Ty Madden stood behind the batting cage, watching Miguel Cabrera take batting practice on Monday afternoon in Comerica Park.
And it started to dawn on him.
Professional baseball is no longer a childhood fantasy.
“I’m starting realize how close you are to this level,” he said, standing on the edge of the grass in Comerica Park. “I’m starting to realize I’m done with college now and moving on to the next step. It still hasn’t hit me yet, but it’s starting to settle in.”
A moment later, Robbie Grossman came up and shook his hand.
“Best of luck,” Grossman said. “If you need anything, get my number … ”
MLB Pipeline rated Madden the No. 9 player in this draft and the Tigers were stunned that he was available.
But as the draft started to unfold, Madden started slipping.
Right into their lap.
The fact they got him turned this into a fantastic draft for the Tigers. Because he was an absolute steal at No. 32.
You need to find some gems outside the first round to spark a rebuild.
In 1976, the Tigers got the mother lode when they got shortstop Alan Trammell (second round), Dan Petry (fourth round) and Jack Morris (fifth round).
Relax, I’m not saying the Tigers did that.
But they found Tarik Skubal in the ninth round in 2018.
They got catcher Dillon Dingler in the second round last year — and he was a fantastic pick.
And Madden has the potential to give the Tigers another key piece.
The moments that made the pick
“Take me into the draft room,” I said to Scott Pleis, the Tigers scouting director. “Do you see him start to slip and you are watching him and you start to get nervous, hoping he’s there?”
Then, Pleis told me an interesting story that put everything into perspective.
There have been times when Pleis really wanted a player, and he’s gotten nervous, watching the board, hoping that player would be available.
But not this time.
Because Pleis never thought that Madden would slip to the Tigers at No.32.
Never in his wildest dreams.
Even as Madden started to slide.
“I was like, he’s not getting to us,” Pleis said. “There’s no way he’s getting to us.”
But then, it started to happen.
“He just kept coming closer and closer,” Pleis said.
Then — bam. He was there.
“I should have been nervous the whole time,” Pleis said, laughing. “But I never did because I never thought he was getting to us.”
So the Tigers grabbed him at No. 32 — a guy with a fastball that touches 99.
A guy who pitched in the College World Series , throwing two times against Mississippi State, the eventual national champions, allowing four earned runs over 13 innings, while striking out 18.
A guy who had 37 career appearances at Texas, including 30 starts, striking out 200 and walking 72.
“I saw him super good early on,” Pleis said. “And he was really good on our board. I see a very competitive, driven kid, great makeup, plus stuff, going to do whatever it takes to be a really good big leaguer. He’s wired the right way for the athletes that you want to play in this field. He’s got great stuff. And he’s gonna do whatever it takes.”
He fits right in
Madden met with manager AJ Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter on Monday.
“We watched him in the College World Series,” Hinch said. “We’re very excited to get him at the point of the draft where we did and I told him to look around because the pitching staff we have is about his age.”
Madden is 21 years old.
Casey Mize and Skubal are both 24, while Spencer Torkelson is 21 and Riley Greene is 20.
“He can be a fast mover if he throws strikes and adapts to the pro game as we expect him to,” Hinch said. “He’s a high-end talent and I think he’s going to be a part of what we’re doing moving forward.”
That’s why this pick was so important.
It’s easy to see Madden finding a role in the Tigers’ rebuild, another piece in the rotation.
“The key for us now with him is make sure that he doesn’t focus so much on the next couple of months as much as he does get himself ready for next season,” Hinch said.
Hinch described Madden as “pretty bright and understandably anxious to sign and get into pro ball.”
A short time later, Madden was in the dugout, introducing himself to several players.
Then, he had a lengthy conversation with Fetter and Juan Nieves, the assistant pitching coach.
“It’s a dream come true,” Madden said. “It’s incredible.”
Madden looked around Comerica Park, at the vast outfield, and he had the same reaction as every other pitcher.
“It’s awesome,” Madden said. “I’ve never been here before. It’s giant, but that plays to my favor. It’s beautiful, and I hope to throw here soon.”
Madden already has a close connection with Torkelson.
They were roommates in the Cape Cod League.
“He’s a great dude,” Madden said.
Then he laughed.
“He was clean,” Madden said.
Well, yeah, that’s how you judge a roommate, right?
“The dude’s got legit skills and his pop is unreal,” Madden said. “I look forward to playing with him soon.”
The Tigers are hoping for the exact same thing.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.