Tigers add infielders at Nos. 37, 45 of MLB Draft, bolster bats on farm

Detroit News

You might say the Tigers went to the Max during Sunday’s first stage of the 2023 MLB Draft in a bid to add bats to a system long-famished for offense.

Max Clark was the Tigers’ first pick as they latched onto a potential game-breaking talent who can hit, run, and defend with aplomb.

Max Anderson, a right-handed batting second baseman from the University of Nebraska, was the team’s third choice Sunday, the 45th player taken overall, in the second round.

The Tigers changed-up on first names with their second selection Sunday, at 37-overall — a supplemental-round bonus awarded to needy teams — when they nabbed Pennsylvania prep shortstop Kevin McGonigle, a left-handed swinger and hitter of heavy promise Detroit intends to steer from his Auburn commitment with a probable over-slot offer McGonigle apparently has decided is worthwhile.

Three early Tigers picks ahead of Monday’s resumption (rounds 3-10) of the 2023 MLB Draft. Three hitters. Three up-the-middle position players.

It seemed not to be a coincidence. And it wasn’t.

“The theme I’ve been talking about since Day One is that we want to find hitters who dominate the strike zone,” said Scott Harris, the Tigers’ first-year front-office boss who presided Sunday over his first Tigers draft rounds.

“With these picks, there’s a conviction these guys have the necessary tools to develop once they get into Ryan Garko’s hands.”

Garko is the Tigers vice president of player development. He soon will steward three players selected Sunday as possible antidotes to a hitter-light farm and big-league roster.

McGonigle, 18, is a 5-foot-11, 185-pound, left-handed hitter from Monsignor Bonner High in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. He is ranked No. 24 on Baseball America’s list of top 2023 draft prospects and committed to Auburn.

But he is expected to sign with the Tigers for what likely will be a handsome deal exceeding the $2.3 million Detroit is otherwise authorized to spend for the 37th overall pick.

“Kevin McGonigle is one of the best pure hitters in the (2023) high-school class,” said Mark Conner, the Tigers’ amateur scouting director. “He’s up there with anyone. We’ve done all the evaluation.

“He shows good athleticism with quiet, soft feet, and good hands, with very good baseball tempo and time.

“He’s a baseball player, a baseball rat, he is good at playing the game. He’s wired the right way.”

Baseball America’s pre-draft scouting report on McGonigle cited skills that could have made him a first-round prize:

“McGonigle is one of the elite pure hitters in the 2023 high-school class,” BA wrote. “He consistently strings together quality at-bats with a mature offensive approach and rarely strikes out.

“He has a tight, efficient swing, with quick hands, good bat-path through the hitting zone and an accurate barrel. McGonigle stays balanced, tracks pitches well, and has the adjustability in his swing to find the sweet-spot against different pitch-types and make hard contact to all fields.”

More: Niyo: Scott Harris comes out swinging in MLB Draft debut

McGonigle, for now, will stick at shortstop, the Tigers say, with the usual caveat that a move to the infield’s right side is always possible.

“He has a very good internal clock,” Conner said. “He knows how to play the game very well. He’s not the biggest, rangiest guy, but he has very good footwork and plenty of arm to play shortstop.

“He also has the ability to go to second base, but we view him as a shortstop. He showed he can play at a very high level. We’ll give him that opportunity in the professional ranks.”

Anderson, 21, and a right-handed hitter, had a huge junior season for the Cornhuskers, batting .414/.461/.777/1.138, with 21 home runs, in 57 games.

He is 6-foot, 215 pounds, and in 269 plate-appearances in 2023, Anderson walked 20 times and struck out only 29 — heavy indications beyond his main offensive numbers for why the Tigers were intrigued by Anderson.

Harris’ dictate that the Tigers will swing at strikes, hit strikes, and — in the case of their pitchers — throw strikes was plainly part of Anderson’s profile.

“All we kept hearing is, ‘He can hit,’ and if you look at his performance this year, he can back it up,” Conner said.

“He has a very intense swing that can do damage. He can stay through the zone a long time.”

Baseball America’s scouting summary:

“Anderson is coming off a terrific spring season for Nebraska and finished as the top hitter in the Big Ten in a number of categories.

“He sets up with a slightly closed stance in a crouch and fires his hands to the ball through the zone with more of a level path and plenty of bat-speed behind it. There are few right-handed hitters in this year’s draft class that can drive the ball the other way with strength like Anderson, which is a tell for an advanced hitter.

“On the defensive side, Anderson held down second base for the Huskers and committed just two errors with a fielding percentage of .992.

“Though there is no standout tool, defensively, his glove is reliable and he possesses solid instincts. Some evaluators believe he may end up at first base or corner outfield, where the offensive burden on his profile will be lifted. But he does have above-average power potential and is a below-average runner.”

The Tigers will continue with their talent-shopping Monday as rounds 3-10 of the 2023 MLB Draft are processed. The three-day drama, a notorious low-return venture when so few players reach the big leagues, wraps up Tuesday with rounds 11 through 20.

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

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