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2015 MLB Draft Reviews – Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers 2015 MLB Draft Picks

Many enjoy connecting teams to local geographic areas (Braves and their home state) or universities or even high schools (e.g., the Phillies going with Shane Watson and JP Crawford in back-to-back drafts out of Lakewood HS). I think it’s time we add the Tigers and Michigan State to the mix.

OF Cam Gibson (152) is the headlining Spartan talent with obvious connections to the Tigers organization beyond his collegiate affiliation. Here’s the pre-draft take…

In this class I look at Michigan State JR OF Cameron Gibson and see a slam dunk top five round draft prospect with the chance to play his way even higher (round two?). Judged solely as a hitter, however, smart people I’ve talked to liken him more to recent college players like Greg Allen, Tyler Holt, Mark Payton, and Taylor Dugas. Those guys, all favorites of mine once upon a time, were drafted in the sixth, fifth, seventh, and eighth rounds, respectively. I’m not sure what that necessarily says about Gibson’s draft stock (if anything!), so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. The “as a hitter” qualifier above is not to be missed. Gibson’s range in center isn’t nearly on the level of any of those players, with one scout simply telling me he was “fine in center, better in a corner.” That corners figures to be left field as his arm is his one clearly below-average tool. Everything else could play average or better making the strong, athletic Gibson a potential regular if he can stick in center. If not, then he could make it work as a regular left fielder in today’s new world order of reduced offense. A plus glove with upside at the plate in left is a property worth investing in these days. An unexpected but amusing comparison I’ve heard for Gibson’s ceiling is Brady Anderson (sans 50 HR season). I like it, though I’m not sure if projecting Anderson’s plate discipline (remember it being good, but shocked how good) on any young hitter is fair.

The early pro returns have been interesting. Small sample size caveats apply, but Gibson’s raw power (average to above-average, held back largely by his swing) was thought by many as being more of a batting practice thing than true in-game present pop. His pro performance to date, however, is highlighted by an impressive showing of power (200+ ISO) and not quite as much plate discipline as his college production and general reputation as a hitter might have suggested. Whether or not it’s a short-season ball small sample anomaly or a indication of things to come remains to be seen. I still think of him of having the tweener profile that most likely ends in him working towards a fourth outfielder ceiling, but you never know.

I once compared Gibson’s teammate at Michigan State, 1B Blaise Salter, the 940th pick in this year’s draft, to the guy selected second overall, Alex Bregman. Stay with me here…

Michigan State SR C/1B Blaise Salter reminds me a little bit of Alex Bregman. I’ll pause for a second and let that ridiculous statement sink in. I’ve mentioned this before, but so many college-oriented analysts are quite vocal in their belief that Bregman will be able to stick at shortstop in the pros; pro guys, on the other hand, can’t wait to get him off the six-spot. As for Salter, most college guys you read and listen to will push the “hey, he’s improved a lot behind the plate and, sure, he’s not the most agile guy back there, but he’s a leader and pitchers like him, so maybe it’ll work” agenda. That’s cool and all, but then pro guys, literally to a man, respond with NOPE. I have him listed as a catcher for now because I think his drafting team will at least give it a shot. That’s because he might – and I can’t emphasis might enough – be playable back there, but also because it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine his bat playing anywhere else. It’s catcher or bust for Salter if he wants to climb the pro ladder. I actually like the hit tool more than most and think he’s a better athlete than given credit for, but it’ll come down to whether or not he’ll make enough contact to allow his plus power to go to use.

The Bregman part there reads funny today as we all know his defense just kept getting better and better as the season went on. Salter went the other direction — actually, that’s not 100% true: his defense remained his defense, but observers began looking him with a more discerning eye as draft day got closer — and the fact I deemed him “catcher or bust” then doesn’t bode well for his future. I still enjoy a team taking a local star with a later pick like this on the off chance you catch lightning in a bottle. It may not be the perfect way to build a roster, but give me a fun narrative in the 31st round any day. You need your fifth round pick (Gibson) to show you something, but why not go with what you know (at least as a tie-breaker) and boost a bit of local morale in round 31?

LHP Cam Vieaux was also drafted out of Michigan State by Detroit, but couldn’t come to terms. He’ll be one of the better returning veteran arms in the conference with a fastball that can hit 93 (88-92), an average or better breaking ball, and a quickly improving change. He’s also got size (6-5, 200) and a track record (two rock solid years) on his side. Good name to store away for 2016…and more on other unsigned Tigers pick to come.

