Tigers draft stock watch: Pitchers can carry injury risk, which Detroit knows too well

Detroit News

Those with at least 25 years of Tigers historical recall will remember various names of pitchers past.

Seth Greisinger. Matt Wheatland. Mike Drumright. Kenny Baugh. Kyle Sleeth. Matt Anderson.

All were first-choice Tigers draft picks. All got hurt, shortening or ruining probable big-league careers.

Those with shallower memories know about Casey Mize, Alex Faedo, and Spencer Turnbull. They also were early Tigers picks. All have had Tommy John surgery.

Jackson Jobe, who was the 2021 MLB Draft’s third overall pick, and another Tigers investment, is now on the shelf for at least three months with lower-back issues.

Move to the national level: to Stephen Strasburg, to Mark Appel, to Brady Aiken, to Bryan Bullington, to Kris Benson.

All were considered pitching masters, potential aces, who would be flagship rotation pieces for years. All were first-overall draft picks. All got hurt, either crimping or ruining careers.

And so, here are the Tigers in 2023, two years after drafting Jobe, bypassing shortstop Marcelo Mayer who has been a dazzling shortstop and hitter moving closer to the big leagues and who was an astonishing gift to the Red Sox, the team that chose immediately after Detroit settled on Jobe.

Is there a lesson here? Have there, in fact, been endless lessons about the danger that corresponds to tabbing pitchers with a first round’s earliest choices?

Affirmative.

Also to be considered is that the Tigers, 19 years ago, drafted with the second overall turn a man named Justin Verlander.

Max Scherzer was a first-round pick with the Diamondbacks. The Tigers got an effective right-handed star in Rick Porcello with the 27th-overall turn in 2007. The year before they drafted Andrew Miller, sixth.

All have had excellent careers.

Still, the debate will swirl, and the topic will torment Tigers fans who will court apoplexy if the Tigers on July 9 should take a pitcher with their third overall turn in the 2023 MLB Draft.

Paul Skenes is the pendant swinging before the Tigers’ eyes, a hypnotic talent of sorts, a man blessed with seemingly supernatural skills in 2023 as he continues spinning a masterpiece of a spring for Louisiana State.

Fans most invested in the MLB Draft, and Detroit draft history, believe the Tigers would be inviting more regret and remorse if they chose Skenes with that third selection.

Two scenarios suggest the petrified Tigers observers should relax.

▶ 1. Skenes might well not last past the second draft slot, given that the Nationals are choosing just behind Pittsburgh, which is expected to pluck LSU’s Dylan Crews. It should be noted that Nationals GM Mike Rizzo witnessed Friday’s virtuoso by Skenes in which he struck out 15 in 7.1 innings.

▶ 2. The Tigers have new draft-day generals at the helm. Scott Harris is the team’s new commander in chief. Rob Metzler (last with the Rays) and Mark Conner (formerly with the Padres) are Harris’ top two draft lieutenants.

It is expected by those familiar with all three that the Tigers will be obsessed with hitters and more hitters in July’s early draft-turns.

We’ll see about all of that in nine weeks. But these are men who understand history, who know pitchers are a risk, particularly when they’re prep pitchers, which of course Skenes is not.

But what if he sits there, tempting the Tigers at No. 3, after perhaps Crews and University of Florida slugger Wyatt Langford have been slurped up with the first two picks?

Might the Tigers then say: Skenes is a mandate.

Or, would they say, no, North Carolina prep demigod Walker Jenkins is a left-handed hitting outfielder who will be a godsend to the Tigers with his immense array of hitting skills and power?

The bet, early, remains a belief Harris and Co. will opt for bats. They would have opted, almost unquestionably, for Mayer over Jobe in 2021.

Some lessons are hard-learned. Some lessons have been preaching and reminding teams of their veracity, for a generation or more.

If the Tigers end up with Skenes, forget all of this, of course. And forget that three new draft kings promise a resolute change of philosophy in Detroit.

Detroit News ranking of the top 10 amateur baseball talents as they currently sit leading into the 2023 MLB Draft, set for July 9-11.

1. Dylan Crews, Louisiana State University, outfielder, 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, right-handed batter: The extraordinary man finally had an ordinary weekend at Auburn: 2-for-12. Egad, the man is human. Barely, it would seem. Last week’s ranking: 1.

