Inside the pick: How Detroit Tigers will make their decision at No. 3 in 2021 MLB draft

Detroit Free Press

Before one man stands on a stage in Denver to announce the Detroit Tigers‘ first pick (No. 3 overall) in the 2021 MLB draft, about 30 members of the will meet Sunday inside a conference room at the team’s spring training facility in Lakeland, Florida.

Planning for the draft started in January, when the Tigers hosted a series of meetings with their area scouts and cross-checkers to discuss the players identified from the spring and summer. These conversations evolved into a list, which led to trips across the country to see high school and college talents.

A couple weeks ago, Tigers’ staff members presented their findings at regional meetings. The players available for the upcoming draft were ranked by their area. From there, the regional list blended into an all-inclusive ranking, roughly 250 players deep.

The players are also ranked by position, including sorting pitchers by handedness and role. The Tigers typically list their top 10-20 options at each spot.

As for the 2021 draft, the Tigers consider these eight players among the best in the country: 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.

The Tigers have the No. 3 overall pick, with an MLB-determined bonus slot value of $7,221,200, following the Pittsburgh Pirates (No. 1) and Texas Rangers (No. 2). The draft begins at 7 p.m. Sunday and concludes Tuesday.

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General manager Al Avila will watch his big board closely when Sunday night rolls around. He wants to take the player with the highest upside without worrying too much over projected timelines for MLB debuts, even though the Tigers appear to be closing in on contending for the postseason.

This is Avila’s fourth top-five pick in as many years: Casey Mize went No. 1 overall in 2018; Riley Greene went No. 5 overall in 2019; Spencer Torkelson went No. 1 overall in 2020

Inside the room, several staffers — including senior director of baseball analytics and operations Jay Sartori and director of baseball analytics Jim Logue — will give their opinions framed by statistical analysis. The regional and national cross-checkers are set to attend, along with Avila, assistant GM David Chadd, amateur scouting director Scott Pleis and vice president of player development Dave Littlefield.

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As names are discussed, the regional scouting directors will talk about the player and the interactions with their family, while the analytics department will break down the numbers. Each person in the room who saw the player at any point gets to share what they learned.

Littlefield’s group oversees reading reports, gathering information and explaining the organization’s needs, which is especially helpful in the later rounds. Once the  picks are made, the player development team will evaluate where in the minors the draftee should start his career.

From the medical staff, senior director of medical services Kevin Rand and an assistant will be present, having done research since February on the prospects. Some players won’t be on the big board because of red flags. They get their own board, warning the Tigers not to draft them.

There’s a lot that goes into trying to ace the No. 3 overall pick and beyond. The plan is easier said than done: Take the players with the highest upsides in each of the first couple rounds, then focus on positions of need during the later rounds.

The debate: Jobe vs. House

What the Pirates and Rangers will do remains unclear, but the Tigers seem likely to pick between Jobe, an Oklahoma high school right-hander, and House, a Georgia high school shortstop. (This assumes the Pirates draft Mayer and the Rangers take Leiter, as many mock drafts are predicting.)

If Mayer is off the board, Jobe and House will be at the forefront of conversations for the Tigers at No. 3.

In Jobe, the Tigers would get a prep right-handed pitcher who turns 19 years old laterin July. He attended Heritage Hall High in Oklahoma City and, you guessed it, has the highest upside of any pitcher in the draft.

At 6 feet 2 and 190 pounds, Jobe sits at 96 mph with his fastball — touching 99 mph — and produces great spin with his slider. The fastball and slider are his best pitches, but the changeup isn’t far behind. He posted a 0.14 ERA, five walks and 122 strikeouts over 51⅔ innings during his senior year.

Here’s what Heritage Hall coach Jordan Semore told the Free Press: “The phone started blowing up (this season). Everybody was talking about his fastball, his slider, the spin rate on both and the consistency (to throw strikes). It’s pretty much been like that for the remainder of the year.”

Potential Tigers top pick Jackson Jobe’s 99 mph fastball isn’t his best feature ]

Some believe Jobe could follow the trajectory of Los Angeles Angels righty Dylan Bundy, an Oklahoma prep pitcher selected at No. 4 overall by the Baltimore Orioles in 2011. Bundy climbed through the Orioles’ system in 2012, from Low-A to a pair of MLB appearances as a 19-year-old. But he underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2013.

Jobe throws hard in high school, meaning there’s an added chance of injury, but there are risks with every player on the draft board.

Historically, the highest risks in the draft are high school bats and high school arms, even though these prep players usually provide the highest upside.

That’s why picking House isn’t a slam dunk, either.

The 6-4, 205-pound shortstop projects to provide power in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup for years to come. Imagine Greene in the two-hole, House batting third and Torkelson hitting cleanup. But his ability to make contact and limit strikeouts is unknown.

As a senior for Winder-Borrow High in Georgia, the 18-year-old hit .549 with 14 doubles, eight home runs and 20 RBIs in 31 games. He played shortstop, but some evaluators think he might fit better as a third baseman or a corner outfielder because of his arm strength and size.

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This year, he dropped his weight from 230 pounds to 205 pounds. He wants to be a shortstop, which is what the Tigers prefer.

“I’ve leaned up in the past year,” House told the Free Press. “I kind of figured out in the fall that, hey, if I want to try to stay at shortstop, I’m gonna have to lean up a little bit so I can stay agile. So that’s what I did. I’m doing, it’s just a different workout program basically, for me.”

House’s power could make him the pick — if the Tigers think he will stabilize himself at shortstop and develop his contact as the pitching gets better in the minors. Other than Mayer, House his projected with the highest upside among position players.

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What about Mayer?

The Tigers would be pleasantly shocked if Mayer, a prep shortstop from Eastlake High in southern California, drops to No. 3, allowing them to pick the top player on their board. The Pirates, though, are nearly a lock to take him with the first pick.

The slot value for the Pirates’ No. 1 overall pick is $8,415,300. Might they take a cheaper approach to the first round, cutting a deal with someone else — such as Davis, a pure slugger from Louisville — to spread their spending around all 20 rounds?

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If that happened, would the Rangers go for him, or stick with their previous choice of Leiter or Lawlar, the hometown prospect?

Whatever happens, Avila and his lieutenants must make the tough decision and hit on the pick to inject the rebuild with more talent.

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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