Henning: Tigers stock up on college position players on Day 2 of MLB Draft

Detroit News

A day after the Tigers locked-in on bats with their first two picks, they again went – mostly – with hitters and position stock in Monday’s second stanza of the 2022 MLB Draft.

Four of the six players taken Monday were hitters: Luke Gold, a third baseman and fifth-round pick from Boston College; Danny Seretti, a switch-hitting shortstop from the University of North Carolina grabbed in the sixth; Seth Stephenson, another switch-hitter, who played outfield for the University of Tennessee and was a seventh-round choice; and Andrew Jenkins, a first baseman and right-handed hitter from another pedigreed baseball school, Georgia Tech, who was vacuumed-up in the ninth round.

That left three pitchers sprinkled among the seven turns Detroit took Monday in this year’s MLB Draft, which encompassed rounds 3-10, ahead of Tuesday’s wrap-up of the overall 20-round sweepstakes.

Troy Melton, a 6-foot-4, right-handed starter from San Diego State, was the Tigers’ first arms investment Monday. They later plucked Jake Miller (eighth round, left-hander) from Valparaiso University; and finished with Trevin Michael, a 24-year-old right-hander from the University of Oklahoma in Round 10.

Melton arrived in the fourth round (117th player drafted), which underscored a couple of uneasy realities for the Tigers: They had no third-round pick. Or, in their case – picks — both of which were forfeited when (a) the Tigers lost the No. 71 overall turn to the Rays as part of April’s trade for Austin Meadows; and (b) a second third-rounder to the Red Sox as compensation for the Tigers signing last autumn of free-agent pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who presently is in MLB suspended-status exile and neither pitching nor receiving paychecks.

Melton, though, is an example of what might be considered a somewhat nuanced direction for Tigers pitching prospects: He is a 6-foot-4 converted catcher, a project of sorts, one the Tigers are keen on handing over to Gabe Ribas and a development staff that includes pitching coach Chris Fetter.

“We’ve seen Troy for a while, and he’s made major improvements,” said Scott Pleis, the Tigers’ director of amateur scouting. “He’s changed his arm-action to be more consistent. He has a power arm, with a good breaking ball where the feel got better. His overall pitching, in general (appealed). He’s a guy we’ve followed for a long time.”

Melton has four pitches, headed by a fastball that peaks at 97. He was 2022 co-Mountain West Pitcher of the Year, thanks to 11 starts that entailed: 2.07 ERA in 65.1 innings 1.10 WHIP, with a nine-inning, strikeouts-to-walks ratios of 9.2 and 2.1.

The Tigers quickly resumed their all-but-pronounced 2022 emphasis on bats, beginning with Gold, a 6-foot, 220-pound, right-handed hitter who batted .309 (.401 on-base percentage, .958 OPS) for Boston College, with nine homers in 61 games.

“Every time I see him, he hits,” Pleis said. “He’s one of those guys who squares the ball up, hits the ball hard. He’s a baseball player.

“I can see him playing several positions, but probably third base.”

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A round after Gold was grabbed, the Tigers opted for the switch-hitting Serretti, 22, who had a slick season for the Tar Heels: .365 batting average in 65 games, .437 on-base average, 1.004, with 10 home runs.

What might be noted about the four hitters drafted Sunday and Monday is that all had gleaming on-base averages: .468 for first-rounder Jace Jung; .417, Peyton Graham, second round; Gold rolled up a .401 OBP, and Serretti was at .437.

It has been an oft-indicted feature of Tigers hitting prospects for eons that on-base average seemed not to be critical to their draft demands. Pleis agreed that this group was plus, collectively, in taking walks.

“Yeah, we’ve got an outstanding analytics team — we’re all talking about it together,” Pleis said, referring to the scouts-analytics huddling. “We’re looking at these guys — the walks, the strikeouts, the pitch decisions.

“But we always try to gravitate toward the player the scout sees. Analytics guys also like the strikeouts and walks. It’s great when it all meshes.”

The take-a-walk theme played out, as well, in the seventh round with Stephenson (.408 OBP), the 5-foot-9 Tennessee outfielder and switch-hitter who batted .339 and had a .916 OPS.

The last of the Tigers’ position choices Monday was Jenkins (.440 OPS) and a right-handed basher from Georgia Tech. He batted .381 for the Yellowjackets, with 17 homers and a 1.119 OPS.

“He’s kind of like Gold,” said Pleis, who believes Jenkins can play first base, or the outfield. “Whenever we saw him, he hit. He always hit.”

Pitchers were merely sprinkled among the nine players taken by Detroit in the draft’s first 10 frames, with Miller and Michael joining Melton in Monday’s haul.

Miller’s work this summer in the Cape Cod League (22 strikeouts in 22.1 innings) point to a lefty the Tigers believe has upside in something of a parallel to Melton.

Ditto for Michael, the Oklahoma right-hander.

“He’s a little bit older, but has really good stuff,” Pleis said of a pitcher, 6-2, 210, who twice transferred before finishing with the Sooners. “His stuff spoke for itself. We thought, for the 10th round, this was a really good pick.

“With his pitches, he could start.”

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Michael worked in 32 games (30 as a reliever) for Oklahoma, with a 2.89 ERA, 1.048 WHIP, and 55 hits allowed in 71.2 innings. He struck out 95 and walked 20.

The Tigers a year ago went for pitching – hard – in the MLB Draft, which was not coincidental for a system that was short on arms.

This year, the focus was obvious: bats for an organization that needs them desperately, on the farm, and ultimately at Comerica Park.

Pleis was asked about the wisdom of drafting bats early, and arms later, a philosophy that seems to be in place with various other MLB teams – and, locally, with the likes of Beau Brieske (27th-rounder) and Garrett Hill (26th round) now helping, as two examples, in Detroit.

Hitters, however, rule. the Tigers jumped on them, early, this month, which tends to be the best, if not only, time in a typical draft to pluck them.

“I think we’ve done a good job getting arms later,” Pleis said. “I think with the ability these pitchers have these days, they throw harder, the stuff gets harder and better every year.

“I think there are arms later on, but bats are so hard to get. If you don’t get them quickly, they’ll disappear.”

The Tigers might stick to that script Tuesday in the draft’s final 10 rounds.

Pleis, though, had a qualifier there.

“Sometimes the draft tells you this is the way it can go, so it kind of puts you in that direction anyway,” he said.

“This year the draft showed you might as well go for the bats.”

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

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