Mattison, 21, was chosen No. 104 overall. He is the fifth player drafted by the Tigers, following high school pitcher Jackson Jobe (No. 3 overall), Texas right-handed pitcher Ty Madden (No. 32), high school infielder Izaac Pacheco (No. 39) and Alabama right-handed pitcher Dylan Smith (No. 74).
“He’s big and strong,” Tigers amateur scouting director Scott Pleis said Monday. “He throws strikes. He’s got velocity. He’s got a breaking ball, a good changeup. He’s definitely a starter. Just the whole package, I thought, was good.”
Rounds 2-10 of the draft are Monday, and Rounds 11-20 are Tuesday afternoon.
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A senior in 2021, Mattison posted a 10-3 record, 2.46 ERA, 14 walks and 95 strikeouts over 80⅓ innings across 13 starts. He pitched 232⅔ innings across 46 games (39 starts) in his college career, logging a 3.52 ERA. There isn’t a lot out there about Mattison, considering most evaluators weren’t expecting him to get picked as soon as the fourth round. Baseball America points out his fastball sits between 92-95 mph and reached 97 mph, and this pitch has proven to sustain its velocity deep into his starts. Of his secondary pitches, his changeup is his biggest weapon — but it’s only an average pitch. He also throws a curveball and cutter.
Why it makes sense
The Tigers want to enhance their pitching, which also includes the bullpen. While Mattison started for Bryant, he should be looked at as a wild-card MLB starting pitcher with a chance to contribute in the bullpen. His strikeout rate and command improved in 2021, which should boost his chances of starting, but his lack of plus-pitches could eventually send him to the bullpen. Considering his fastball reaches 97 mph, he could take a route comparable to Kyle Funkhouser, who was a starter coming out of Louisville in the fourth round of the 2016 draft until the Tigers shifted him to the bullpen. This season, Funkhouser is thriving in the big leagues with a 2.41 ERA over 33⅔ innings. Mattison turns 22 in September, so the Tigers could envision a quick rise to the majors, if he becomes a reliever. He is the most unknown player Detroit has selected through four rounds, so his future isn’t as easy to project.
Why it’s a risk
Mattison slipped under the radar, similar to the way Tarik Skubal dropped to the ninth round in 2018, because there are some uncertainties. If he develops a strong breaking ball or if his cutter becomes a dominant pitch, the Tigers will likely be pleased with the results. But there’s a chance he doesn’t develop a strong third pitch to enhance his fastball-changeup mix. He went undrafted in last year’s five-round event, after recording an 8.53 ERA, 10 walks and 18 strikeouts over 19 innings (four starts) in the shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ahead of the draft, Baseball America ranked him as the 362nd-best player available. (MLB Pipeline didn’t include him in its top 250.) By picking Mattison, the Tigers have set themselves up for a developmental test that could pay off with a big reward.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.