SAN DIEGO — The long, complicated history between Detroit sports and draft lotteries has a new chapter with baseball’s first version, which was announced on Tuesday night from the Winter Meetings. For the Tigers, it was a positive, netting them the third overall pick next summer.
Under pre-lottery circumstances, Detroit’s 66-96 record in 2022 would’ve earned it the No. 6 pick. While the lottery format gave the Tigers just a 7.5% chance at the top overall pick, their odds of a pick in the Top 3 stood at 24%. They had a much better chance of falling back from six, with other teams moving up.
Instead, fortune smiled on new president of baseball operations Scott Harris, who made acquiring young talent one of his core goals during his introductory press conference in September. His first Draft will feature a Top 3 pick for assistant general manager Rob Metzler and scouting director Mark Conner. It’ll be Detroit’s fourth Top 3 pick in six years.
Other draft lotteries in other sports haven’t been as kind to Detroit. Though the Red Wings have been part of the NHL Draft lottery for the past six years, they have yet to pick earlier than fourth. The Pistons won the NBA Draft lottery in 2021, selecting Cade Cunningham, but haven’t drafted earlier than fifth in any other NBA Draft since 2003.
“Every opportunity to acquire an impact young player is sacred,” Harris said shortly after the lottery results, “and now we are even closer to the top of the Draft. We are going to get to a place in this organization where we are not picking at the top of the Draft; that is ultimately the goal. But for right now, this is why we spend so much time and effort building a scouting staff to make the most of these opportunities, and we’re excited to have an even better chance to get an impact player.”
The Tigers have picked third overall four times since the Draft began in 1965. Their current top prospect, right-hander Jackson Jobe, was the No. 3 pick in the 2021 Draft, and ended this past season at High-A West Michigan with 81 strikeouts over 77 1/3 innings across both levels of Class A ball. He’s expected to begin next season back with the Whitecaps polishing his arsenal, highlighted by his high-spin, wipeout slider.
Other Tigers No. 3 picks have had mixed results. They include right-hander Kyle Sleeth, the top pitcher selected in the 2003 Draft. The former Wake Forest right-hander pitched three seasons in the Tigers’ farm system, topping out at Double-A Erie, but never regained his college form following Tommy John surgery in 2005.
Detroit drafted USC catcher Eric Munson third overall in 1999, then moved him to a corner infield spot and watched him mash his way to his Major League debut the following summer. After cameo appearances in 2001 and ’02, he became the Tigers’ primary third baseman in 2003-04, but his 37 home runs and 99 RBIs over the two-year stretch came with a .226 average and 98 OPS+. He bounced between Tampa Bay, Houston and Oakland before his career ended in 2009.
The Tigers drafted high-school outfielder Les Filkins third overall in 1975. The athletic left-handed hitter played eight seasons in the Tigers farm system but topped out at Triple-A. The first-round pick became a footnote with the emergence of fifth-round pick Lou Whitaker.
Metzler, Conner and the Tigers’ amateur scouting staff will spend the next several months trying to identify the first pick under their administration. Just as important as the Draft order, however, will be the additional spending pool money that goes with it, allowing the Tigers some flexibility to maneuver with slot values and try to find value in the ensuing rounds. The Tigers also have a Competitive Balance Round A pick, currently slotted at No. 37 overall; they’ll have the sixth pick in each round from the second on down.
“You’re further up in line to select an impact player, and you have greater spending power,” Harris said. “So to the extent that we can act strategically with that spending power, you know us, we’re going to look at every opportunity. But we were just given more resources to play with in July, and it’s just really important that our scouting staff is hitting the trail hard this spring and making sure we’re prepared to make the most of the opportunity that we have.”