Arm issues take toll on MLB Draft, where Tigers could look for bat at No. 12

Detroit News

As sure as bets go in the MLB Draft — and that’s one reason gambling can be perilous — the Tigers would jump on Texas Tech left-handed swinger and infielder Jace Jung with their 12th overall turn July 17 in the MLB Draft’s first round.

Jung, however, could/should be gone by the time Detroit chooses.

And that probably would not have been the case even three months ago, before a battery of pitchers — college and prep — were piled atop a rising stack of Tommy John surgery casualties.

“I’ve never seen it like this — everybody’s blowing out,” said Scott Pleis, director of amateur scouting for the Tigers, who during a Tuesday Zoom session spoke with media about the Tigers’ 2022 draft plans.

“I’ve never seen it this light with arms, college especially.”

It’s a star-crossed group that began even in 2021 heading for reconstructive surgery, with a bizarre rash of ligament-replacements then and since: Connor Prielipp, Peyton Pallette, Landon Sims, Blade Tidwell, Reggie Crawford, Henry Williams.

Not even the best high-school chucker in the nation, Georgia prep Dylan Lesko, could stave off Tommy John in 2022.

It leaves the Tigers hoping for a surprise or two — or three — among those 11 teams that precede them when the draft gets rolling at 7 p.m., July 17.

Jung, who is 21 and who sizes up as 6-foot, 205 pounds, batted .335 this year, his junior season, with a 1.093 OPS and 14 home runs in 61 games for the Red Raiders. He is the younger brother of Rangers hot prospect, Josh Jung, who was drafted eighth overall in 2019.

The Tigers are all but acknowledging they want a bat, badly — preferably a college slasher, which brings fewer risks to a hitter’s profile — but simply can’t be sure Jung or an equally appealing hitter will be around.

It’s a matter of those premier arms disappearing, some of whom would have carried Top 10 draft status. The Tommy John layoffs have pushed a gaggle of hitters into top 15 consideration, even if they probably don’t belong (hello, Justin Crawford; hi, Jett Williams).

The Tigers are looking at a 2022 draft board they realize, even now, will play out in something close to these contours:

Prep hot-tickets Druw Jones, Jackson Holliday, Termarr Johnson, and Elijah Green — all position players — will be gone either in the top five picks, or very quickly thereafter.

A handful of college star-hitters also are booked for Top 10 tickets: Brooks Lee (Cal Poly), Kevin Parada (Georgia Tech), Jacob Berry (LSU), Cam Collier (Chipola Junior College, Chipla, Florida), and Gavin Cross.

Jung might also be swept away during those first 10 turns. Or, sticking a knife in the Tigers’ gizzards, he could go to the Mets at No. 11 overall.

The Tigers are picking just deep enough into the first round to perhaps obliterate any shot at one of those readier-made college bats they ideally would bring to a mix that now features Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson.

“If there’s a surprise, it probably would be a good surprise,” said Pleis, all but acknowledging some of those preferred hitters likely will have vanished before Detroit picks. “If some (team) takes someone you didn’t expect they’d take, someone probably falls to us.”

Then again, the Tigers have been known to opt for arms even when billboard hitters who were quickly swallowed up by other clubs were sitting there.

Pleis is aware of a debate that has been ongoing since last July when the Tigers passed on prep shortstop Marcelo Mayer at third overall and instead chose prep pitcher Jackson Jobe.

Jobe is undergoing a kind of pitching initiation at low-Single A Lakeland, while Mayer is playing beautifully (.291 batting average, .898 OPS, seven home runs) at low-A Salem. Another exquisite prep shortstop from a year ago, Jordan Lawlar (sixth overall), has had an even bigger year on the Diamondbacks farm.

“We felt Jackson Jobe was above and beyond the other players,” Pleis said. “We thought he was by far the best talent, and you just don’t pass on guys like that. You start passing on guys to fit a spot or position, and it’s tough — you’re going to miss on somebody really good.

“I get it every year,” Pleis continued. “Everybody wants a bat. Then, when we take a bat, everybody wants a pitcher. Then we need a shortstop …

“We’re taking the best player we can that will have the most impact for the Detroit Tigers.”

Mock drafts are divided, deeply, on who the Tigers might take at 12:

Jung is, of course, the popular pick should he somehow slip to 12. Prielipp (the University of Alabama left-hander returning from last year’s surgery), Crawford (fleet center-fielder and son of former MLB star Carl Crawford), and even Cade Horton, a right-handed ace from the University of Oklahoma — all have been mentioned by various outlets.

It also is possible the Tigers could go local and take another prep right-hander: Brock Porter, from Orchard Lake St. Mary, who has Top 15 status (Baseball America).

More: St. Mary’s pitcher Brock Porter named Gatorade National Player of the Year

Would the Tigers gamble on one of those blue-chip arms now healing from Tommy John?

Prielipp is a year removed from his repairs and has been throwing bullpen sessions. What about others recovering when the Tigers likely will have been privy to medical reports and when Tommy John surgery has become so routine — with routine 12-to-15-month recoveries?

“Probably not what we’d want to do,” Pleis said. “We’d like to take a guy who’s healthy and not had any issues. But nowadays, with Tommy John, these guys come back and can be very productive.

“I wouldn’t rule out anything.”

What is known is this: A once-deep draft, considered at the start of 2022 to be loaded with arms has all but disintegrated in terms of thoroughbred presence.

The Tigers seem never to catch a break in a particular year’s sweepstakes, picking too deeply when there is a Bobby Whitt, Jr., at the top of the heap, or too soon when pitchers are considered more exceptional and more plentiful than bats.

This year it could be they’re just missing, again, in being able to get their ideal inventory.

But, as Pleis said, that isn’t to rule out a surprise on July 17 — a surprise the Tigers definitely would consider to be in their favor.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

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