2. Paul Skenes, Louisiana State, RH starter, 6-6, 240: Skenes was showing off, big time, Friday night as all the MLB scouts sat and gasped. He lasted 7.1 innings, struck out 15, walked one, somehow allowed six hits. Threw 110 pitches, which perhaps made a scout or two cringe. Last week’s ranking: 2.

3. Wyatt Langford, OF, University of Florida, 6-1, .225, RH batter: Played in four games last week (one against Florida State, three at Texas A&M) and had five hits and two homers, one at A&M that might still be soaring. Tigers scouts were on hand. Last week’s ranking: 3.

4. Walker Jenkins, CF, 6-3, 205, South Brunswick High, Southport, N.C, LH batter: Only question is where in the Top Four he’ll be grabbed. Tigers remain part of that conversation.

5. Max Clark, OF, Franklin (Indiana) Community High School, 6-1, 190, LH batter: Most of the national analysts have Clark becoming one of those pestering, potent players for which the Twins long have been known. They have the fifth turn in July. Clark seems to be their guy. Last week’s ranking: 5.

▶ 6. Jacob Wilson, shortstop, Grand Canyon University, 6-3, 190, RH batter: He has been a model of predictability this spring. Generally, 2-for-2, a double, a walk or two and that’s a standard Wilson boxscore, as it was the past week. From him you get lots of hits, lots of swings and few misses, coupled with excellent work at shortstop. That spells Top Ten status. Last week’s ranking: 6

▶ 7. Rhett Lowder, RH starter, Wake Forest, 6-2, 200: Lowder is one of those guys you could see pitching big-league games yet this season. So consistent, so skilled. Friday night against Boston College was but his latest testimonial: seven innings, five hits, one walk, nine strikeouts, 97 pitches. Last week’s ranking: 7

8. Matt Shaw, IF, University of Maryland, 5-11, 182, RH batter: This cold-weather hitter (Big Ten schedule) has been positively baking as temperatures soar: Saturday, for example, against Nebraska: 4-for-5, which included a pair of homers and a matching pair of doubles. He has been one of the spring’s most explosive draft-eligibles. Last week’s ranking: 9

9. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, University of Mississippi, 6-2, 200, LH batter: A pair of hits each game was pretty much Gonzalez’ routine the past week. No markdowns on his report card. But scouts probably are waiting to see a bit more fury. Last week’s ranking: 8

Arjun Nimmala, SS, Strawberry Crest High (Dover, Florida), 6-1, 170, RH batter:  A team that can afford to wait three years will have latched onto a dandy in Nimmala. On the season, he’s batting .479, .573 on-base, .904 slugging, 1.477 OPS. He plays a dazzling shortstop and will remain there. He could go much sooner come July 9. Last week’s ranking: 10.

Knocking at the door

Chase Dollander, RH starter, University of Tennessee, 6-2, 210: Just isn’t happening for Dollander, who is good, but not the pitcher advertised heading into 2023. Consider Saturday’s start at Georgia: six innings, eight hits, two walks, six punch-outs. Ho-hum.  Last week’s ranking: 9.

Kyle Teel, C, University of Virginia, 6-1, 190, LH batter: Strong season that could yet see Teel slurped up by a MLB team that likes left-handed catchers who can put a ball in the seats. An early draft-call on the level of the Lions snagging Jahmyr Gibbs seems a fair comparison.

▶ Jack Hurley, CF, Virginia Tech, 6-foot, 185, LH hitter: Still hurting after last month getting plunked in the finger by a pitch against Florida State.

▶ Colton Ledbetter, OF, Mississippi State, 6-2, 202, LH batter: Good, solid player here. Not going in the Top Ten, but first 20 seems a safe wager.

▶ Hurston Waldrep, RH starter, University of Florida, 6-1, 205: Walked six in three innings Saturday at Texas A&M. Rumors of his agent and the Gators pitching coaches not being exactly simpatico these days isn’t helping Waldrep’s stock.

▶ Brayden Taylor, 3B, Texas Christian, 6-1, 180, LH batter: Fighting to stay in the Top 20 conversation. Borderline call, two weeks into May.

Colin Houck, SS, Parkview High(Lilburn, Georgia), 6-2, 193, RH batter: These numbers aren’t as important as scouting reports that have Houck as a premium first-round pick, but they tell the story well enough: .523 batting average, .625 on-base, .925 slugging, eight homers, 13 doubles, three triples, 16 stolen bases.

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

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