit in the bullpen. He would have to have some stuff actually go wrong, and you could come up with that bad of an outcome for any of these guys if things don’t go well.”

SS Kahlil Watson

Age: 18.

School: Wake Forest High School (North Carolina), N.C. State commit.

Vitals: 5-9, 178.

Bats/throws: Left/right.

What McDaniel thinks: “Watson is the highest floor guy. He may not have the highest upside because he’s sort of an average runner, may end up at second base and is a smaller, compact guy, so there’s not much physical strength to be added. But he probably is the best now-hit-power combination and can definitely play the infield. He’ll be the model analytics progressive-team friendly (player) for that reason, because you’re getting a little bit of the upside you get with a high school shortstop, but you’re getting some certainty because of the skill set.”

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RHP Jackson Jobe

Age: 18.

School: Heritage Hall High School (Oklahoma), Ole Miss commit.

Vitals: 6-2, 190.

Bats/throws: Right/right.

What McDaniel thinks: “Jobe is probably the highest upside pitcher in the draft. The concern — high school righty, up to 99 (mph) — is the risk of injury. He’s on the smaller side, but all the other stuff, for him specifically, is basically how you draw it up. He is a plus-athlete, probably third-fourth rounder as a position player. He’s been 94-97 (mph), touching 99. He has a 3,100 rpm breaking ball that grades as a 70, even by the eyeball. His change-up, which usually guys at this age don’t have, is plus, maybe plus-plus. You can imagine him having three 70-grade pitches and being a legitimate ace. It wouldn’t shock me if in one year from now he is considered a better prospect than Leiter, if Jobe takes the trajectory of Dylan Bundy (Los Angeles Angels), where he rolls through both A-ball levels and gets to Double A as a 19-year-old. Everything is there for that to happen. Going back to Leiter, you can imagine a bunch of ways it doesn’t work out. Well, this guy is 18. There’s even more ways this won’t work out.”

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Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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