Louisville's Nick Burdi has a 100-mph fastball, which fits the Tigers' prototype when drafting pitchers. (Wade Payne / Associated Press)
Three days before big league baseball’s draft begins stocking farm systems and, teams hope, some eventual 25-man rosters, the Tigers are about where they were weeks ago.
No one seems certain, and not just in Detroit, how the first round will shake out when the 2014 draft gets going at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Tigers have the 23rd overall pick and anyone betting they will take pitching is on reasonably firm ground.
“The likelihood (of pitching) is probably higher than for a position player,” said David Chadd, the Tigers’ director of amateur scouting. “But like I said, if a certain position player is there, we would take him.
“The fact is, in those early rounds there are more arms than position players.”
The Tigers are thought by various national media gurus to be most interested in Nick Burdi of the University of Louisville, whose right arm and 100-mph fastball equate to a natural Tigers fit.
But there is no sign internally the Tigers are leaning toward Burdi when starting pitchers and position talent tend to be of heavier interest to the Tigers front office.
Because this year’s draft appears to be particularly fluid in terms of teams and their options, Chadd and his associates can scarcely guess at who will, or won’t, be around when Detroit picks at No. 23.
On the position side, they would certainly entertain thoughts of grabbing Wichita State switch hitter Casey Gillaspie, a first baseman who might not be around at 23. Or, they could easily be tempted to lasso University of Kentucky first baseman A.J. Reed, a left-handed basher who is considered the premier power hitter in this year’s draft crop.
Kyle Schwarber, a catcher-outfielder from the Univesity of Indiana, is also of heavy interest to the Tigers, as he is to most of the teams looking for a big left-handed bat.
But because power pitchers are more plentiful, and because they have been integral to the Tigers and to their restoration during the past decade, pitchers are at least a slight favorite to be Detroit’s preference in Thursday’s initial round.
It could be anyone from a wide array of college pitchers.
Erick Fedde, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas right-hander who will spend the next year recovering from Tommy John surgery, is high on a list of possible picks, just as he is with other clubs not necessarily bothered by his Tommy John timetable.
It could be Brandon Finnegan, a left-hander from Texas Christian who figures to be slurped up by a team just ahead of Detroit. Same with Tyler Beede of Vanderbilt, a right-hander, not to mention University of Virginia right-hander Nick Howard, who is a candidate.
The Tigers also will ponder a high school pitcher Thursday. They made prep pitchers their top picks in 2007 (Rick Porcello), 2009 (Jacob Turner), and again in 2012 (Jake Thompson) and have been thrilled, given Porcello’s tenure, Turner’s value in the Anibal Sanchez trade with Miami, and Thompson’s 2014 season at Single A Lakeland, where he has been shining.
In that spirit Chadd and Co. would happily opt for South Carolina right-hander Grant Holmes were he to slip to 23rd, which he almost certainly will not. They could also seriously ponder a Texas right-hander, Michael Kopech, from Mt. Pleasant High. Kopech is 6-3, 190, and has the body and delivery that generally attracts Tigers scouts.
Some thoughts and probabilities will crystallize ahead of Thursday evening. But for now, maybe more than in any year in recent memory, Chadd says the 2014 draft is noteworthy for how few sure calls there appear to be ahead of that annual crapshoot known as the big league draft.
Where: Draft coverage is based at Secaucus, N.J.
Live coverage: MLB Network/MLB.com
First round: 7 p.m. Thursday, with Detroit selecting No. 23 overall. Supplemental (compensation) rounds as well as the second round will be completed Thursday. Detroit also owns the 63rd overall pick.
Subsequent rounds: 1 p.m. Friday (rounds 3-10); coverage on MLB.com. 1 p.m. Saturday (rounds 11-40), also on MLB.com.