Let’s decipher the words of Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila.
Because he has already hinted about who the Tigers will pick with the No. 3 pick in the MLB draft on Sunday night.
“At the end of the day, we’ve always made the decision to take the guy we feel has the highest upside,” Avila told reporters June 11.
Clearly, he’s talking about Marcelo Mayer, a high school shortstop from California. Not only is Mayer the best hitter in this draft, he’s also the best fielder. Trouble is, Mayer is expected to be taken first overall by the Pirates.
So you can scratch him off the list — in pencil, of course, because nothing about this draft is certain.
What player has the next “highest potential,” to use Avila’s term?
In my mind, it’s Brady House, a big-hitting, strong-armed high school shortstop from Georgia. He can absolutely crush the ball. Experts say he has the most power in this draft.
House could solve two problems.
He fills the Tigers’ biggest organizational need: He could anchor the defense at shortstop.
And he gives the Tigers something else they need desperately: another big bat.
You can make a solid argument he has the highest potential of any position player in this draft. He projects to be a 30-home run guy. Maybe more than that.
Just for kicks, imagine this Tigers lineup:
Akil Baddoo leading off and playing left.
Riley Greene batting second and playing center.
Spencer Torkelson hitting third and playing first base.
Brady House hitting cleanup and playing short.
And Dillon Dingler batting fifth and catching.
That’s a heck of a lineup that could be together in Detroit for a long time. All of them can knock the ball out of the park. All of them have versatility, which manager AJ Hinch would love, considering Torkelson can play third, Greene can play right, Baddoo can move to center, House could slide over to third and Dingler has outfield experience.
And it could be closer than you think. Some believe House, 18, could fly through the minor leagues.
A few weeks ago, I spent time talking with Brady and his mother and father. I really like this kid and his family. He has that small-town vibe. Driven and focused.
I don’t think the Tigers could go wrong taking him.
If he gets too big — he put on 20 pounds of muscle during the COVID-19 pandemic until he realized he was too muscular and slimmed down — he could always move to third base.
And the Tigers could find a shortstop in free agency.
I’m also enamored with Jordan Lawlar, a high school shortstop from Texas.
For different reasons.
Lawlar, 18, is a speed guy and a better defender.
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He is a consistent hitter who is expected to add power later, which is the formula the Tigers used when drafting Nick Castellanos. And if the Tigers took Lawlar, it would be understandable. He, too, is a great kid with incredible potential.
“If his power catches up to his other tools in his 20s, he could be a regular All-Star,” Baseball America wrote. “If not, his hitting ability, speed and defense still would give him a solid path to being an MLB regular with defensive value.”
A regular All-Star? Sounds like a fantastic upside. But I think he’ll be taken by the Rangers with the No. 2 pick.
Can’t have enough pitching
While the Tigers need bats, I would not be surprised if they took a pitcher — it could solidify the rotation for years to come.
Right now, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal look like they will be in Detroit a long time.
But what do the Tigers have after that?
Matt Manning, the Tigers’ top pitching prospect, is still a work in progress.
Joey Wentz, a lefty, has promise and potential, and could be in the big leagues next season. But he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery. I saw him pitch for the Erie SeaWolves a few weeks ago and he looked like a guy coming back from Tommy John — inconsistent.
And Alex Faedo, a first-round pick in 2017, is also recovering from that surgery.
If all of those guys pan out, the Tigers would have the makings of an amazing rotation.
But something always seems to go wrong with pitchers.
And there is a truth about baseball: You can never have enough pitching.
Which brings us to the Vanderbilt boys.
Imagine sliding Jack Leiter or Kumar Rocker into this Tigers rotation.
Both have already proved themselves in the SEC, a tremendous positive.
But scouts have found negatives for both:
Leiter, 21, is short for a pitcher (6 feet 1), has a tendency to give up home runs and there are durability concerns. But he is polished and might get to Detroit quickly, though he may not become an ace.
Rocker, it seems, has been at Vanderbilt forever, especially after a great performance as a freshman in 2019. The 21-year-old has a 6-5, 245-pound frame and is blessed with a 99 mph fastball and a fantastic slider. But there are concerns about his inconsistent velocity this spring.
So let’s go back to Avila’s comment.
If the Tigers do what they say, if they are indeed looking for the “highest upside” and not just the player with the quickest route to the big leagues to spur this rebuild, then they would take Jackson Jobe, a high school pitcher from Oklahoma.
Jobe has a 99 mph fastball and a nasty slider, perhaps the best pitch of anybody in this draft.
Granted, it is becoming increasingly uncommon for a high school pitcher to be taken in the top five picks. In the past two years, no high school pitcher has been selected higher than 15th because it’s so risky.
Not your ordinary draft pick
So where does that leave us?
In many ways, this will be the defining moment for Avila.
Drafting Torkelson and Mize at No. 1 were no-brainers.
Drafting Greene with the No. 5 pick in 2019 looks better every day.
But those drafts were revealing: Torkelson and Greene were both considered the best pure hitters in their respective classes.
Let’s apply that same logic and formula. The Tigers will be looking for a player with a special tool.
Mayer is considered the best hitter and best defender in this draft. If he’s available, you take him, no question. But he’ll be gone.
House has the best power.
Leiter might have the best fastball when you consider control and movement, and Jackson has the best slider and biggest upside of any pitcher.
If Avila goes with a position player and gets this right, the heart of the batting order could be solidified for years to come.
And if he goes with a pitcher — and gets it right — the Tigers could have an amazing pitching rotation.
Want a fresh dose of hope?
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Avila has taken heat for many of his trades — and rightfully so — but he should also be given credit for hiring Hinch, selecting Baddoo in the Rule 5 draft and seemingly nailing the 2020 second-round pick in Dingler.
This year, the Tigers have a competitive balance pick, No. 32, and the third pick in Round 2, No. 39. If they find two more studs out of those three picks — or at least a stud and two strong contributors — this team will be on its way.
But if Avila gets this wrong, this lengthy rebuild will last even longer.
Granted, everything can change depending on who is taken with the first two picks. But if this draft goes down like I think — with Mayer going to the Pirates and Lawlar to the Rangers — I’d take House.
It’s safer than taking Jobe.
And a higher upside than taking Leiter.
Take it to the House.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.