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Detroit Tigers 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Detroit 2011 Draft Selections

I’ve done enough of these draft reviews that I’m starting to repeat my repeats. I no longer can keep track of all of the silly claims (best draft, worst draft, whatever) that I’ve made so far. As I’ve surely said before, I’m not a huge fan of a team like Detroit taking so many college guys early on in the draft. When your first high school prospect is drafted in the fifteenth round, you’re doing it wrong.

Of course, you can always redeem yourself by simply drafting well. Whether we’re talking prospects from college, high school, junior college, or Cuba (looking in your direction, Onelki Garcia), the most important part of picking players is picking good players. I don’t like a college heavy approach, but if you are picking quality college players then who am I to complain?

That takes care of the top of Detroit’s draft. The back end was a mess. Brett Harrison, an overslot prep signing in the eighteenth round, was the last high school prospect signed by the Tigers. This probably doesn’t need to be said, but it isn’t good when you essentially stop drafting after round 18. Detroit managed to land a couple potential relief arms and a few org bats, but outside of intriguing 22nd round pick Tommy Collier, there is no impact upside. When you combine that with a college-heavy approach early on, you’re limiting the chances of landing a player who might contribute at or close to a star level in a big time way.

All I can do is throw up my hands and admit defeat when it comes to the Tigers first pick, Arkansas C James McCann. I figured teams would like him a lot more than I did, but never in my wildest fantasies did I think he’d crack the top two rounds. In my pre-draft comment (below), I said I’d spend upwards of a seventh rounder on him, but no more. Detroit obviously thought differently. Luckily for me, this is just the beginning. McCann’s pro career can go a lot of different ways from this point forward, so the jury is far from out when it comes time to determining whether or not this was a smart pick. Despite not being his biggest fan – from a prospect only and nothing personal standpoint – I’ll be rooting for him to exceed my expectations because by all accounts he is a really great guy. Still think he has a really good chance to become a steady professional backup catcher, though playing time might be hard to come by in an organization that has spent five picks in the draft’s top ten rounds over the past two years on catchers. They also have a pretty good young catcher at the big league level who figures to have a lock on the starting job for the foreseeable future.

I was impressed with the much discussed McCann’s well above-average athleticism and solid speed (for a catcher) in my admittedly quick look at him. His hit tool and power tool both project to around average (45 to 55, depending on the day) and his defense is already professional quality. I know I’ve been considered a McCann hater at times, but I think his relatively high floor (big league backup) makes him a worthy pick within the first seven to ten rounds.

There isn’t much to add about Vanderbilt 1B Aaron Westlake that hasn’t already been said. He has one clear big league tool (power) and a second that is average or better (hit), but is held back by the position he plays. If he hits in the minors, he’ll rise up. If he doesn’t hit, he’s sunk. There isn’t much of a speed/defense safety net, though there are some who think he is just athletic enough to be tried at various odd spots (corner OF, 3B, even C) around the diamond. His handedness (left) works in his favor in that he could potentially get platoon/pinch hit at bats against righthanded pitchers.

Westlake is going to hit as a professional, I’m sure of that much. Will he hit enough to hold down an everyday job at first? That’s the million dollar question, I suppose. He should be able to hit well enough against righthanded pitchers to at least work his way into a platoon role down the line. It could also be possible that his drafting team gets creativity with him, and tries him at a few different spots (corner OF, maybe a little third, perhaps some time behind the plate) a la Baltimore’s Jake Fox.

Can’t say I completely understand the selection of Kansas State 3B Jason King this early on (137th overall), but what do I know? King put up good numbers for the Wildcats and has ample power upside, but I don’t think he’ll hit enough to be a regular in an outfield corner, his likely landing spot down the line.

Texas SS Brandon Loy’s defense is big league quality already, so it really is just a matter of whether or not he can do enough damage with the stick to be a regular. With their 5th round pick (159th overall) in 2009, the St. Louis Cardinals took Miami SS Ryan Jackson. Loy, a player with a similar college background, also went off the board in the 5th round (167th overall). As Peter King might say the kids might say, “Just sayin’.”

Loy is a standout defensive player who makes up for his average foot speed with tremendous instincts and a plus arm that helps him execute all of the necessary throws from deep in the hole at short. He’s also a great athlete with awesome hand-eye coordination; that coordination is never more apparent than when he is called on to bunt, something he already does as well as the best big leaguer. I was slow to come around to Loy as a top prospect heading into the year, but the improvements with the bat have me thinking of him in a new light. Like Taylor Motter ranked one spot above him, Loy’s awesome defense should be his ticket to the big leagues, perhaps as a Paul Janish type down the road.

