Detroit Tigers add Notre Dame RHP Tanner Kohlhepp in Round 5 of 2021 MLB draft

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers selected Notre Dame right-handed pitcher Tanner Kohlhepp with their fifth-round pick in the 2021 MLB draft.

Kohlhepp, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound redshirt sophomore, was chosen No. 135 overall. He is the fifth pitcher the Tigers have drafted in six selections, following high school pitcher Jackson Jobe (No. 3 overall), Texas right-handed pitcher Ty Madden (No. 32), high school infielder Izaac Pacheco (No. 39), Alabama right-handed pitcher Dylan Smith (No. 74) and Bryant University right-handed pitcher Tyler Mattison (No. 104).

“He can start,” Tigers amateur scouting director Scott Pleis said Monday. “I’ve seen him throw out of the bullpen, but he’s going to be a starter. He can throw strikes. He’s got really good stuff. He’s a little funky, the way he does it, but it adds deception to the hitter, so his stuff will play up. We’ll start him, and I think he’ll be a good starter.”

Rounds 2-10 of the draft are Monday; Rounds 11-20 are Tuesday afternoon.

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The player

This year, Kohlhepp went 7-2 with a 3.08 ERA, 22 walks, 65 strikeouts and two saves in 61⅓ innings over 23 appearances (one start). He was named All-ACC second team. His .195 opponent batting average ranked third in the conference. The 22-year-old is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and played his freshman year at Tennessee, before attending Iowa Western Junior College in 2020.

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Why it makes sense

What Kohlhepp offers as a pitcher begins with his fastball, which has reached 99 mph but typically sits in the mid-90s. He also features a slider and change-up. At the very least, he can take over as a power reliever with his sinking fastball and swing-and-miss slider. Using Kohlhepp in a bullpen role is the safest bet and would provide the Tigers with a much-needed reliever of the future who can be used in a variety of situations. But there might be more to his arm than bullpen help.

Why it’s a risk

Evaluating this pick depends on what the Tigers are thinking. If they want to stretch Kohlhepp out as a starter, which might be the smartest move considering his arsenal, anything could happen. He isn’t much of an established pitcher, and he has struggled with control in the past. These are not encouraging signs for someone who could enter the rotation, but his makeup — strong fastball and slider — gives the Tigers hope if they want him to start. Still, Kohlhepp probably needs to get through one or two seasons as a professional before the Tigers make their final decision. A lot must happen before the Round 5 pick can be judged.

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

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