Meet the best pick at each of the Detroit Tigers’ 21 MLB draft slots this year

Detroit Free Press

The 2023 MLB draft is upon us and, as always, it inspires a bit of dreaming over what the Detroit Tigers could unearth with their 21 picks, beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday at Lumen Field in Seattle.

Although the MLB draft is much more hit-or-miss than the three other pro drafts during the summer, it also stretches on for waaaayyyyy longer, giving even more prospects a chance to work their way from the nether regions of the draft experience to the majors. Just ask Tigers right-hander Beau Brieske, a 27th-round pick in 2019. Or right-hander Garrett Hill, who went in the 26th round in 2018. Or left-hander Tarik Skubal, a ninth-rounder in 2018. Or even Spencer Torkelson, a <ahem> first-rounder (No. 1 overall, actually) in 2020.

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GOOD TIMES, BAD TIMES: Third is the word? The best and worst Detroit draft picks at No. 3

Yes, MLB players can come from almost any round, if you look hard enough. (Well, only from the first 20 rounds these days, as MLB cut the draft down from 40 rounds for good beginning in 2021.) And so, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the best player to be drafted* at each of the Tigers’ 21 draft slots this year.

*Our one rule: They had to sign with the team that drafted them, to avoid too many late-round picks who later blossomed into stars before getting drafted in earlier rounds.

Anyway, here’s our picks (and if you want to check out who the Tigers are drafting this week, head over here):

No. 3: Paul Molitor & Robin Yount, Brewers

This one’s too close to call between a pair of longtime teammates in Milwaukee who went on to rack up more than 3,000 hits en route to becoming Baseball Hall of Famers: Molitor, the 1977 pick out of a Minnesota high school, has the higher career OPS (.817), more All-Star nods (7) and a World Series MVP award, while Yount, the 1973 pick out of a California high school, has a pair of MLB MVP awards, three All-Star berths and a Gold Glove.

No. 37: Frank Viola, Twins

The New York native was Minnesota’s second-rounder in 1981 out of St. John’s University; in all, the left-hander made three All-Star squads (though only one with the Twins), won the 1988 AL Cy Young award, finished in the top six three other times, won the 1987 World Series and finished with a 3.73 ERA in 421 appearances.

No. 45: Trevor Story, Rockies

The shortstop from a Texas high school burst onto the big-league scene five years after he was drafted in 2011’s first round, hammering seven homers in his first six games. He has cooled off since then, but has still managed at least 24 homers in five of his six 162-game seasons.

No. 76: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

Stanton actually trails fellow Californian Chase Utley by about 20 bWAR, but Utley didn’t sign with the Dodgers when they picked him at No. 76 out of high school. So Stanton it is, despite the rash of injuries that have limited his playing time — just 328 games since the start of the 2019 season — and his prodigious homers (385 in all). Still, the 2007 second-rounder has five All-Star nods, a Home Run Derby title, and MVP awards for the 2022 All-Star Game and the 2017 National League season.

No. 107: Clyde Wright, Angels

The lefty from Carson-Newman University went in the inaugural draft’s sixth round in 1965. He was in the majors by 1966 and had a 10-year career, highlighted by 22 wins, a 2.83 ERA and an All-Star nod in 1970.

No. 143: Gary Disarcina, Angels

With apologies to Tigers (both LSU and Detroit) legend Warren Morris (1996), we’ll go with the 1988 sixth-round shortstop (from UMass-Amherst) who played for parts of 12 seasons, making the 1995 All-Star roster with an .802 OPS.

No. 170: Bobby Madritsch, Reds

A 1998 sixth-rounder out of an Illinois high school, the right-hander was released by the Reds in 2001. But he persevered and made his MLB debut in July 2004. Injuries limited Madritsch to 39 career appearances; he struck out 61 in 92⅓ innings with a 3.41 ERA from 2004-05.

No. 200: Eric Davis, Reds & Tim Wakefield, Pirates

Call it a dead heat: Davis — picked in the eighth round in 1980 out of high school in California — played 17 seasons, including a stretch from 1986-90 when he was in the discussion for the best player in baseball with a .277/.371/.527 slash line. (That run included his 1987 season in which he hit 37 homers and stole 50 bases but only finished ninth in NL MVP voting.) Wakefield, meanwhile, was an eighth-rounder out of Florida Tech in 1988; he didn’t make his MLB debut until 1992 (when he finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting) but still pitched until age 44 (with 17 seasons on the Red Sox) thanks to his mastery of the elusive knuckleball.

