There they were, preparing to pick deeper in the 2022 MLB Draft than at any point in the past five years, but not at all bothered with the 12th overall turn when 2022 stood to be vintage.
And then the Tigers ran into a bunch of prized college pitchers who crashed head-on into Tommy John surgery:
► Peyton Pallette, University of Arkansas
► Connor Prielipp, University of Alabama
► Landon Sims, Mississippi State
► Blade Tidwell, University of Tennessee
► Reggie Crawford, University of Connecticut.
Not all were headed for Top 10 or Top 12 draft status in 2022. But some of the above likely would have been seen as too strong to pass on in those first 10 or so slots, which would have freed the Tigers to get the college bat they probably most crave and most need.
And, so, the Tigers will look beyond the hitters who figure to be grabbed early in July’s draft — Brooks Lee, Jace Jung, Druw Jones, Jackson Holliday, Kevin Parada, Elijah Green, Termarr Johnson, Daniel Susac — and think about who might be sitting there at that 12th slot when they choose July 17.
Among the early possibilities, emphasis on “early”:
► Jud Fabian, outfielder, University of Florida: Folks who recall last year’s draft vigil will remember Fabian as a guy the Tigers might have considered at third overall, before they settled on Jackson Jobe. Alas, Fabian came down with a severe case of the whiffs and dropped to the second round where the Red Sox pounced. They couldn’t agree on money and Fabian returned for what has thus far been an unsurprising, bang-up early start for the Gators: eight home runs in 20 games, with a 1.188 OPS. He is 6-foot-2, 190, can play center field, and bats right-handed.
► Gavin Cross, outfielder, Virginia Tech: A left-handed masher (6-3, 215) who plays right field and first base, Cross would be a happy option for the Tigers at 12. But the way he has been slamming pitching in the early weeks suggests he could easily slip into Top 10-terrain. He has a .971 OPS for the Hokies in 20 games and has struck out all of five times. He has eight walks.
► Chase DeLauter, outfielder, James Madison: No surprise, the question about DeLauter is not his size (6-4, 250) or what his left-handed bat might do. It’s about the quality of college pitching he has seen at the James Madison level. On the plus side, he hit well last summer in 34 games at the Cape Cod League (.986 OPS, nine homers), which is why he will continue to be monitored by Tigers spies.
► Dylan Beavers, outfielder, California: Another of those treasured left-handed sticks, Beavers goes 6-4, 206, and of late has been heating up for the Bears. He carries a .398 on-base average (15 walks in 19 games), with seven homers and a .610 slugging percentage (1.008 OPS). If he continues to wallop Pac-12 pitches, the Tigers will remain more than interested.
► Jordan Crawford, outfield, Bishop Gorman High, Las Vegas: His father you might remember: Carl Crawford. Fast. All-around gifted. Nice big-league career. His son, to no one’s surprise, has brought all of his dad’s DNA to Bishop Gorman. He is dazzlingly fleet (6.11 seconds in the 60-yard dash), bats left-handed, with all the lightning in his swing you could expect from an 18-year-old. Jordan Crawford is 6-3, 175, and looks as if center field will be his home. He also pitches. In all likelihood, he will be signing for big big-league bucks in July even if he has committed to Louisiana State.
► Jacob Berry, 3B, Louisiana State: Lots of split verdicts on Berry, who presumably is a third baseman but lacks the agility to play third in professional baseball. Not that anyone really knows what to do with Berry. He had a big sophomore year in 2021 at the University of Arizona (17 homers, 1.115 OPS) and then decided that if LSU was good enough for his head coach, Jay Johnson, who decided on taking LSU’s offer, it was good enough for Berry. He has a fine switch-hitter’s bat that holds up from either side. He isn’t terribly big (6-foot, 212). And, again, because of his defense, no one is sure where he’ll play. But the Tigers seem always magnetized by LSU talent.
► Jordan Beck, outfielder, University of Tennessee: A person of interest, most likely, as the Tigers keep eyes and thoughts open. Southeast Conference play is percolating and SEC pitchers tend to reveal just who can, and can’t, be expected to swat quality stuff. Beck is 6-3, 225, bats right-handed, and was good enough out of high school to have earned a 14th-round pick from the Red Sox. He has a .954 OPS in 20 games, with five homers.