Looking up the updated pro numbers on in-state college player (not a Spartan, but a Chippewa) 2B Pat MacKenzie (418) gave me a very fleeting yet disturbing Dylan Bosheers flashback. I really really really liked Bosheers as a prospect before the draft, but never really deducted enough points for being an older senior (23 this past May) in my overall evaluation of him. MacKenzie is even older (23 this past March) and locked into second base long-term, but damn if I still like him. His early season evaluation…

SR 2B Pat MacKenzie doesn’t have the raw tools of most prospects I’d personally rank him around, but there’s no ignoring his plus-plus plate discipline. How a player can put up a 46 BB to 17 K ratio while slugging just barely over .300 in a full college season I’ll never know, but it’s an impressive feat that earns my respect. If I’m selling MacKenzie to my boss, I’m highlighting his overall hard-working playing style with promises (fine, hopes) that maybe his outstanding mental approach to hitting will rub off some on his new pro teammates. He’s an underdog prospect to be sure, but I just plain like the guy.

That was written before his “power surge” as a senior. His final college season saw him hit a cool .348/.489/.435 in 207 AB. The increased pop looks nice, but most of the gains can be attributed to more singles as his ISO didn’t move as much as you’d think. Still, I stand by liking him as a patient, speedy, dependable middle infielder who is a wonderful addition to a minor league lineup as a 28th rounder.

Detroit also drafted a bunch of guys who didn’t play amateur ball in Michigan, if you can believe it. In fact, you could re-write that opening and come up with a theory that the Tigers love players from Tennessee. The biggest name of that group is OF Christin Stewart (118), formerly of the Volunteers. Here’s the pre-season take on him…

Stewart betrayed his patient, pro-ready approach last season in an effort to produce gaudier power numbers. It’s hard to blame him what with power being the most coveted singular tool in baseball these days, but the cost might prove to be greater than what it winds up being worth. On one hand, the change in approach worked as Stewart’s slugging percentage jumped about one hundred points from his freshman season. Unfortunately, the major dip in plate discipline — Stewart’s K/BB almost doubled from his first season to his sophomore year (1.48 to 2.80) — now creates a new question in his game that will need to be answered on the field before June. If all of that sounds overly negative, well, it’s not supposed to. Consider it more of a reality check for a really strong prospect than anything else. I’m still very much a believer in Stewart’s raw power (legitimately plus), hit tool (solidly above-average), and overall approach to hitting, past year production be damned.

And the mid-season update…

Tennessee JR OF Christin Stewart just keeps getting better and better and better as a hitter. With an above-average hit tool and honest plus raw power, his breakout season (happening right now!) was only a matter of time. I’ve been hard on him in the past because of my perceived disconnect between his consistently praised approach at the plate and below-average BB/K ratios (1/2 for most of his first two seasons), but I’m starting to buy in. When I hear this is a below-average draft, I think of players like Stewart who have emerged as worthwhile top three round picks – not just in this draft, but in any draft – and smile. If a down draft means a few pitching prospect have gotten injured and no stone cold mortal lock for 1-1 exists, then I guess this draft isn’t very good. If it means that there will be future big league regulars selected out of college as late as the fifth round, then I feel like we’re not on the same page. I try not to cheerlead, but the bad draft stuff is just laziness from paid professionals who really ought to try digging a little deeper.

Stewart’s season ended as an unmitigated success. Improvements were made in all areas of his game, most notably in his conversion of raw power to the real in-game stuff. I should have ranked him higher. Long-time readers know I enjoy comps because I think they can be both entertaining and informative so long as you aren’t the super literal type. I also like playing around with the constructs of what a comp is supposed to be in the first place. To that end, I share a prospect comparison so bizarre in the formation that it somehow feels right when it’s said and done…and yet I know I’d killed for it by some of the joyless comp-hating strawmen that exist elsewhere on the internet but haven’t yet realized this place exists. The comp is prefaced with “if you ignore body type, swing mechanics, and handedness…” so keep that in mind as I tell you that lefty hitting Christin Stewart (all 6-0, 200 pounds of him) reminds me of righthander Aaron Judge (6-7, 275 pounds). The two player are very different, obviously. Any multi-celled organism with functioning sight can see that. The comparison is meant to serve as a basis for what kind of professional results Stewart is capable of putting up. The two players go about things differently, but I see similar potential in each. It’s the rare case where I’m cool with focusing on results over process. If only I had passed the comparison on before the draft as I could have used the info to more accurately peg where Stewart (34th overall pick) might be drafted (Judge went 32nd).

