May 17, 2014 at 6:44 pm

Lynn Henning

MLB draft is pitching-heavy, but Tigers might switch things up, take hitter early

The Tigers, under Dave Dombrowski and David Chadd (not pictured), have preferred taking pitchers early in the Major League Baseball draft. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Do they take another pitcher and remind themselves that good arms always are appreciated, especially by a Tigers team that has made pitching its trademark in 2014 and in past playoff years?

Or, perhaps, the Tigers will decide that a big bat is worth a first-round gamble when big-league baseballs draft gets rolling June 5.

This years draft crop is especially low-profile, which doesnt mean the Tigers are complaining. They have a first-round ticket, the No. 23 overall selection, and expect to do as well as they believe they did during another soft safari, the 2013 rendition, when they landed starting pitcher Jonathon Crawford from the University of Florida.

But its almost comical, in a pained way, for a certain teams front office. The Tigers had to forgo first-round picks in 2010, 2011 and 2012, which were drafts much heavier in blue-chip talent. They forfeited those picks after signing top-tier free agents Jose Valverde, Victor Martinez and Prince Fielder.

With fewer than three weeks to go, scouts and cross-checkers are comparing notes and campaigning for priority slots on a draft board that will have 1,500 or so names tacked to it by the time the first pick is made on the evening of June 5.

David Chadd, the Tigers chief of amateur scouting, is not about to share secrets from this past weekends Tigers scouting convention in Atlanta, where names and some sense for player priorities were established.

He never will say what national scouts have, by consensus, said: The 2014 draft hatchery will not be regarded as anything particularly imposing.

He instead said this during a Saturday phone conversation:

In looking at this draft, I think its pitching-heavy, especially in the first round. There are some college bats that are advanced, and even a few in high school. But, overall, its a pitching-friendly first couple of rounds.

Leaning pitching again?

It would have been even friendlier had a Tommy John surgery epidemic not hit the college and high school ranks, just as it has assaulted the big leagues in 2014.

Jeff Hoffman, an East Carolina star who was destined to be a fast pick, is gone for the year because of ligament replacement surgery. So, too, is Erick Fedde, of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, who might or might not have been available when the Tigers picked 23

The Tigers are logically believed to be in love with yet another 100-mph pitcher in Nick Burdi, the University of Louisville right-hander who looks like a Dave Dombrowski-engineered, back-end bullpen giant.

The Tigers, though, have not had the best of luck with first-round closers, at least in the cases of Matt Anderson and Ryan Perry are mentioned.

They might be more likely to take a chance on a high school fire-ball artist, Grant Holmes, of Conway, S.C. But that will happen only if 22 teams ahead of Detroit somehow decide Holmes doesnt fit their needs in a draft where potential elite stars are either missing or hiding.

The same story is likely to be repeated with Sean Reid-Foley, a big prep bullet-thrower from Jacksonville, Fla.

It raises the possibility (gasp) that the Tigers might decide on a position player, a hitter, at 23.

How about a hitter?

There are some intriguing chaps there, beginning with a phalanx of outfielders, first basemen, and catchers.

Mike Conforto, a slugging outfielder from Oregon State, is a Scott Boras client who figures to be slurped up within the first dozen picks. But the Tigers would certainly be interested.

They will consider Kyle Schwarber, a Big Ten catcher and probable big-league outfielder, from Indiana, who bats left-handed and who has impressive pop.

A.J. Reed, a Paul Bunyan-type left-handed hitter from the University of Kentucky, is on their list, as is a switch-hitting first baseman from Wichita State, Casey Gillaspie. Andy Dirks is from Wichita State, and Chadd is from Wichita, a connection that cant be dismissed as the Tigers get ready for June 5.

A prize in some scouts eyes is Derek Fisher, another college outfielder, from the University of Virginia. He is exceptionally athletic, hits left-handed, and might be a long-term answer in left field for the Tigers.

There are some gifted high school superstars, such as Michael Gettys (outfielder, Georgia), Monte Harrison (outfielder, Missouri, and a Nebraska football recruit), and Michael Chavis (infielder, Georgia) whom the Tigers are considering.

And, of course, there is always another pitcher to ponder, in this case Michael Cederoth, a tall right-hander from San Diego State.

If you care to consider Tigers history and a teams tradition, Detroits draft-day decision-makers will take pitching again in 2014.

But this is a different draft, a lighter-side flesh feast, and with that in mind it might be time to look for the Tigers to grab a bat when that 23rd turn arrives June 5.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

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