The Detroit Tigers are preaching a familiar message.
“We’re trying to get the best guy,” director of amateur scouting Scott Pleis said Tuesday. Teams across the league often stick to this mantra ahead of MLB drafts, with the 2022 edition beginning at 7 p.m. July 17.
The Tigers pick No. 12 overall.
But there’s a new message, too: Win now.
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Owner Christopher Ilitch, general manager Al Avila and manager A.J. Hinch publicly put the long rebuild to rest in spring training, and building a sustainable winner is the holy grail, despite the Tigers’ 34-47 record through the first half of this season.
“You really got to be true to who’s the best guy, who’s going to bring the most impact, who’s going to be the best for the Tigers organization,” Pleis said. “I think you got to stick with that and make sure you get the right guy.
“Chris has said it many times. He’s committed to winning. He wants to win. He wants to win every year. He doesn’t want to sell out and have one good year. I’d be great to win once, obviously, but he wants longevity. He wants to have a ballclub that can win every year. That’s a good way to look at it.”
As the 2022 MLB draft approaches, the Tigers could make their top pick with the objective of having that player boost the big-league roster as soon as possible. If that’s the case — and it seems to be — look no further than a college bat.
The Tigers aren’t short on pitching, but there’s not much to boast about in the hitting department. Fresh off the promotions of Spencer Torkelson (the No. 1 overall pick in 2020) and Riley Greene (No. 5 overall in 2019), the Tigers lack an impact offensive player knocking on the door, and this year’s offense has been historically bad.
Texas Tech second baseman Jace Jung wouldfit into the organization’s plan, though he could be selected before No. 12. If he follows a Torkelson-like trajectory through the minor leagues, he could be an everyday MLB player in 2024.
Jung, at 6 feet and 205 pounds, hit .335 with 14 home runs, 59 walks and 42 strikeouts in 61 games for Texas Tech. He is an infielder but might need to shift to first base or left field in the future.
“Some of these guys are going to go fast (to the big leagues),” Pleis said. “But I don’t think you pass on a player to take another player just because we’re out of that (rebuilding) phase.”
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The Tigers’ No. 12 pick puts them in a different situation than in the past four years, when they picked No. 1 overall in 2018 (RHP Casey Mize), No. 5 in 2019 (Greene), No. 1 in 2020 (Torkelson) and No. 3 in 2021 (RHP Jackson Jobe).
The preparation from a scouting standpoint is the same, but the volume of players the Tigers are considering is much different. Last year, for example, the No. 3 pick came down to a pair of high school prospects: Jobe, a right-hander with a nasty breaking ball, or shortstop Marcelo Mayer.
The Tigers, of course, selected Jobe.
“We thought that he was by far the best talent,” Pleis said. “You just don’t pass on guys like that. It’s going to take some time, just like with any of these young players, but we’re taking the best player with the most impact with the most probability to get there. And then hopefully, everything goes right.”
This year, the Tigers are forced to consider more players because of their draft position. Pleis said the organization has the watch list “narrowed down to a group of guys” and has an idea of the players that will be selected before the Tigers are on the clock.
At least four high school bats — Druw Jones, Jackson Holliday, Elijah Green and Termarr Johnson — almost certainly won’t be around. There’s also an expectation these four college bats won’t be available: Kevin Parada (Georgia Tech), Jacob Berry (LSU), Cam Collier (Chipola Junior College) and Brooks Lee (Cal Poly).
What happens with Jung — a left-handed hitter and the brother of 2019 No. 8 overall pick Josh Jung — remains a mystery, along with fellow collegian Gavin Cross (Virginia Tech). Other college bats in the mix: Daniel Susac (Arizona), Jordan Beck (Tennessee) and Zach Neto (Campbell).
“If there’s a surprise, it’s probably going to be a good surprise,” Pleis said. “If someone takes somebody you didn’t expect early, that means someone else will fall to us.”
The 2022 draft features a surplus of position players and lacks top pitchers, especially from the college ranks. One of the best pitchers in the draft, primarily based on upside, is a high schooler from Michigan: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s right-hander Brock Porter, who is a Clemson commit.
“I’ve never seen it this light with college arms,” Pleis said.
Several college pitchers have suffered arm injuries, including Alabama left-hander Connor Prielipp. He underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2021 and has been connected to the Tigers in mock drafts. Prep right-hander Dylan Lesko had Tommy John surgery in April 2022.
“Probably not what we want to do, just looking at the medical stuff and the guys that could be in play,” Pleis said. “Personally, you’d like to take a guy that is healthy and hasn’t had any issues yet, but nowadays, these guys come back (from Tommy John surgery) and can be very productive and very good.”
For that reason, the Tigers aren’t ruling out an injured pitcher, but that type of player seems nowhere near as likely as a healthy college position player.
If the Tigers drift away from a college bat, Nevada prep outfielder Justin Crawford, the son of former All-Star outfielder Carl Crawford, is a name to monitor. Texas shortstop Jett Williams is another prep hitter in a similar tier.
High school players, though, take longer to reach the majors.
Again, the Tigers need to win now.
That’s why a college position player — with Jung at the top of the list — makes the most sense.
“The best-case scenario is to get the best guy you can get that’s going to bring the best impact to the organization for a long time,” Pleis said. “If it’s all equal, you can look at it and say, ‘Yeah, this is probably a better move right here,’ if it’s a position guy or a pitcher. But if there’s a big difference, it’s difficult to pass on a guy that could be a potential impact.”