MINNEAPOLIS — The Tigers have signed all 11 of their picks from the first 10 rounds of the 2021 MLB Draft earlier this month. It didn’t come cheaply, but they believe it was worth the price.
With Monday’s announcement that third-round pick Dylan Smith has agreed to terms, the Tigers completed what was one of their trickiest Drafts since the signing pool rules went into effect a decade ago. Yet, in some ways, their work resembled the old days when the Tigers went over slot values aggressively when they felt it was worth it.
Smith, a right-handed ace from the University of Alabama, agreed to a $1,115,000 bonus, according to MLB.com’s Jim Callis. That’s well above the slot value of $844,200 assigned to the 74th overall pick. Since the Tigers had also gone above slot value to sign Competitive Balance pick Ty Madden and second-rounder Izaac Pacheco, Detroit actually had just $403,700 remaining from its Draft pool allotment.
Teams can go above that allotment, but pay different penalties depending on how far they exceed it. Teams that outspend their allotment by five percent or less pay a 75 percent tax on the overage. If a team goes beyond five percent over, the penalty includes forfeiture of a future first-round pick. Half of the MLB teams exceeded their pools last year, but no team has gone more than five percent since the spending pool rules went into effect nine years ago.
The Tigers came close. Smith’s reported bonus brought them within $790 of the threshold. The penalty on their estimated overage works out to about $529,425. For a Draft haul that includes two of MLB Pipeline’s top 10 Draft prospects, three of the top 30 and four of the top 74, it’s a penalty they’ll take.
Smith’s rise with the Crimson Tide in his junior season earned him comparisons as the school’s best pitching prospect since Spencer Turnbull, whom the Tigers drafted in the second round in 2014. His advanced grasp of his slider and curveball and his work with spin rates caught Detroit’s attention. He was also fairly young for a college junior, having just turned 21 at the end of May.
Seven of Detroit’s 11 picks in the top 10 rounds were pitchers. Only two were college seniors. By signing them all, topped by last week’s deals with first-rounders Jackson Jobe and Madden, the Tigers added buildup arms to a farm system that had leaned towards hitters the last couple years.
Add in the back half of the Draft, and the Tigers have signed 16 of their 21 picks. Central Florida catcher Josh Crouch, their 11th-round selection, is their highest-drafted pick yet to sign. All five are college players, though 20th-rounder J.D. McLaughlin was a junior college player at Central Arizona College.
Grossman looks for adjustments
Robbie Grossman is the lone veteran left in the Tigers’ outfield, but even he needs a day off now and then to clear his head. That came Monday, giving him a chance to catch his breath and take a different view of the game amidst an 8-for-35 stretch since the All-Star break. Three of those hits went for home runs, but he also has 10 strikeouts, half of them coming in a 1-for-11 series in Kansas City over the weekend.
Though Grossman entered Monday ranked second among American League hitters with 65 walks, his .226 average would be the lowest of his career if the season ended today.
“I take a lot of pride in what I do, and I’m not where I want to be statistically,” Grossman said Monday. “I’m proud of our team, I’m proud of how we play and how we’ve grown, but individually, I’m not where I want to be. In these last 60 games, I really want to play my butt off.”
His stats and metrics are a line of contrasts. Despite one of the best walk rates and lowest chase rates in the game, he isn’t doing as much as he can with pitches he hits. His 35.2 percent hard-hit rate is down from last year’s abbreviated season, according to Statcast, as is his 88.4 mph average exit velocity.
Sixty-four percent of the balls he’s put in play are line drives or fly balls — the highest in the Majors among players with at least 150 batted balls. But that entire increase comes on fly balls — his 36.8 percent rate is by far the highest of his career. His line-drive rate is actually down from last year. His average launch angle has jumped from 15.2 percent in 2020 to 20 percent this season.
Thus, even his career-best 40.7 percent sweet-spot rate isn’t helping him.
“It’s just how they’re attacking me,” Grossman said. “It’s a little different than they have before. They found something that works for them, and I know what they’re doing. It’s my chess move now.”