Another Volunteer, SS AJ Simcox (302), fascinates me and I think you’ll see why in his pre-season report…

Though he hasn’t shown the kind of hitting acumen expected of him to date, all those I talked to can’t stop raving about his breakout potential for 2015 and professional upside. His defense is legit — range, hands, and arm are all average or better — and his as yet untapped offensive upside (above-average hit tool, average raw power, above-average speed, decent approach) is enough to give him a real chance to emerge as one of this class’ many shortstops that profile as regular players at the big league level. I write it often, but it bears repeating: I have no allegiance when it comes to college athletics, so I have no reason to prop up any particular program or prospect. Still, I find myself unusually bullish on all of these Volunteers and even I am curious if there’s some unknown reason why.

And then again from later in the season…

I haven’t heard a player get the “he’ll be a better pro than college player” treatment in a long time quite like Tennessee JR SS AJ Simcox. I’m not sure how to take that exactly. It almost sounds like a dig on the Tennessee coaching staff, but I find that hard to believe knowing what I do about the people they have in place there. I think it’s more likely explained by the differences in the pro grind – all baseball, all the time – versus the multitude of various interested parties pulling one’s attention away from the game in college. I don’t know anything specific to Simcox here, for the record. He could be as focused as can be and simply in need of an all-encompassing baseball environment because of personal preference.

I always take those kinds of bits of information with a healthy dose of skepticism, but hearing it multiple times from multiple people (none with an ax to grind re: Tennessee and their staff) makes you wonder. From a big picture perspective, I’d love to know how a belief like that gets started in the first place and whether or not there’s any legitimacy behind it as a general theory to explain why certain underachieving amateur players play better ball after signing pro contracts. It strikes me as something that can’t be “proven” one way or another, but could be sussed out for individual prospects by enterprising area scouts who still do the job of digging deep into getting to know a player’s entire backstory. Of course, it could also have no firm basis in reality and simply be used as a rationalization tool to prop up players that a scout still likes, be it personally or professionally, despite lackluster amateur performances. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, either: a big part of an area scout’s job once June comes is salesmanship, and any way that you can get a player drafted you believe in is all right with me.

Anyway, perhaps because I’ve been brainwashed by what I’ve been told, I like Simcox more than his college track record would suggest I might. If it all works, he has the chance to be an average all-around offensive player with a really good shot to stay at shortstop. The approach is still not where it needs to be, so projecting a utility future feels like the most logical realistic ceiling as of now. Interestingly enough, Simcox hit .293/.362/.378 in his draft year at Tennessee. So far as a professional he’s hit .310/.345/.370. I don’t know what that means (if anything), but there you go.

1B Tanner Donnels was announced as an infielder, but has predictably played the majority of his pro games thus far in right field. The former Loyola Marymount outfielder is a long shot, but his senior year production (.308/.401/.498 with 31 BB/24 K) makes him a reasonable gamble in round 21. 3B Josh Lester from Missouri is pretty much the infield version (.280/.363/.436 with 30 BB/30 K) while OF Cole Bauml (.350/.445/.663 with 22 BB/28 K) and OF Joey Havrilak (.347/.436/.507 with 32 BB/31 K) round out the outfield with Donnels. There aren’t big tools here, but Detroit deserves credit for putting a premium on college production with mid- to late-round picks. It’s very unlikely there’s a future big league player here, but adding individuals emotionally ready to handle the pro game can have an effect beyond the box score for minor league clubs.

I think the bat of SS Keaton Jones is too light to get him to the big leagues, but the glove remains pretty damn special. Not much has changed on his evaluation since the beginning of the draft season…

I also have to mention TCU rJR SS Keaton Jones, a player so good with the glove that he’ll get drafted almost no matter what he does at the plate this spring. The fact that he’s more than holding his own as a hitter for the first time collegiately is icing on the mid-round cake.

He finished the year “holding his own” to the tune of a .254/.333/.333 (20 BB/35 K) batting line. That’s…not great. So you can see what I’m saying about his glove considering he hit like that and still got himself drafted in the fifteenth round.

