It’s become an annual hobby for me to peruse the draft rankings provided by MLB Pipeline and look for players who may interest the Tigers in the middle rounds of the draft. While Pipeline isn’t my favorite draft resource, the draft itself usually takes an unexpected route and predraft media rankings often have little correlation to the actual results. Thus, it makes more sense to pick out players who match the Tigers’ developmental system than their draft positioning.
That being said, the Detroit has become difficult to predict over the last three drafts. Each has defied expectations in a slightly different way, as have the first two picks of the 2021 draft. Now, more than ever, these are stabs in the dark, but it’s still fun for me to try to figure out the Tigers’ strategy and write about a few matching players.
SS Alex Ulloa, Calvary Christian (FL)
The average Tigers international signee under Al Avila is a player who is physically mature for his age and has decent feel for the barrel with a chance to grow into more power and questionable ability to stay at a premium defensive position. Ulloa offers a similar package of traits as a middle rounds prospect. He has recorded above-average sprints, but his defensive motions are better suited for second base than shortstop in the long term. However, he could be a faster-developing prospect than his peers because of his understanding of how to hit and well-developed body.
RHP Calvin Zeigler, TNXL Academy (FL)
The Tigers have been linked to Zeigler by various sources, so it’s tough to ignore the possibility that they’ll pull the trigger on him during the second day of the draft. He’s something of a throwback to Dombrowski-era prospects, he reclassified from the 2020 draft class to 2021 and is therefore a year older than his peers. His fastball is a weapon and his slider has projection as a usable pitch, but he needs to make gains with his command and his changeup. Additionally, he’s on the small side for a starting pitcher and needs to improve his ability to find the strike zone.
SS Cameron Cauley, Barbers Hill (TX)
Cauley is a plus runner and an ultra-confident competitor, a pairing of attributes that leads to highlight reel worthy stolen bases and defensive highlights. He’s also capable of doing damage in the batter’s box. Because of his short arms and quick hands, Cauley is able to produce surprisingly good bat speed, which allows him to strike the ball with authority despite his small stature. He also has a good feel for the strike zone and can distribute hits to all parts of the field. If he had a few extra inches, he’d be a first round prospect.
As it is, Cauley, Zeigler, and Ulloa would have to be bought out of their commitments to Texas Tech, Auburn, and Oklahoma State, respectively. None are thought to have especially low signability players, but a little creativity could be needed. Perhaps it would require dipping into the penalty-free 5% overage on the team’s bonus pool.
RHP Landon Marceaux, LSU
Marceaux was a draft prospect out of high school, bolstered to mid-rounds considerations by feel for spinning two breaking balls and an understanding of how to pitch. He went undrafted because of his uninspiring fastball and signing bonus demands that didn’t match his skillset. A mainstay of the Tigers’ rotation all three of his years in college, he’s only deepened his understanding while adding a couple ticks to his fastball. He doesn’t have a lot of projection or a big ceiling, but he’s well-rounded and competent. His eagerness to learn could pair well with Detroit’s newly revamped data-based approach to pitcher development. Regardless of whether he pops as a pro, he’s very ready to take on the minors and has enough stuff to eventually be a big-leaguer.
IF/OF Tanner Allen, Mississippi State
The 23-year-old Allen has been in college for four years and absolutely must make a quick impact in the professional ranks to stay afloat. He’s a good bet to do just that, as his profile is centered around his ability to simply hit. “He has a quick, compact stroke and makes consistent line-drive contact, controls the strike zone and uses the whole field. He… has the bat speed and strength for average power if he turns on more pitches and launches them in the air more often,” wrote Pipeline. He’s improved himself as an athlete since 2019, when he was drafted as a sophomore by the Rockies, and can hypothetically play all four corners
RHP Braden Olthoff, Tulane
I can hear the groans already as I type the expression “pitchability righty,” but among that most unappreciated demographic, there are few who do it better than Olthoff. He has a simple, low-effort delivery that allows him to deliver strikes to any part of the zone with any of his four pitches. Pipeline prefers his changeup and slider among his offspeed pitches, but the curveball can be a major league offering as well. What hold him back is fastball velocity — he sits in the 88-91 miles per hour range doesn’t do himself any favors with his minimal extension. He is the kind of player who gets little attention as a draftee, tears up the low minors, and sometimes finds a niche in the big leagues.
OF Isaiah Thomas, Vanderbilt
The Tigers had a strong scouting presence on Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, and therefore, they would have gotten plenty of looks at Thomas in the process. He strikes out too much, but not enough to take him off the board altogether. He makes up for his poor pitch selection with big raw power, plus athleticism, and the ability to play center field. Things will get a little dicier, though, if he has to move to left field in order to accommodate his large frame. There, more pressure would be put on his bat and he may not be able to make enough contact to float the profile there.
Extra Credit: Dallas Baptist LHP