Detroit Tigers prioritized position players early, pitchers later in 2022 MLB draft. Here’s why

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers need more position players.

Both in the big leagues and in the farm system.

Rankings don’t always tell the full story, but once rookie outfielder Riley Greene — the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball — graduates from prospect status later this season, the Tigers will have one player on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 list and two players on Baseball America’s top 100 list.

For MLB Pipeline, the one player is 19-year-old right-hander Jackson Jobe (ranked No. 24). For Baseball America, the two players are Jobe (No. 77) and 21-year-old right-hander Wilmer Flores (No. 93).

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The lack of nationally recognized position players is a problem, considering the Tigers have the worst offense in MLB this season and one of the worst offenses in baseball history. The big-league team is averaging 3.13 runs per game with several players underperforming.

Needing bats, the Tigers restocked over the three days of the MLB draft. Of the 19 picks, all from the college level (for the first time since 2013), the franchise selected seven position players; five of the team’s first six picks were used to add batters. 

Now, it’s the job of the Ryan Garko-led player development department to get them to the major leagues.

“I think we’ve done a good job of getting arms later in the draft,” Tigers director of amateur scouting Scott Pleis said, referring to Beau Brieske (27th round in 2019) and Garrett Hill (26th round in 2018), among others. “But the bats, they’re so hard to get. If you don’t get to them quickly, they’ll disappear really fast.

“Also, it depends on when you pick in every round that allows you to get some of these guys. If some of these bats weren’t available, we probably would have got an arm. But the bats go really fast, so if there’s a good bat there, it’s tough to pass up.”

Texas Tech second baseman Jace Jung, the first-round pick at No. 12 overall, has a much-needed combination of advanced plate discipline and raw power. Oklahoma shortstop Peyton Graham, the second-round pick at No. 51, became the first Division I player since Texas Tech’s Josh Brady in 2004 to collect at least 20 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a single season.

The Tigers didn’t think either player would be available.

“It’s very difficult to get two middle infielders with great makeup, tooled out, can play up the middle, have good bats, have power, bring a lot to the table and bring impact,” Pleis said. “It’s very difficult to get that anywhere in the draft, especially the first two picks. … It worked out for us that we were able to do that.”

Jung, a left-handed slugger with unique but productive swing mechanics, slipped to the Tigers when three college pitchers were unexpectedly picked in the top 10. He finished his Red Raiders career with 126 walks and 102 strikeouts in 136 games and homered 14 times in 61 games this season.

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After Jung and Graham, the Tigers took a break from selecting players in this year’s draft. Detroit’s pick in the Competitive Balance Round B (No. 71 overall) was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in April, and the team’s third-round pick was forfeited upon signing left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez in November.

In Rounds 4-10, the Tigers added four position players.

San Diego State right-hander Troy Melton was an early outlier at No. 117 in the fourth round. The 2022 Co-Mountain West Pitcher of the Year, who redesigned his arm action and posted a 2.07 ERA, will now have his delivery and arsenal crafted by pitching director Gabe Ribas.

“There is a comfort there, that the people we have in place are great at what they do, and they can help these guys,” Pleis said. “We try to get the most polish and the best talent that we can get, but sometimes, it has to be refined and adjusted. They can certainly help Troy, like all pitchers.”

Following Melton, the Tigers wrapped up Monday’s selections by drafting Boston College third baseman Luke Gold (No. 147), North Carolina shortstop Danny Serretti (No. 177), Tennessee outfielder Seth Stephenson (No. 207), Valparaiso left-hander Jake Miller (No. 237), Georgia Tech first baseman Andrew Jenkins (No. 267) and Oklahoma right-hander Trevin Michael (No. 297).

The Tigers seemed driven to add position players with above-average on-base percentages: Jung had a .481 OBP in 2022, Graham at .417, Gold at .417 and Serretti at .437.

Among that group, Jung was the only player to record more walks (59) than strikeouts (42) this season, but Gold (24 walks, 28 strikeouts) and Serretti (32 walks, 38 strikeouts) weren’t far behind.

“We’ve got an outstanding analytics team, and we’re all talking about them together and putting it all together,” Pleis said. “The walks, the strikeouts, the pitch decisions, there’s so much that goes into it. A lot of times, we get lucky and all that meshes, the way we see a player and the way they see a player. … It’s great when it all meshes, and in this case, it did.”

JACE JUNG: Tigers select Texas Tech 2B Jace Jung with No. 12 overall pick in 2022 MLB draft

PEYTON GRAHAM: Tigers select Oklahoma SS Peyton Graham with No. 51 overall pick in 2022 MLB draft

The Tigers’ brass returned to the draft room in Lakeland, Florida, for the final day of picks Wednesday: Rounds 11-20. This time, the organization selected nine pitchers and one position player.

In Rounds 11-15, the Tigers drafted Pennsylvania left-hander Joe Miller (No. 327), Kentucky right-hander Cole Stupp (No. 357), Kansas State outfielder Dom Johnson (No. 387), Liberty left-hander Joe Adametz (No. 417) and Florida International right-hander Patrick Pridgen (No. 447).

The final five choices: Illinois-Springfield right-hander Quinn Gudaitis (No. 477), Villanova right-hander Cole Patten (No. 507), William Carey left-hander Chris Williams Jr. (No. 537), New Mexico Military Institute right-hander Albert Oliva (No. 567) and Seton Hall right-hander Drew Conover (No. 597).

“Everybody’s looking at the same information,” Pleis said. “These guys with good information, good stats and all the stuff we like, everybody is trying to get them. We’ll have the whole thing lined up, and that whole row, when we’re (in rounds) 11 through 15, that whole row will just get destroyed. Everyone is looking at the same stuff. We got picked several times. It happens.”

But the Tigers did their most important work in the earlier in the draft by selecting a surplus of college bats that could rapidly ascend through the minor leagues and provide a big-league boost down the road.

At the very least, Jung should be an immediate top 100 prospect. After all, his brother — 2019 No. 8 overall pick Josh Jung — is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 30 prospect in baseball. Graham has the talent to play his way into the mix, along with several other position players from Tigers’ first 10 picks in this year’s draft class.

Eventually, the Tigers hope all these bats deliver MLB wins.

“I like to compete nonstop,” Jung said. “I like to be a vocal leader on the field. I like to get after it, pitch-to-pitch. I’m intense. I love having fun, too, and I love winning. I like to be that sparkplug and get momentum going.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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