C Kade Scivicque (340) follows in the recent Tigers tradition of valuing defense and leadership ability in college catching prospects. I don’t think this is a bad way to do things: high-floor prospects like Bryan Holaday, James McCann, and now Scivicque that project to be quality big league backups at an important and historically difficult to develop position are net positives for your franchise. Guys like this also help give any minor league team a boost if you believe in the immeasurable positive impact of high-makeup players helping those around them grow and improve as I do (to a point). Additionally, paying backup catchers, utility infielders, fourth outfielders, and middle relievers the league minimum for three seasons is a great way to save some bucks to pay stars to fill out the top of the roster. It also goes without saying that the very idea of a player’s ceiling is something that we as fans of the game (evaluators, too) place on prospects. You draft enough high-floor future backup types and, who knows, one might just surpass expectations and turn into something real.

(A more negative view might be that drafting high-floor future backup types is fool’s gold because prospects like that often look better than their peers early on since they peak early for whatever reason. Or perhaps one might note that overdoing it with these types — and I’m not saying Detroit has done that — leads to a mediocre team of overextended backups incapable of playing winning ball together at the big league level, defense and leadership be damned. It’s almost as if taking a diversified approach to drafting is an important part of successful long-term roster construction. Crazy, right?)

It might be time to stop trying to figure out what makes LHP Matt Hall (270) work and just appreciate that it does. His fastball doesn’t lit up the gun (86-90), but he puts it where he wants it as consistently as any lefthander in the college game. He has three pitches that he can throw for a strike in any count and game situation (above-average 75-79 CB that flashes better and an average 80-82 CU) and an unimpeachable track record of success (12.67 K/9 in 108 IP of 2.17 ERA ball as a junior). He’s another player that I think I undervalued some (he was picked 190th overall), but I’m now on board. Nice grab by the Tigers pulling a potential quick-moving big league starting pitcher in the sixth round.

Even though I admitted to underrating Hall before the draft, I still had him fifty spots ahead of LHP Tyler Alexander (320). Detroit saw things differently and used a second round pick (65th overall) on Alexander. The two are actually pretty darn similar prospects with Alexander bringing in a bit more heat (87-92), a better change (87-81), and a breaking ball in need of refinement. Both guys are known for outstanding command — I wouldn’t call you crazy for preferring Alexander’s to Hall’s — while Alexander in particular has ridiculous control (1.00 BB/9 in 99 IP his freshman year, 0.92 BB/9 in 78 IP his sophomore year). Hall got the edge for me before the draft because of his history of missing more bats, but Detroit could very well be on to something with Alexander. Like Hall, he could be a quick-moving big league starter if it all keeps working with a realistic middle relief floor as a viable fallback.

There really should be an entire post devoted to RHP Trey Teakell (432). The TCU redshirt-senior might is one of this year’s most intriguing Rorschach test prospects. You can look at him and see whatever it is you’d like. The positive spin is that he’s a 6-5, 175 pound athlete with projection left, the ability to command four average or better pitches, and easy velocity (87-91, 93 peak) who steadily improved before his breakout final college season (8.31 K/9, almost two more strikeouts per nine than his previous best). The less positive look might counter with the reality that some guys don’t fill out and add velocity (6-5, 175 at 18 years old would be a different story), the lack of a clear put-away pitch, and a senior year spike in performance that can be explained by his advanced age (23) and/or success in a small sample (39 IP, the second fewest in his college career). The beauty of Teakell in my mind is that his draft position (9th round) almost perfectly splits the difference between the two possibilities. That first player sounds like an early pick while the second player is more of a mid- to late-round roster filling type. The ninth round is on the money. As for his future, I’d think getting a middle reliever out of the deal would represent coming out ahead.

The upside of RHP Mike Vinson exceeds that, as the redshirt-sophomore from Florida looks to have the goods to potentially pitch at the end of games out of the bullpen. The Tigers deserve a lot of credit for sticking with him despite his lack of work (under 30 innings total) since high school. Vinson’s upper-80s cutter is one of the best in this class and he’s able to combine it with a good fastball (88-93) to generate a lot of awkward swings. I really like this pick. The guy drafted one round earlier, RHP Ryan Milton, has similar swing-and-miss stuff (low-90s FB, good cutter) and has hit the ground running in pro ball. There’s some wildness with him, but he’s still a really nice get in round 23. Undersized RHP Dominic Moreno joins Milton as another solid senior sign relief option that put up big numbers in college (11.33 K/9 and 1.86 ERA in 58 senior year IP). He’s got that sinker/slider thing going for him that should help him to advance high enough in the minors to be one of those proverbial “one phone call away” types of AAA arms.