Howard JC OF Tyler Collins is similar from a basic scouting vantage point to Jason King. Both guys have big power, but project best as outfielders unable to play center. Guys like have to, wait for it, hit a ton to keep advancing in pro ball. I do like Collins’ pure hit tool over King’s and he is more of a natural in the outfield, so, you know, there’s that.

I was impressed Detroit got a deal done with Wichita State LHP Brian Flynn, a draft-eligible sophomore that many had pegged as likely to return for one more season with the Shockers. Lefties who are 6-8, 240ish pounds and can reach the mid-90s don’t come around too often, but it wasn’t just Flynn’s questionable signability that dropped him to the 7th round. At this precise moment in time, Flynn is a one-pitch pitcher. Even that one pitch, his fastball, isn’t that great an offering when you factor in his inconsistent ability to harness it. If the slider keeps developing and he shows he can work in the occasional change, then we might have a dark horse starting pitching prospect. If not, Flynn will try to make it in the competitive world of professional relief pitching.

Wichita State SO LHP Brian Flynn: 86-90 FB, peak 92; new peak of 94; command needs work; 6-8, 245 pounds

I lost track of Dallas Baptist OF Jason Krizan from early last season to just this very moment, so I’m pleasantly surprised to see he hit a Division I record for doubles this past year. Considering the only notes I had on him at the start of the year were “big power to gaps,” I can’t help but laugh. Krizan’s 2011 numbers have a distinct video game feel, but his lack of big tools – remember, a comment about his gap power was about the most positive thing said about him from a scouting perspective this past spring – keep him from being as good a prospect as his numbers might have you think. His inability to play center hurts him as well because, stop me if you’ve heard this before, if you want to play a big league corner outfield spot then you have to be able to hit, hit, and hit some more. With the right breaks Krizan could make it as a backup outfielder/pinch hitter, but he’d be stretched as an everyday player.

Kentucky OF Chad Wright profiles very similarly to the guy drafted one round ahead of him. He’s a “jack of all trades, master of none” prospect who is just good enough at everything to be interesting, but not quite good enough at any one thing to be a regular.

Kentucky JR OF Chad Wright (2011): average all around

I’ve written a lot about Vanderbilt C Curt Casali over the years, so I’ll make this brief: Curt Casali is going to play in the big leagues. I’ll go a step further and say he’s a better than 50/50 bet to outproduce the other SEC catcher taken by Detroit in the second round. I know I’m alone on this, but he reminds me a good bit of one-time catcher Josh Willingham at the plate. One thing that could definitely hold him back: I don’t know if he’s athletic enough to move out behind the plate if such a move is necessitated by his surgically reconstructed elbow.

Every game Casali plays is one game further removed from 2009 Tommy John surgery. The difference it has made in his defense behind the plate (more than just big league ready – he’d be in the upper half defensively of pro catchers) and his offense at the plate (near-plus raw power and a phenomenal whole field approach) give him the look of a future big leaguer to me. It is a rare senior that warrants draft consideration before round five, but Casali is an exception. Love this guy.

Barry 1B Dean Green (Round 11) got lost in the shuffle after transferring to Barry from Oklahoma State, but he’s a solid hitter with decent power. Michigan State OF Jeff Holm (Round 12) was a slick pick as one of the nation’s most intriguing senior signs. He has a long track record of excellent production, good speed, a great approach to hitting, and some defensive versatility (he plays a mean first base as well as average D in the outfield corners).

Michigan State SR OF Jeff Holm (2011): great approach; above-average to plus speed; gap power; average arm; average range in corner; has played 1B, but enough foot speed for corner; (340/411/534 – 28 BB/15 K – 22/25 SB – 206 AB)

I wanted all spring to champion Alabama-Birmingham RHP Ryan Woolley (Round 13), but his production (roughly 6 K/9) kept me from throwing any weight behind an endorsement. Down senior year aside, Woolley is a solid relief prospect with a good fastball that plays up in the bullpen and two offspeed pitches (slider and hard change) that flash above-average.

