Last year I did a very nerdy thing.
You’d be right in assuming I actually did many nerdy things last year, but none was nerdier than my Scientific Mock Draft, in which I tried to predict who the Tigers would draft based solely on their tendencies from the previous 11 drafts. I broke it down by position, school of origin (high school, college, junior college), conference, and state. Then I took the averages for each category to come up with a typical Tigers draft. Then I guessed like crazy.
It was a fool’s errand. I correctly guessed only one player out of Detroit’s 38 selections, and even then I was off by eleven rounds. But baseball is a game of failure, and I’ve never been opposed to wasting time, so let’s do it again this year, only with even more variables!
The first step is to see if we can learn from last year’s mistakes. Let’s take a look at what I predicted the Tigers would do, compared to what they actually did.
So I’m actually pretty pleased with these results, particularly with regard to positions. My biggest misses were on the states, which are pretty low samples and probably just bad luck, and on the school of origin, where I didn’t foresee the Tigers completely abandoning the Junior College ranks.
I again point you toward last year’s article to get a more complete explanation of the Tigers draft tendencies. The quick and dirty version goes like this: They typically go after a high schooler in the first round, then hit the college ranks hard, focusing mostly on right-handed pitchers and SEC performers, before circling back after the 30th round to grab a bunch of high schoolers they have no intention of signing. From a geographic perspective, they get most of their players from California, Texas, Florida, and the talent-heavy states of the deep south, while also getting an inordinate number of players from Michigan, and from Kansas, where longtime scouting director David Chadd has deep connections.
The one player I correctly predicted the Tigers would draft last year was Clemson right-handed pitcher Clate Schmidt. He was a Senior, so I thought the Tigers might take him in the 9th round to save some money, but instead they took him in the 20th round. I encourage you to read up on this young man, though his inspiring story was not the reason I thought the Tigers might draft him. No, I guessed they might draft him for a very simple reason: they drafted him once before. And that leads us to the three new variables this year.
Redrafts, Relatives, and Relievers
Redrafts – Strictly speaking, any player who has been drafted before is considered a Redraft in the eyes of Major League Baseball, but for our purposes we are talking only about players like Schmidt, who the Tigers had already drafted once before choosing him again. Over the last 12 drafts Detroit has reselected 19 players, with 2006 standing as the high mark with four Redrafts, including Kyle Peter, who they drafted not once, not twice, but thrice. There are more than a dozen potential Redrafts this year, including three players they drafted in 2016. While I don’t have the Tigers selecting him, one potential Redraft to keep an eye on is Alex Faedo, right-handed pitcher from the University of Florida. The Tigers took him in the 40th round in 2014 and he’s a first-round talent the Tigers may jump at if he’s still available with the 18th pick.
Relatives – I very briefly touched on this in last year’s piece, but Detroit also makes a habit of drafting players who are related to current or former Tigers players, coaches, executives, and broadcasters. In the last 12 years they’ve done this at least 35 times, selecting the brothers of Joel Zumaya, Nate Robertson, Rick Porcello, Justin Verlander, and Nick Castellanos; the sons of coaches Leon Durham, Gene Lamont, Gene Roof, Bruce Fields, Jim Leyland, Rick Knapp, and Lloyd McClendon; the sons of announcers Mario Impemba, Rod Allen, and Kirk Gibson; and the grandsons of Al Kaline and Bill Freehan. It’s worth noting that every team in baseball does this, mostly because the draft is entirely too long. It was a bit hard to track down potential Relatives for this year’s draft because their last names may be different, and their relations may be obscure members of the front office, but I was able to come up with a handful of names, including Clarke Schmidt, Clate’s younger brother. He’s another right-handed pitcher, and he was performing so well for South Carolina this year that he was a potential top-ten overall pick, but then he tore the UCL in his right elbow and had to get Tommy John surgery. It may be too much of a risk for the Tigers to take him in the first round, but I suspect they would be ecstatic if he fell to them in the 2nd or 3rd rounds.
Relievers – And finally we come to Relievers. The subset of fans who follow the draft closely are quite vocal about criticizing the Tigers for seemingly always using early picks on pitchers who were strictly relievers in college, or who project to immediately join the bullpen in pro ball. Some of this is likely an artifact of the strange 2008 draft in which Detroit spent seven of its first ten picks on college relievers, but the Tigers do typically take 2-3 relievers in the first ten rounds every year. That is probably still too many for the critics, but it’s an established pattern, so my draft will reflect that. And with that, I think it’s finally time to make with the mock.
