Tigers draft stock watch: How drafting Langford could shape future teams

Detroit News
Lynn Henning |  Special to The Detroit News

If the 2023 MLB Draft were held today, rather than July 9, here is how the first four picks likely would be settled:

1. Pittsburgh Pirates: Dylan Crews, outfielder, Louisiana State

2. Washington Nationals: Paul Skenes, right-handed pitcher, Louisiana State

3. Detroit Tigers: Wyatt Langford, outfielder, University of Florida

4. Texas Rangers: Walker Jenkins, outfielder, South Brunswick High, Oak Island, N.C.

To an appreciable degree, little has changed in the past two months. These four players, with Jenkins joining a hot college trio to make it a four-player quartet at the top of this year’s draft class, have remained consensus top-four projections, and pretty much in this order.

It’s time to assume how this would impact the Tigers if, in fact, Langford becomes the Tigers’ choice six weeks from Sunday.

Langford, 21, a right-handed batter for the Gators, is a dynamic hitter who also plays outfield with enough aplomb to work in center, or at a corner.

He is 6-foot-1, 225 pounds. He hit 26 home runs last season as a sophomore, most of them against excellent Southeastern Conference pitching. He has 14 this year, in 45 games, with a .400 batting average, .535 on-base percentage, and 1.348 OPS.

Most years, he would be an easy designation as the draft’s first-overall pick.

This year, Langford has royal company in Crews and Skenes. It presents the Tigers with a potential steal at No. 3 overall and a player who could make his way to Comerica Park as early as next summer.

This is where future Tigers rosters can at least be discussed.

Riley Greene will be setting up in center field until a player with more range — Parker Meadows, if his bat cooperates — moves Greene to left field.

As the Tigers envision such scenarios, a Greene-Meadows tandem would allow using essentially two center-fielders in the widest acres of Comerica Park’s vast outfield.

Langford, too, has a glove and athleticism that matches Greene. He has enough arm for right field. The Tigers, conceivably, could have serious two-way weaponry if Langford is drafted to play alongside Greene and Meadows, or even Colt Keith, should right field end up being the better option for Keith.

Consider this possible — if not potential — group alongside Spencer Torkelson at first base. Presume that Jace Jung, a certified hitter, can survive at second base.

No matter how the left-side infield arrangement shakes out, with Javy Báez a likely presence at shortstop, and Izaac Pacheco perhaps destined for third base, the Tigers after July 9 could be looking at a brand of evolving offense — and outfield defense — that even now can be seen in its contours.

That, of course, assumes Langford will be Detroit’s pick.

A couple of obvious orange barrels could block this path to a refurbished Tigers offense and to a team that would appreciate a reunion with playoff baseball.

Crews looks like a slam-dunk Pirates choice — today. The Pirates, though, have some unpredictable draft history and one can never be sure about Pittsburgh.

Skenes looms also as Washington’s winner at No. 2 overall. He is too exceptional for a team to bypass when that team doesn’t balk at pitchers on the hoary level of LSU’s maestro.

Should there be a couple of curveballs, other than the one Skenes throws, the Tigers probably won’t tremble.

It’s possible Langford could supplant Crews at No. 1 overall. That, presumably, would leave Crews as the Tigers’ happy pick at No. 3 when the industry, at-large, is convinced Washington will take Skenes.

Should back-to-back curveballs lead to, say, Langford and Crews going 1-2, the Tigers would be left to decide between Skenes and Jenkins.

Count on Jenkins winning there. The Tigers need thunder — hitters who can demolish innings and games. They have a system-wide deficit of bats.

One way or another, it’s all but a mandate to say they’ll end up on July 9 with a big hitter and a skilled outfielder.

Langford remains the percentage bet as these weeks ahead of the 2023 MLB Draft dwindle.

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: A second consecutive mortal weekend saw Crews go 0-for-7 in LSU’s first two weekend games against Mississippi State. Crews rose from the dead Sunday with a 3-for-4 outing, which also saw him walk twice and whiff once. Just for perspective: He’s still batting .445 in 51 games, with a 1.357 OPS. Last week’s ranking: 1

2. Paul Skenes, Louisiana State, RH starter, 6-6, 240: He isn’t slowing down, and neither, would it seem, is Washington’s tacit and expected plan to draft him at No. 2 overall. He threw 110 pitches in Friday’s seven-inning construction project against Mississippi State, striking out 13 and walking one, while rationing but three hits. What an arm. What a monumental season he is crafting at Baton Rouge. Last week’s ranking: 2.