Of course, with the Tigers, there is always the chance they’ll become infatuated with a pitcher. It has happened in five of the past seven drafts (Jobe, Casey Mize, Alex Faedo, Matt Manning, Beau Burrows), and it can happen again, certainly.
Given that Georgia prepster Dylan Lesko is this year’s parallel to Jobe, expect Lesko (deep breath as those other blue-chip chuckers heal from TJ surgery) to be a definite Top 10 snag.
It’s always possible, given the Tigers’ traits, they would see something irresistible, as well, in prep lefty Noah Schultz, a 6-foot-9 swirl of arms and legs from Oswego East (Illinois) High. Schultz is headed for Vanderbilt unless some smitten MLB team (Tigers?) decides to head him off at the checkbook.
Otherwise, these are the early prime-time picks for the July 17-19 MLB Draft, which again will follow a Sunday-through-Tuesday format during All-Star Week.
► 1. Brooks Lee, shortstop, Cal-Poly: Splendid switch-hitter with all the trimmings (6-2, 195), even if he probably moves to third base or second base. Has a nifty 1.324 OPS through 19 games.
► 2. Druw Jones, outfielder, Wesleyan High, Norcross, Georgia: Yes, his dad happens to be Andruw Jones, whose case for a plaque in Cooperstown is still being made by those who might be just as impressed with Jones’ son. Druw (6-3, 180) is the nation’s premier young defender and swings a sweet right-handed bat, to boot. Could easily go first overall.
► 3. Jace Jung, second base, Texas Tech: The Tigers might well chomp into Jung, with relish, if they had this year’s third overall pick. He hits left-handed, and hits artfully — with pop. Has four homers and a 1.161 OPS through 21 games. Older brother, Josh, was a first-round pick (eighth overall) in 2018 by the Rangers.
► 4. Termarr Johnson, second base, Mays High, Atlanta: Could easily finish in the top two or three choices come July. Is only 5-10, 175, but might be the best prep hitter since Bobby Witt, Jr., was slurped up by the Royals in 2019.
► 5. Elijah Green, outfield, IMG Academy, Sarasota, Florida: Built more along the lines of his dad, Eric, who had a 10-year NFL career, Termarr is 6-3, 225. Swings left-handed and has the speed to play center. Bat isn’t as sure a thing as the above hotshots have shown, but scouts believe it will steadily blossom.
► 6. Jackson Holliday, shortstop, Stillwater (Oklahoma) High: Another who descends from big-league stock, his dad is Matt, and it looks as if son got quite an inheritance. Holliday might be the biggest mover on the early 2022 board. He swings left-handed and hits lightning bolts.
► 7. Dylan Lesko, pitcher, Buford (Georgia) High: A year ago it was clear Lesko could be the first pitcher nabbed in 2022. With all the college casualties, that still appears to be the story for a glorious athlete who is 6-3, 195, and who was last year’s Gatorade National Player of the Year — as a junior.
► 8. Kevin Parada, catcher, Georgia Tech: Not much chance Parada will slip out of the top 10, even if he isn’t viewed as a long-term MLB answer at catcher. He probably switches positions, maybe off the bat. Speaking of bats, Parada wields a true (right-handed) weapon: eight home runs in 20 games thus far for Georgia Tech, with a .400 batting average and 1.248 OPS.
► 9. Daniel Susac, catcher, University of Arizona: Much better all-around catching prodigy here, with deft skills behind the plate, especially for a man 6-4, 205. He also switch-hits. In 19 games for the Wildcats, he has a 1.196 OPS. Not bad for a 20-year-old, as scouts have noted when playing above your age is considered gold in forecasting big-league futures.
► 10. Brock Jones, outfield, Stanford University: Looked as if he might be Top Five material before a major chill struck his early-season bat. Still could catch fire, given his stunning athleticism and left-handed bat. But he’ll need to get it rolling or risk becoming this year’s Jud Fabian.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.