Scientific 2017 Mock Draft
Last year I just dropped a big list of names and left, which seems kind of rude, so this year I figure I should at least offer some explanations for a few players:
#4 – Keegan Thompson – Our first Redraft. The Tigers took Thompson in the 33rd round last year, with a near certainty he wouldn’t sign. He was a top-five round talent, but he missed the whole season and was likely to return to school. As an SEC pitcher with good results, the stuff to be a solid #4 starter, and a small history with Detroit, he seemed like a decent bet here.
#7 – Griffin Roberts – This is likely a bit too low, or a bit too high for Roberts, who served as Wake Forest’s closer this year and flashed electric stuff. He’s a draft-eligible sophomore, so he has a little more negotiating leverage than most players, and he may demand the sort of bonus that can only come in the top three rounds, or after the 10th round when teams can get slightly more creative with their bonus pools.
#11 – Garrett Whitlock – Whitlock has shown very good stuff out of the bullpen, but he had a very rocky season, and he’s another draft-eligible sophomore reliever, so he may want to return to school to improve his stock. I have him in the 11th, where the Tigers could entice him to go pro by adding to his bonus with money they saved in the first ten rounds.
#15 – Trey Dawson – This is what you might call a complete hail mary. The Tigers took Dawson out of a West Virginia high school in the 32nd round of the 2015 draft, when he was considered a top-500 talent as an athletic shortstop. He barely played for LSU as a freshman in 2016, and then transferred to a junior college this year, where he just .273 with 9 homers. My thinking is perhaps Detroit would still like him for his glove, though I suspect he won’t get drafted at all.
#17 – Matt Ruppenthal – Ruppenthal, who has primarily worked as a reliever, is a sturdy kid with a low-90s fastball and a good curve. He is originally from the Detroit area, so there may be some connections there, and he plays for Vanderbilt, which has produced more Tigers draft picks over the last decade than any other school. It’s notoriously difficult to get Vanderbilt juniors to sign though, and Ruppenthal may want to return for his final year to see if he can crack the rotation and raise his stock for 2018. I can see the Tigers making a run at him, but falling short.
#26 – Luis Diaz – Another shot in the dark here. Diaz was named an NAIA All-American this year after hitting .415/.497/.714 with 42 extra-base hits and 34 stolen bases in 61 games. That’s all well and good, but I made this pick because he plays for Southeastern, which is located in Lakeland, Florida, about five miles from the spring training home of the Tigers.
#28 – David Gerber – The only repeat from my 2016 mock, Gerber is the younger brother of current Tigers prospect Michael. David is Creighton’s all-time Saves leader thanks to a funky sidearm delivery that may play well in the low minors.
#31 – Sam Weatherly – Weatherly is just one example of the sort of player the Tigers tend to draft after the 30th round. He’s a local kid, which helps, and he’s a promising pitcher with a lot of upside, but his present ability probably isn’t quite enough to justify giving him the sort of bonus needed to sign him away from a solid committed to Clemson.
#32, #33 – Will Salter, Gunner Halter – I mentioned above that this was a difficult draft to find Relatives, but these two technically fit the bill, and their last names rhyme, which is fun. Salter is the younger brother of current Whitecaps first baseman Blaise, and also the grandson of Tigers legend Bill Freehan. He played sparingly for the Spartans this year, and I wouldn’t expect him to sign. Halter, on the other hand, played quite a bit for his junior college team, hitting .440 this year with 19 homers and 14 steals in 56 games. He is the son of Shane, who spent four seasons with the Tigers and famously played all nine positions in one game. As an added bonus, Gunner is originally from Kansas, which we know is an area of focus for David Chadd.
So there it is! This year’s pointless exercise in draft nerdery. I suppose now would be a good time to point out that I’m not a huge fan of the way the Tigers have drafted over the last decade or so, and if I were in charge I would probably target a lot more high school players in the early rounds. But I’m not in charge, and I don’t expect the Tigers to change much, so hopefully this mock will end up as a decent approximation of what the team actually does. We don’t have to wait much longer to see the real draft, so enjoy that, and let’s see if I can’t top last year’s abysmal 1-for-38 performance!