3. Wyatt Langford, OF, University of Florida, 6-1, .225, RH batter: Scouts absorbed by Langford’s weekend at-bats got a show, and against Vanderbilt’s pitchers, no less: Langford had two homers Sunday, three doubles on the weekend, and did about everything a prospect can do to show what a game-changer he stands to be in MLB games. Last week’s ranking: 3. 

4. Walker Jenkins, CF, 6-3, 205, South Brunswick High, Southport, N.C, LH batter: It’s somewhat futile to get any statistical perspective on Jenkins, all because he is walked, or pitched around, so much. Still, through 22 games last week, he had a .418 batting average, a 1.287 OPS, 30 walks, and seven strikeouts. In a playoff game last Wednesday, he was walked twice, once intentionally. Stats aren’t the measure of Jenkins. His all-world skill set is what sets scouts on fire. Last week’s ranking: 4. 

5. Max Clark, OF, Franklin (Indiana) Community High School, 6-1, 190, LH batter: Nobody seems likely to knock Clark out of a top-5 seat. Still looks as if he’ll be in a Twins uniform, tormenting opposing teams and fans with his bat, speed and ability to irritate the opposition in a host of ways. Last week’s ranking: 5.

6. Jacob Wilson, shortstop, Grand Canyon University, 6-3, 190, RH batter: C’mon: He’s playing against teams like UT Rio Grande Valley and Utah Tech. Doesn’t matter. He gets his pair of hits, or more, every game, and plays a lovely shortstop. Last week’s ranking: 6 

7. Rhett Lowder, RH starter, Wake Forest, 6-2, 200: Every No. 1 team in college baseball has its ace. Here’s the Demon Deacons’ maestro, who Friday night at Florida State had another Lowder-grade start: seven innings, four hits, no runs, no walks, six punch-outs, all in a tidy 97 pitches.  Last week’s ranking: 7

8. Matt Shaw, IF, University of Maryland, 5-11, 182, RH batter: This cat’s having quite a spring, with three more homers the past weekend against Minnesota. A double also was part of his 7-for-17 spurt. Last week’s ranking: 8

9. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, University of Mississippi, 6-2, 200, LH batter: Generally, a hit or two each game. Has enough power to keep teams committed to a left-handed batter who looks as if he can stick at short. Last week’s ranking: 9

10. Arjun Nimmala, SS, Strawberry Crest High (Dover, Fla.), 6-1, 170, RH batter:  Some chatter about Nimmala being overrated, but it still appears this is top-10 timber. The athleticism, size, and fast-twitch — transcendent — physical skills are too seductive. Last week’s ranking: 10.

Knocking at the door

Kyle Teel, C, University of Virginia, 6-1, 190, LH batter: Still a great bet to sneak into that early-first-round conversation when his position and left-handed stroke are factored in.

Colin Houck, SS, Parkview High, Lilburn, Georgia, 6-2, 193, RH batter: He could be the prep shortstop, rather than Nimmala, who ends up crashing July 9’s top-10 party. He’s bigger, he’s fast, and he has a blistering bat.

Chase Dollander, RH starter, University of Tennessee, 6-2, 210: Every week, you think it’s going to happen: a powerhouse start that makes all the pre-season reverencing of Dollander understandable. Then, another game, such as Friday’s against Kentucky: five innings, five hits, three runs, two walks, six strikeouts. Nope. Not a top-end pick.

Jack Hurley, CF, Virginia Tech, 6-foot, 185, LH hitter: Triple and a double and a few walks in the weekend’s Clemson series, and, well, this is Jack Hurley, who could be a nice left-hand stick for a fortunate MLB team.

Colton Ledbetter, OF, Mississippi State, 6-2, 202, LH batter: Thrown to the Paul Skenes pitching wolf in Friday night’s game and had some scars to show for it (0-for-3, two whiffs), but otherwise a presentable weekend against LSU. Ledbetter looks like a solid top-20 talent.

Hurston Waldrep, RH starter, University of Florida, 6-1, 205: Waldrep had a boffo start Saturday against Vandy, striking out a pair in the first inning, all before rain arrived and his night washed out after a single frame. Probably a better pitcher than his rankings imply, but this has not been a smooth spring, competitively, or politically (agent, coaching staff rift, etc.) for Waldrep.

Brayden Taylor, 3B, Texas Christian, 6-1, 180, LH batter: A big weekend against Baylor, with a couple of homers, a double, and a few singles tossed in. A hot finish and he’s back in the top 15-20 range.

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

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