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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.

Final 2011 MLB Draft High School Shortstop Rankings

1. SS Francisco Lindor (Montverde Academy, Florida)

So much has already been written about Lindor that I think I’ll cut right to the chase and explain what excites me about him and what worries me about him. First, and most obvious, is the glove. There are many factors that lead to attrition when it comes to amateur shortstops hoping to stick at the position professionally, but Lindor is as safe a bet as any prep player to stay at short that I can remember. He has the range, the hands, the instincts, the athleticism, and the arm to not only stick up to middle, but to excel there. With that out of the way, we can focus on his bat. At the plate, Lindor has one big thing going for him: his age. At only 17 years of age, Lindor is one of the 2011 draft’s youngest prospects. For a guy with as many questions with the bat as Lindor has, it is a very good thing that he has time on his side. His swing really works from the right side, generating surprisingly easy pull power. From the left side, there is much work to be done. There is something about his lefty stroke that seems to limit his power (can’t put my finger on what exactly), but you have to imagine good coaching and hard work give that a solid chance to improve. The iffy swing is mitigated some by his impressive bat speed, but it is still a worry. On balance, however, I have to say I do like his raw power upside as much as any of his offensive tools (hit tool is average for me and I don’t think he’ll be a big basestealing threat as a pro) and can envision a future where he hits upwards of fifteen homers annually. This may be an example of me forcing a comp when there really isn’t one there, but I’ve come around to the idea that Lindor shares many similarities to current Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (Lindor’s power advantage and Andrus’ plus speed make this one a stretch, but I could see vaguely similar batting lines despite the differences). Rather than a ceiling comp, however, I’d say that Andrus qualifies as Lindor’s big league floor. If we’re talking upside, Lindor compares favorably with Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

2. SS Trevor Story (Irving HS, Texas)

Trevor Story is about 90% of Francisco Lindor with only about 10% of the hype. His biggest tool is the draft’s best infield arm, a literal rocket launcher (note: arm may not be literally a rocket launcher) affixed to his upper body capable of producing consistent mid-90s heat. His range at short is more good than great, but his crazy arm strength actually helps in this regard as it enables him to play back far enough in the hole. Unlike Lindor, I think more of his hit tool than his raw power – his swing is at its best when geared towards making solid contact, and he actually hurts himself when he overswings to create more power.

3. SS Tyler Greene (West Boca Raton HS, Florida)

Greene has two clear plus tools — raw power and speed — and the defensive tools to stay up the middle. His unusually quick hands at the plate allow him to hit to all fields, but it is a bit of a double-edged sword – those same quick hands seem to have given him the belief that he can hit anything throw within six inches of the plate, a good plan if you are Vlad Guerrero but maybe not the best plan of attack for a young hitter. A little more plate discipline and some polish in the field would go a long way in making the elite shortstop prospect his other tools dictate.

4. SS Brandon Martin (Santiago HS, California)

What stands out to me about Martin’s game is his approach to hitting. His speed is good, his arm is good, and the likelihood he sticks at shortstop is, well, good, but it is his potential plus hit tool and professional approach at the plate that separates him from the pack. Regular readers of the site probably realize that certain hitting-related buzzwords — approach, patience, maturity — get my attention more than others — aggressive being the first that comes to mind — and many of my favorites just so happen to be words that scouts often use to describe Martin.

5. SS Julius Gaines (Luella HS, Georgia):

There are about a dozen prep shortstops who can realistically lay claim to “potential big league shortstop,” a statement that is more about their defensive futures than any kind of upside at the plate. When projecting shortstops long-term, defense is king. If there is one thing we are sure Gaines can do, it’s defense. How the bat develops is a whole other story, but his range and hands at short are so good that his hit tool is almost an afterthought. Almost.

6. SS Connor Barron (Sumrall HS, Mississippi)

It is easy to see why Barron has been on of the draft’s fastest risers this spring. He has great speed, a strong arm, and a big league frame that makes projecting his bat a easy relative to many of his draft class peers. The Reid Brignac comps are popular, and with good reason.