The college reliever with the highest upside is easily RHP Drew Smith (286). I’m not a wizened talent evaluator by any stretch and there’s plenty I haven’t seen and don’t yet know, so do try to hide your shock at the following statement, but seeing Smith throw is a really confusing experience. He has explosive stuff — 90-96 FB, 98-99 peak; average or better mid-70s CB; enough of a low-80s changeup that you can start imagining a future beyond the bullpen — and livable control, but rarely did college hitters appear fooled by what he threw up there. There’s enough noise with straight run prevention in small samples with unreliable defenses and scoring decisions and playing conditions and you get the point, but Smith’s two full seasons at Dallas Baptist resulted in ERAs of 5.79 and 4.39. That alone doesn’t bug me much, but a guy with his kind of stuff only striking out 7ish batters per nine is just hard to explain. I obviously still like him a whole heck of a lot as a prospect and could see him working himself into the relief ace that his physical talent suggests, it’s just that it might take some time for him to smooth out the delivery some and harness what he’s got. Of course, what do I know: Smith, in an effort to be as confusing as possible, has started his pro career with a pretty good ERA (0.29) with decent peripherals (11.0 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9) in 31 innings.

Finally we get to RHP Beau Burrows (18). I’ve said it before, but I really do find there to be almost an inverse relationship between a prospect’s talent and how much I’m able to write about him. First round no-brainers as talented as Burrows are hard to dive into it. He’s good, you know? I like his chances of being an above-average mid-rotation starting pitcher with a number two starter ceiling and a late-inning reliever best-case scenario floor (as always, any real floor is not escaping the minor leagues because baseball is a very hard game, but reading that over and over gets tiresome). Here were my pre-draft notes…

RHP Beau Burrows (Weatherford HS, Texas): 88-96 FB, 98 peak; FB moves a ton; 84-88 CU flashes above-average, moves it down to 81-85 at times; promising 78-82 CB, flashes above-average to plus; good command; good athlete; PG mechanics comp: Mike Mussina; PG comp: Grant Holmes; FAVORITE; 6-2, 200 pounds

I like Perfect Game’s Grant Holmes comparison a lot as a reference point. For fun, here are their debut seasons compared…

10.8 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 48.1 IP
10.6 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 28 IP

Top is Holmes, bottom is Burrows. On target so far. Burrows is a very easy to like prospect: big fastball that moves and he commands, breaking ball that could be a real weapon, more than good enough changeup, all with sound mechanics, athleticism, and the mound demeanor one would expect out of Texas high schooler who flirts with triple-digits. Now it’s just a matter of guiding him through the ups and downs of pro ball, tweaking and refining what needs polishing, and hoping he stays healthy enough to toe the rubber on a big league mound. I clearly like the pick for the Tigers (ranked him 18, drafted him 22), so we’ll see where it goes from here.

This might be a little unfair to pick on the Tigers and no other team so far, but it was definitely striking to see how much unsigned talent there was left on the table for Detroit after the signing deadline came and went. You could do this with a lot of teams and there are very logical reasons why some of these players didn’t sign that is of no fault at all to Detroit (losing Shumpert stings, but the rest were all fliers). Still, you could build a pretty strong team out of the ones who got away…

C Nick Dalesandro (346)
3B Daniel Pinero (98)
SS Nick Shumpert (101)
SS Trey Dawson (124)
OF Bryant Harris
OF Dayton Dugas (225)

RHP Cole McKay (74)
LHP Cam Vieaux
LHP Andrew Naderer
LHP Grant Wolfram

I don’t think it’s crazy to prefer McKay, Pinero, Shumpert, Dawson, and Dugas (the top five unsigned prospects by Detroit according to me) to Burrows, Stewart, Alexander, Smith, and Scivicque (their top five picks). It’s obviously a completely different risk profile and a moot point regardless, but it’s an interesting alternate timeline “what-if” that will never be resolved on this plane of existence. Pity. Here are the top 500 prospects that Detroit did manage to sign (again, according to me)…

18 – Beau Burrows
118 – Christin Stewart
152 – Cam Gibson
270 – Matt Hall
286 – Drew Smith
302 – AJ Simcox
320 – Tyler Alexander
340 – Kade Scivicque
418 – Pat MacKenzie
432 – Trey Teakell

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