UAB SR RHP Ryan Woolley (2011): 90-91, topping at 92 with FB; has been up to 93-96 with FB; good 12-6 75-77 SL; power 82-83 CU; 6-1, 195 pounds; (6.75 K/9 – 4.64 BB/9 – 4.87 FIP – 64 IP*)

Stratford Academy (GA) OF Tyler Gibson (Round 15) might only have one plus tool, but it’s the right one to have. His big raw power gives him a chance to someday start in a corner, but he’s a long way away from being the player he’ll eventually be.

Green Valley HS (NV) 3B Brett Harrison (Round 18) got six figures mostly for his plus defensive upside and chance for a league average bat. I thought he could stick up the middle, but the Tigers prefer him at third.

My first draft originally had Harrison with the second base prospects, but a quick word from a smart guy suggested I was underselling his defensive upside. I believe a sampling of that quick word included the phrase “unbelievably light on his feet, like he is fielding on a cloud” or something weirdly poetic like that. There isn’t a whole lot there with the bat just yet, but after being told he had a “criminally underrated pure hit tool” I reconsidered and relented. Still not sold on the power ever coming around, but if he can combine an above-average hit tool with solid defense and a good arm, then we’ve got ourselves a nice looking prospect. There is an outside shot Harrison could go undrafted if teams are as convinced as my smart guy seems to be about his commitment to Hawaii.

If one player stands out as a potential late round steal for Detroit, it’s San Jacinto JC RHP Tommy Collier (Round 22). Collier throws two plus pitches already, and, if healthy, has the chance to unleash his nasty slider once again. He has the repertoire to start, but his health might necessitate a full-time switch to the bullpen. Mississippi LHP Matt Crouse (Round 24) is another arm with upside signed later on in the draft. His stuff was down this past spring, but he shows three average or better pitches when right and a projectable frame that could lead to a touch more velocity going forward. Southern California RHP Chad Smith (Round 17), who is equipped with a tidy low-90s heater/low-80s slider combo, could also make it as a reliever in pro ball

Mississippi JR LHP Matt Crouse: 86-88 FB, rare 91-92 peak; above-average CB that he leans on heavily; good CU; very projectable, but mechanics need cleaning up; 6-4, 185 pounds; stuff down this spring

Southern Cal JR RHP Chad Smith (2011): 90-92 FB; 93 peak; 80-84 SL; 6-3, 210

I can’t wait to see what Wichita State has planned for returning senior RHP Mitch Mormann (Round 25). He already has a plus fastball, both in terms of velocity and movement, and a slider that works as a solid second pitch in the bullpen. If his changeup shows progress, he could start this spring. If not, he could be on the short list of top college relievers for the 2012 Draft.

SR RHP Mitch Mormann (2012): 93-95 FB with great sink, 96 peak; average 83-85 SL; raw CU; 6-6, 255 pounds

Minnesota RHP Scott Matyas (Round 27) retired after just four rocky pro appearances, so, yeah, that’s that. He was going to be my sleeper pick, too. Glad I double-checked!

Minnesota SR RHP Scott Matyas: sits 88-91, 94 peak FB; above-average low-70s CB; good cutter; good command; mixes in upper-70s CU; really good athlete; 6-4, 220; Tommy John survivor

Missouri State RHP Dan Kickham (Round 33) might be the best of the sorry lot of players signed by Detroit after the 25th round. His fastball is too straight and his slider more good than great, but he has a chance to rise up in the system with some early pro successes.

Missouri State JR RHP Dan Kickham: 88-92 FB without much movement; average 81-83 SL; reliever; 6-4, 210

Portage HS (MI) 1B Ryan Krill (Round 40) is off to Michigan State. Well, I suppose he’s already there (it is almost November, after all), but you know what I mean. He has the chance to hit right away for a Spartans team that looks pretty decent on paper.

Krill is another prospect I was slow to come around on, but I’m buying into his mix of strong defensive tools, super athleticism, and big upside with the bat. Like Jacob Anderson before him, he’s got the wheels and instincts to play some outfield as a pro. There is enough to like about Krill that you can dream on him being a league average hitter and above-average glove at first down the line if everything works out. That may not sound all that sexy, and there is plenty of risk involved with assuming “everything works out,” but you have to remember how much you have to hit if you want to play first base in the bigs. As much as I like Krill now, I’ll be the first to admit that each and every one of these mid-round high school first basemen will all have to make major strides in pro ball (i.e. have “everything work out”) to begin to reach their upper level projections. Life is tough when you don’t have a fallback plan, I guess.

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