No. 230: Gil Heredia, Giants

We could go with 1983 pick Jay Buhner, if only to enjoy the famous clip from “Seinfeld” singing his praises, but the slugger with 310 homers and a famously bald dome didn’t sign with the Braves out of his Texas community college. So instead, it’s Heredia, the righty reliever who went in the ninth round out of Arizona in 1987; he managed to win 57 games with a 4.46 ERA in 267 appearances over 10 seasons.

No. 260: Corey Dickerson, Rockies

Four-time NL batting champ Bill Madlock went here out of high school in 1969, but he didn’t sign with the St. Louis Cardinals. The best player who signed is slightly less decorated: Dickerson, Colorado’s eighth-rounder in 2010 was an All-Star in 2017 and won an outfield Gold Glove in 2018. He’s a career .280 hitter with 136 homers over 11 seasons.

No. 290: Trevor Hoffman, Reds

It wasn’t until he was on his third organization — the Reds left their 1989 11th-rounder unprotected in the 1992 expansion draft, and the Marlins dealt him away for Gary Sheffield in 1992 — that he found his niche (and his signature entry song, AC/DC’s “Hells Bells”) as a closer. Just 601 saves (and seven All-Star nods) later, he was a Hall of Famer, inducted in 2018.

No. 320: Kevin Millwood, Braves

The Braves’ 11th-rounder in 1993 slotted almost perfectly behind their trio of Hall of Famers; by his third season (1999), Millwood won 18 games with a 2.68 ERA, made the All-Star squad and finished third in NL Cy Young voting. In all, he pitched for 16 seasons, finishing with 2,083 strikeouts and a 4.11 ERA in 2,720⅓ innings.

No. 350: David Nied, Braves

The 1987 14th-rounder out of high school in Texas is most notable for another draft: After one season with the Braves, Nied was the first pick in the 1992 expansion draft. The first-ever Rockie had a 5.47 ERA in 218⅔ innings for Colorado.

No. 380: Dave Lemanczyk, Tigers

Detroit’s 16th-rounder in 1972 needed less than a year to make his MLB debut, giving up three earned runs in 2⅓ innings in April 1973. HE was much more effective over the rest of his career, which lasted into the 1980 season, finishing with a career 4.62 ERA in 913 innings.

No. 410: Dexter Fowler, Rockies

Colorado plucked Fowler out of his Georgia high school in the 14th round in 2004; the outfielder made the majors briefly in 2008, then played 13 more seasons while posting a .775 OPS for the Rockies, Astros, Cubs, Cardinals and Angels.

No. 440: Orel Hershiser, Dodgers

L.A.’s 17-rounder in 1979 out of Bowling Green State developed into an ace by 1985, his third season in the majors, but he’s probably best known for his 59-inning scoreless streak in 1988 and leading the Dodgers to the World Series title  — including nods as NLCS and Series MVP — that season.

No. 470: Turner Ward, Yankees

Just two picks here have signed with the teams that drafted them and then made it to the majors; Ward, New York’s 18th-rounder in 1986 out of South Alabama, bounced around the majors but the outfielder managed to play 626 games over 12 seasons, with a .251/.332/.388 slash line.

No. 500: Mike Napoli, Angels

The Florida high school catcher came along at the right time in MLB’s shift to getting on base; the 17th-round pick in 2000 parlayed an on-base percentage (.346) 100 points higher than his batting average (.246) — and some plus power — into a 12-year career, including a 2012 AL All-Star nod.

No. 530: Placido Polanco, Cardinals

Here’s a name familiar to Tigers fans of a certain generation, though he got his start as a 19th-round pick by St. Louis in 1994 out of Miami Dade College. Polanco’s 16-year career included parts of five seasons in Detroit, highlighted by an ALCS MVP award in 2006 and an All-Star berth in 2007.

No. 560: Josh Newman, Rockies

Right-hander Mike Fetters followed his 22nd-round pick in 1983 with a 16-season big-league career, but that was only after being redrafted in 1986’s first round. So we’ll go with Newman, who went from Ohio State in 2004’s 19th round to appearing in 14 games over parts of two seasons (2007-08) with Colorado and Kansas City (albeit with an 8.15 ERA).

No. 590: Danny Lazar, White Sox

Lanky Washington State left-hander Mark Hendrickson is out here, taking up all the draft spots — he was drafted six times by MLB teams, including here in the 21st round by the Padres in 1993, as well as by the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers in 1996’s second round … but the 6-foot-9 Cougar only signed with the Sixers and then the Blue Jays in 1997. Among draftees at this spot that signed, we have to go all the way back to the inaugural MLB draft in 1965, when Lazar was selected in the 31st round out of Indiana State. The left-hander reached the majors in 1968 and appeared in 17 games, strikeout out 20 in 34 innings, with a 5.56 ERA.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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