Izaac Pacheco provides power as a left-handed hitter.
His hands and feet are smooth enough to guarantee defensive stability somewhere on the field and his arm is powerful and accurate. It’s easy to imagine Pacheco hitting fifth or sixth in a big-league batting order, possibly as a third baseman or corner outfielder.
But the Detroit Tigers need to try something else first. They want to test the 18-year-old at shortstop.
“Really exciting upside high school player,” Tigers amateur scouting director Scott Pleis said Monday. “We think he’s going to play short. If he had to go to third (base), he would be a plus defender at third with a plus arm and power from the left side.”
General manager Al Avila selected Pacheco with the No. 39 overall pick Tuesday in the 2021 MLB draft, after snagging Oklahoma City Heritage Hall High School right-handed pitcher Jackson Jobe (No. 3 overall) and Texas right-handed pitcher Ty Madden (No. 32 overall). A Texas A&M commit, Pacheco arrives from Friendswood High School in Texas.
“I kind of had a gut feeling that I would be a Tiger, and it worked out in my favor,” Pacheco said Monday. “I’m excited to get going. Their development program is second to none. I know they got a young group of guys and I’m excited to get in that group, compete and hopefully win a World Series.”
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Pacheco (6 feet 4, 225 pounds) wants to win a championship as the Tigers’ everyday shortstop on projected roster that could include Jobe, Madden, first/third baseman Spencer Torkelson, outfielder Riley Greene, catcher Dillon Dingler and a trio of young pitchers already in the majors: Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning.
The Tigers still need a shortstop for the 2022 season to make a push for the postseason. Pacheco is a developmental project.
“If I can work to stay at shortstop, that’s great,” Pacheco said. “But for me, I’m a guy who can play anywhere in the field. I really use my stick as my big thing. I’ll do anything to help my team win. Whether that’s playing third, short or whatever the case might be, I’m open to it.”
Evaluators compare Pacheco to Winder-Barrow High School (Georgia) shortstop Brady House, who the Tigers were linked to before taking Jobe in the first round. House was considered one of the best high school hitters for a team, such as the Tigers, searching for a ton of upside.
But House’s ability to hit for average and limit strikeouts will be tested by upper-level arms. He probably fits better as a third baseman or right fielder because of his size and strong arm.
The Tigers were interested, but they picked Jobe in Sunday’s first round. Eight picks later, House went No. 11 overall to the Washington Nationals.
By Monday, Avila had the next best thing on his team. Pacheco and House profile as similar high school players, except Pacheco does his damage from the left side of the plate. The Tigers hope he develops into a complete hitter, regardless of what happens defensively.
Due to Pacheco’s power, strikeouts could overwhelm him early in his professional career. He wants to be a consistent all-around hitter, so he has already taken steps to better his plate discipline. More adjustments will be needed in the minor leagues.
His approach improved during the spring, thanks to watching film from each of his plate appearances and taking detailed notes about what he did — or didn’t do — in the batter’s box.
“Over the spring, I cut down my strikeouts,” Pacheco said. “I learned my swing and tried to keep it as simple as possible. I learned what I needed to do to cut down the strikeouts, whether it’s learning what pitches I can swing at, staying off that high pitch that a lot of guys are swinging at these days and just learning my swing and what I can do that the plate. It’s helped me a lot so far.”
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Pacheco put everything on display May 21, as Friendswood swept the Class 5A regional quarterfinals series with a 15-7 win against Port Neches-Groves. The shortstop went 5-for-5 with two doubles, smashed a three-run homer and chipped in 10 RBIs.
“We were down two (runs) in the bottom of the first inning,” Pacheco said. “Guys on second and third, so I didn’t want to get too big. I wanted to hit a little single, and I ended up scoring two. That shows my hit ability. Fifth inning, we were down and needed some runs. I ended up hitting a three-run home run.”
He believes his performance in the playoffs reminded scouts of his value as a prep slugger with the upside of an all-around hitter.
And that’s exactly why the Tigers picked him in the second round.
“It just shows my maturity at the plate,” Pacheco said. “I’m not a selfish player, where I want to hit the long ball every single time. I want to do anything to help my team win.”
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.