The Tigers have the third overall pick and are expected to select from a trio of candidates depending on Pittsburgh’s and Washington’s picks at Nos. 1 and 2: Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford, LSU pitcher Paul Skenes or LSU outfielder and Golden Spikes Award winner Dylan Crews.
While Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris, assistant general manager Rob Metzler and vice president of player development Ryan Garko were making their final tabulations Sunday morning, three of the club’s previous top five picks — Riley Greene (No. 5 in 2019), Casey Mize (No. 1 in 2018) and Spencer Torkelson (No. 1 in 2020) — were in the clubhouse at Comerica Park.
Just a few years ago, they were on the other side of draft night, and though Torkelson is yet to play 200 games, Greene is yet to play 150 and Mize is yet to make 40 starts, talking about that evening still feels like a trip down memory lane.
“Man, feels like a long time ago now, but still have some great memories from that night,” Mize said Sunday. “I mean, for me we were still playing. The draft now is in July so the college season is over, but we had just won a regional in North Carolina vs. N.C. State and so we left Raleigh that morning — the draft was a Monday — and we went went back to Auburn with the whole team.
“But yeah, with the team, friends and family, that’s what stands out, everybody I was able to share it with.”
Same goes for Greene.
Then a recent high school graduate, Greene remembers he tried to keep the day relatively simple. He had a normal wake-up time, then hit his gym routine in the morning before he chilled at the house in the afternoon. He knew if he thought about it all day he would “be a mess.”
About an hour before draft time, he and his family made their way to a banquet hall they’d rented in his hometown of Oviedo, Florida.
“There was only supposed to be like 100 people, just close friends and family there,” Greene recalled. “Turned out there were like 250 people who showed up.”
From then, it was a waiting game. Greene remembers he sat calmly through the first two picks but once he hadn’t heard as much as a phone call after pick No. 3, he started to get antsy knowing his time was coming soon. He was right.
“Like a minute later, I got the call from my agent,” he said. “He’s like, ‘Hey, the Tigers are picking you.’ Really cool moment for me and my family.”
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Prior to this recent run of top selections — manager A.J. Hinch noted that the excitement of adding another blue-chip prospect to the organization is tempered by knowing the Tigers struggled the previous season — the Tigers’ previous top five pick came in 2004.
That year, at No. 2 overall (despite having MLB’s worst record in 2003), they took some guy you may have heard of: Justin Verlander.
Every player in the major leagues has their own story, their own journey — the path they took that makes their moment special. By the time a player reaches the big leagues, he has put in a tremendous amount of work. But Mize acknowledged there is something to be said about the rarified air the Tigers’ next top pick will experience.
“Obviously everybody in this clubhouse, I have tremendous respect for, it doesn’t really matter to me where you were drafted,” Mize said. “But to have a great season before the draft is a tough thing to do, so I definitely have respect for guys who were able to harness that pressure and turn it into quality seasons to be taken that high.”
Hinch has gone through the draft process too, though he laughs at how different it is now compared to the 1990s, when he was drafted three times.
The first time, he was in high school, and there was virtually no coverage.
“We were waiting for a landline phone to ring,” he said.
After he fell to the second round, he opted to go to Stanford.
Three years later, he was in Omaha, Nebraska, for Baseball America, where the top prospects waited in a lobby on draft night. Again, he waited for the phone.
“I was on the back end of that, got to see guys getting hugs and getting drafted,” he said, laughing about the day he was drafted in the third round by the Chicago White Sox.
He returned to Stanford for his senior season and was taken in the third round by the Oakland Athletics in 1996.
There’s no way to know what will come from a draft night; Greene can attest to that. He doesn’t have any active plans to reach out to whomever the Tigers draft Sunday night; he said his main focus is on the big-league club. But it wouldn’t be the first time he formed a bond with a teammate on the night they received a life-changing call.
“With Tork, it was a little different,” Greene said of the phone call he made in summer 2020. “I’m really good friends of family with the scout who drafted (him) because he lives in Oviedo, my dad does lessons for his daughters for softball. He was like, ‘Hey, here’s Spencer’s number, I think you’ll be good together.’ … And then we became good buddies after that.
“I probably won’t watch tonight, might not meet him until next year … but I’m sure the Tigers will make the right decision.”