Detroit Tigers’ first 3 picks of 2023 MLB draft could be a grand slam — or a gut punch

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris is nothing if not consistent.

Since he took over the Tigers in October, he has preached the same mantra: We want hitters — guys who are smart at the plate, swing at strikes, can make adjustments and do some serious damage.

And that’s how he approached the 2023 MLB draft on Sunday night. The Tigers’ strategy was clear: Load up on the bats, as they selected three position players Sunday night.

“We carried the theme that I’ve been talking about since the day I got into this organization into this draft,” Harris said afterward. “I think with the three picks that we just made, we believe in the hit tool for all three of them. We believe in their decision-making at the plate. We believe in their ability to make adjustments to what the pitchers are doing to them. And we believe in the adjustability of their swings. We’ve seen them make adjustments throughout their seasons that gave us greater conviction that they will be able to adjust to the pitching that they’re going to find in pro ball.”

ONE BIG COMP: Why Max Clark was compared to Astros prospect Drew Gilbert in 2023 MLB draft

ROUND 2: Tigers select Nebraska second baseman Max Anderson with No. 45 pick in 2023 MLB draft

In a stunning move, the Tigers took Franklin (Indiana) Community High School outfielder Max Clark with the No. 3 overall pick. He is considered a rare, true five-tool player with a tremendous upside, a guy who plays fast, can zoom around center field, has a powerful arm and does serious damage with his bat. And the Tigers believe that as he gets older, he’s only going to gain more power.

“We believe in Max’s hit tool,” Harris said. “We think he’s going to make a lot of contact as soon as he gets into our system. … He’s going to get bigger and stronger. He’s going to get more self-aware about the pitches that he can really drive to the pull side versus the pitches that he can just shoot back up the middle.”

At his draft party at home, Clark told a reporter that he was signing under slot value, which is significant. Because there were reports that Kevin McGonigle, the Auburn commit whom the Tigers took at No. 37, wants above-slot money.

So part of the money the Tigers are allowed to give Clark could go to McGonigle.

Personally, I find that intriguing, if not refreshing. Over the years, we will find out if Clark was the right pick for the Tigers, but I love how Harris was playing chess, seeing the entire board, using a big-picture strategy to improve.

“Kevin McGonigle is one of the best pure high school hitters in the class,” Tigers amateur scouting director Mark Conner said. “His bat-to-ball skills are up there with probably anybody in the class, based on the evaluations of our staff. He hit on Team USA and hit throughout the summer, every time that our scouts went in. … Then when you start talking about his makeup that you want to add, this is one of our favorite players that our area scout was around all year. He had been pounding the table on his makeup. He’s wired the right way.”

After those two youngsters, the Tigers went with an old bat … relatively speaking.

They selected Nebraska second baseman Max Anderson with their second-round pick, at No. 45 overall.

Why? Because every time a scout would see him, the scout would come back and say: Man, this guy can hit.

“He has a very high intense swing that’s looking to do damage,” Conner said. “Barrel stays in the zone extremely long. He’s able to drive the ball to all fields and had a tremendous performance this year.”

Yeah, but there are risks

This approach makes total sense, because the Tigers organization has a glaring need for offense. Anybody who can hit is quickly shuffled to the next level.

So this approach made sense in the big picture. But none of these picks comes without a risk.

MORE FROM JEFF SEIDEL: Tigers could have taken easy route but made bold move in first round of MLB draft

First, let’s look at Clark.

He will forever be linked with Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford, a top talent the Tigers passed on. This freaked out many fans and stunned darn near everybody.

“Max is an elite talent,” Harris said. “He was the best player on our board at that pick and we are thrilled that he got to our pick. We think Max is a five-tool player. I think that label gets thrown around way too much in our industry. We think Max has all five. It’s really hard to find a potential impact center fielder who can change the game.”

These three draft picks are all different: Two high schoolers and a college kid.

But there is one central theme: On paper, they can all hit.

And isn’t that what this organization needs more than anything?

So in that respect alone, it was an encouraging start. I understand the logic behind these picks.

But now it’s all about how they develop, how they handle failure, how they make adjustments, how fast they learn, how they bounce back and, frankly, how much they want it.

In many ways, it all comes down to one question: Will they hit? Yes, that is the theme for the day.

There’s no question this draft was a hit for the Tigers: Only time will tell if it was a homer or a gut punch.

Contact Jeff Seidel at jseidel@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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