June 6, 2014 at 9:16 pm

Major League Baseball draft

Tigers draft two catchers, including former major-leaguer Todd Zeile's nephew

They reversed field Thursday when an outfielder, a high school outfielder at that, became the Tigers’ first-round pick. This was news when most of baseball’s world expected Detroit to stick with its pattern of preferring pitching.

And just to make sure no one was confused by a team that appreciates talent — regardless of position — the Tigers continued with their unconventional ways Friday when they took position players in four of the next five rounds, all before finishing the day with a trio of pitching selections that closed out the 2014 baseball draft’s first 10 rounds.

“I like how it started — and I like how it ended,” said David Chadd, the Tigers director of amateur scouting who oversaw Friday’s decisions.

The Tigers’ position passion was accented Friday when they took catchers in the third and fifth rounds: Grayson Greiner of the University of South Carolina, as well as UCLA’s Shane Ziele. They hauled in Kansas State outfielder Ross Kivett in the sixth round, and followed with perhaps their most colorfully named draft pick in recent years in the seventh, Greiner’s teammate at South Carolina, third baseman Joey Pankake.

But threaded among those eight picks Friday were four pitchers, headed by right-hander Adam Ravenelle, who was chosen in the fourth round from a college the Tigers regularly frequent, Vanderbilt, where Ravenelle had a sterling season in the Commodores bullpen.

The Tigers then got busy in rounds 8-10 taking three more pitchers: Artie Lewicki, a right-handed starter from the University of Virginia; Josh Laxer, another right-hander, and a reliever from the University of Mississippi; and Paul Voelker, yet another right-hander who started in 2014 for Dallas Baptist.

The Tigers had gone against their past habits Thursday when they nabbed Derek Hill, a gifted 18-year-old outfielder from Elk Grove (Calif.) High who has the all-around talent to play center field at Comerica Park — if he progresses as Detroit’s scouts envision.

But after taking a pitcher in the second round, big right-hander Spencer Turnbull from the University of Alabama, the Tigers opted for bats and defenders, with particular emphasis on catchers as they nabbed two early Friday.

Greiner is huge for a catcher, 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, and a right-handed batter whose defensive skills are considered, at this point, to be superior to his bat. But the Tigers believe Greiner has significant upside, which explains why Greiner went two rounds ahead of another right-handed hitting catcher, Zeile, who batted .324 in 56 games for the Bruins.

“We like that pick,” Chadd said of Greiner. “He was a Team USA catcher. He’s got some pop in his bat.”

Zeile, 6-1, 190, is the nephew of former big-leaguer Todd Zeile. He had 28 RBIs in 56 games for the Bruins, batting third in UCLA’s lineup.

The Tigers went with basics in the fourth round when they revisited Vanderbilt. In jumping on Ravenelle, they opted for a relief pitcher akin to the old Maytag repairman: a lonely soul in need of work.

Ravenelle was on duty for 3413 innings in 2014, with a 1.31 ERA and a .150 opposing batting average. He struck out 32, walked 14, and allowed just 17 hits, and gathered his share of dust as a splendid Commodores staff worked long and late into games.

Ravenelle is 6-2, 190, and grew up in Sudbury, Mass. The Tigers will add him to a pod of former Commodore pitchers in Detroit’s farm system, including Drew VerHagen and Kevin Ziomek.

“As easy a delivery as VerHagen’s,” Chadd said. “There are some aspirations on our part of having him work as a starting pitcher.”

The Tigers opted for more bats and gloves in the sixth and seventh rounds when they snapped up Kivett, a center fielder who a year ago was drafted in the 13th round by the Indians before deciding to return for his senior year at Kansas State.

A potential steal might have come Detroit’s way in the seventh round when they latched onto Pankake, who earlier this year was projected to be an earlier-round pick. Pankake didn’t necessarily scare away scouts, not in the rugged Southeastern Conference. But his numbers were perhaps less than anticipated: .303 batting average, with five home runs and an .815 OPS.

It was all pitching in Detroit’s final three rounds Friday.

Lewicki looms as one of the day’s more intriguing picks, mostly because of the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2012 that kept him semi-concealed the past two seasons. He is 6-3, 212, throws a fastball that can reach the mid-90-mph range, and is projected by the Tigers to get stronger as his recovery and workload continue and intensify.

The Tigers wrap up the 2014 draft, in concert with 29 other teams, Saturday when they dash through rounds 11-40.



In the mix

A look at the players chosen by the Tigers during the first 10 rounds of the baseball draft (round 11-40 begin at 1 p.m. Saturday):

Rd. Pick Player Pos. School
1 23 Derek Hill OF Elk Grove (Calif.) HS
2 63 Spencer Turnbull RHP Alabama
3 99 Grayson Greiner C South Carolina
4 130 Adam Ravenelle RHP Vanderbilt
5 160 Shane Zeile C UCLA
6 190 Ross Kivett CF Kansas State
7 220 Joey Pankake 3B South Carolina
8 250 Artie Lewicki RHP Virginia
9 280 Josh Laxer RHP Mississippi
10 310 Paul Voelker RHP Dallas Baptist

Catcher Grayson Greiner was the Tigers' third-round pick Friday. / South Carolina