7. SS Drake Roberts (Brenham HS, Texas)

My thought on Roberts at the onset of the season was that he was probably good enough to stick at shortstop as a professional, but not a candidate to ever win himself a Gold Glove along the way. Things have since changed. Now I’m not necessarily ready to predict that he’ll win any hardware down the line, but, man, has his defense progressed nicely since last summer. We’re talking excellent hands, smooth actions, good first step quickness, above-average range to his left, and an average arm that plays up because of its accuracy.

8. SS Mikal Hill (Mallard Creek HS, North Carolina)

Heard a Delino DeShields comp on Hill that I find pretty interesting, but I like to compare his upside to early career (i.e. pre-power spike) Chuck Knoblauch. His plus range and plus-plus speed ensure he’ll be able to contribute even if the bat doesn’t come around. That’s not to say that his tools at the plate are bad – he has a long history of hitting high velocity pitching and a hit tool that grades out as average down the line. I am less sure of his ultimate ceiling with the bat (mainly the power…again, I don’t expect him, or almost any amateur middle infielder, to ever be a power hitter, but showing even the threat of a little bit of pop as opposed to no pop goes a long way because of how professional pitchers attack certain types of hitters) when compared to fellow defense first prospects Julius Gaines and Drake Roberts, thus explaining his spot below each guy on this list.

9. SS Chris Mariscal (Clovis North HS, California)

Broken record alert: Mariscal has really good defensive tools at short, a plus arm, above-average speed, a solid hit tool, and not a whole lot of power. In other words, he is pretty much exactly what you’d expect out of a non-first round high school shortstop prospect. Sorting out these players is something I do for fun here in this low-stakes couple thousands hits a day website; I can’t imagine how difficult it is to do it with literally millions of dollars of future player value at stake.

10. SS Nico Slater (Jupiter HS, Florida)

Slater is another quick rising prospect who showed a much improved bat in the latter half of the spring. If that progress is real, then his newfound combination of that average or better hit tool and his already good enough to stick up the middle defense (and plus arm strength) make him a viable option for a team looking for a long-term starting option once the elite talents are off the board.

11. SS Mitchell Walding (St. Mary’s HS, California)

Tools, tools, tools. Based solely on his intriguing blend of future power, arm strength, and defensive upside, Walding could be ranked just outside the top five on this list. As it stands, however, he falls a bit later because the gap between what he currently is and what he could be some day is substantial. The power upside is dependent on his pro frame (6-4, 185) filling out and his swing getting tweaked, the arm strength upside will rely on his weird arm action being adjusted, and the defensive upside will only be reached after thousands of groundballs off the fungo. If nothing else, I appreciate his high boom/high bust style of prospectdom, a fun departure from the series of “yes glove, maybe bat, no power” players that often make up the second wave of prep shortstop prospects. As an added bonus, if it all works out, he has the bat and power potential to start in the big leagues even if he has to move off short.

12. SS Brett Harrison (Green Valley HS, Nevada)

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.

13. SS Tommy Williams (Palm Beach Gardens HS, Florida): quick bat; legit shortstop; strong arm

Williams has a quick bat, strong arm, and, most importantly, a very good chance to stay at shortstop now and forever. He gets a little lost in the shuffle in what is a very good year for Florida high school middle infielders, but he’s a good one.

14. SS Jack Lopez (Deltona HS, Florida)

Plus defensive tools will keep Lopez at short until the day he retires from the game to go sell life insurance (or whatever it is ex-ballplayers do these days).

15. SS Zac LaNeve (Pine Richland HS, Pennsylvania)

Pretty sure I have not correctly spelled the first name of a prospect who goes by Zack/Zach/Zac on my first try in the three years this site has been alive and breathing. I’m hoping I nailed it here with Zac, but my confidence level isn’t as high as it should be. My confidence in LaNeve as a solid mid-round sleeper option, however, is right on target. His tools won’t jump at you, but he can field the position and run a little bit. At this point on the list, those things are big.