Corey Knebel was drafted No. 39 overall in the 2013 draft. (Leon Halip / Getty Images)
An article that appeared recently in the Kansas City Star blasted general manager Dayton Moore and the rest of the Royals brass for their inability to develop future major-leaguers.
It was quickly pointed out to me by a reader that the Tigers haven’t fared much better in recent years.
And, yes, there is some truth to that. But it’s not exactly the whole story, either.
With the Major League Baseball draft kicking off Thursday night – the Tigers will have two picks on Day 1, one in the first round (23rd), one in the second (63rd) – now seems as good a time as any to look back at the Tigers’ success rate not just under GM Dave Dombrowski, but more specifically under his chief draft confidant, David Chadd, who was shrewdly hired away from the Red Sox in the fall of 2004.
So that takes the drafting of Justin Verlander in 2004 out of the equation for now, and really that was good fortune for the Tigers anyway. He dropped to them at No. 2 when the penny-pinching Padres stayed local and took shortstop – and future felon – Matt Bush No. 1 overall.
Here’s what I looked at, via Baseball-Reference.com: The first 10 rounds of the draft, from 2005-13. That made the most sense, because the Tigers, like many teams, have mostly whiffed from rounds 20 through 50 (per ESPN, only 17 percent of all drafted players ever see the major leagues).
And here’s what I found: A mixed bag for Dombrowski and Co. They’ve drafted worse than some, and better than a few – the Phillies being one, and boy does it show.
Let’s start with the obvious: No, the Tigers haven’t drafted anyone recently who’s become a bona fide star for them, or for anyone else for that matter. Since 2005, they’re one of 11 organizations to not have drafted a top-10-round player who’s gone on to compile a major-league WAR of 10 or more, but several of those 10 other ballclubs have guys who appear to be on their way – like the Astros (George Springer), A’s (Sonny Gray), Marlins (Jose Fernandez) and Mets (Matt Harvey).
Rick Porcello has been, by far, the Tigers’ best pick, with an 8.0 WAR since he was the 27th overall pick, out of high school, in the 2007 draft.
Other Tigers picks in the top 10 rounds since 2005 currently on the roster: Luke Putkonen (2007); Alex Avila and Andy Dirks (2008); Nick Castellanos, Bryan Holaday and Drew Smyly (2010); and Corey Knebel (2013). That’s three potential starting position players, one starting pitcher and two, at least potentially, valuable members of the bullpen. Not bad, but not Mike Trout-good either.
But it’s even better when you remember there also were three years (2010-12) when they had no first-round pick, giving it up as compensation to sign Jose Valverde, Victor Martinez and Prince Fielder. Hard to argue too passionately with the reasoning behind those decisions. (Yet, oddly, they balked at giving up a pick and draft-pool money this winter to sign Nelson Cruz, who is up to 21 home runs now.)
That brings us to the second aspect of grading the Tigers.
Despite all the busts – and yes, there have been a lot – and the lack of early picks, they’ve still drafted well enough to land them the likes of superstar Miguel Cabrera and stud pitcher Anibal Sanchez, as well as Doug Fister, who was a very solid member of the rotation until he was dealt away to the Nationals in November. For Cabrera, the Tigers traded premier draft picks Cameron Maybin (2005) and Andrew Miller (2006), plus several lower-round selections, to the Marlins. For Sanchez, the Tigers dealt high picks Jacob Turner (2009), Rob Brantly (2010) and Brian Flynn (2011) to the Marlins. For Fister, the Tigers sent Charlie Furbush (2007) and Chance Ruffin (2010) as part of a package to the Mariners.
All told, 27 of the Tigers’ top-10-round draft picks from 2005-13 have made it to the major leagues – not a bad number, considering very few have yet made the leap from the 2012-13 drafts. And of those 27, 14 have, in some way, helped construct the Tigers’ current roster. Either they’re on the roster now or they were traded for a guy who is. Plus, Furbush and Ruffin bought the Tigers 68 Fister starts. And outfielder Tyler Collins (2011) remains a big piece of the future puzzle.
Among the notable flameouts would be such guys as Jeff Larish and Clete Thomas (2005), Brennan Boesch and Scott Sizemore (2006), Ryan Perry and Robbie Weinhardt (2008), and Andy Oliver (2009). That’s not to mention the most-criticized pick, taking Patrick Leyland in the eighth round in 2010. The ex-manager’s son has yet to rise above Single A ball, where, this year, he’s hit .103 in 10 games.
So, what can we make of all that?
It’s simple. The Tigers have built a consistent winner mostly by spending greater than most. Mike Ilitch’s check book has been the team’s MVP for a long time. But the draft, as spotty as the success rate has been, has helped its fair share, too – even if it occasionally has left them in a big bind when an injury strikes in the majors and there are no major-league-caliber replacements waiting in the wings.
That said, there are signs that tide might be turning, particularly on the pitching front.
The Tigers have received great praise over their last couple draft classes, especially last year’s. Their first seven picks were all pitchers – Knebel already is in the majors (just the second guy to make it from the 2013 draft), Jonathon Crawford is dominating at Single-A West Michigan, and Austin Kubitza and Buck Farmer are Midwest League All-Stars. And their top pick in 2012, Jake Thompson, is rolling at Single-A Lakeland. Folks in baseball circles rave about the caliber of arms at both West Michigan and Lakeland.
And a member of the 2011 class, right-hander Chad Smith, should be in the Tigers bullpen within mere weeks.
Fun draft facts
The draft is a three-day affair, running Thursday-Saturday.
Here are some fun facts to chew on while you wait for the Tigers to be on the clock:
* There are exactly zero No. 1 overall draft picks in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. That will change in short order, though, when Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones get elected in the coming years.
* There hasn’t been a high-school pitcher drafted No. 1 overall since Brien Taylor in 1991, and his epic meltdown might be the reason why. But San Diego lefty Brady Aiken figures to change that this year.
* The Astros have the No. 1 overall pick for a third consecutive year, and for a record sixth time overall. The Tigers have had it just once, in 1997, when they drafted Matt Anderson.
* The average major-league WAR for a No. 1 overall draft pick is 20.6. Five have finished with negative WARs, including Anderson, the hard-throwing right-hander whose was negative-0.5.
Swings and misses
Omar Vizquel was a Hall of Fame shortstop. He’s first-ballot material, to me.
But his pseudo career as a scout isn’t off to the most sterling of starts.
The Tigers first-base and infield coach highly recommended to Tigers brass acquiring Andrew Romine and Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez lasted only a few weeks in Detroit, and Romine is losing his hold on the starting shortstop gig.
That’s not to say it’s that big a deal. The Tigers lost little in acquiring either – Steve Lombardozzi will be no more than a bit player with the Orioles, and Jose Alvarez is pitching depth, even with the Angels.
And Romine, for all his faults, still has the potential to be a rather valuable piece to the Tigers moving forward, albeit probably as a reserve, coming off the bench as a late-inning defensive replacement.
Around the horn
Here’s wishing a speedy recovery to longtime Tigers broadcaster Paul Carey, 86, who had some minor surgery Wednesday.
… The worst record in the AL, amazingly, belongs to the Rays (23-36). They haven’t finished under .500 since 2007, their last year as the Devil Rays.
Three up ...
1. Tigers fans got to see the real Joe Nathan on Tuesday night, standing up and taking responsibility for another rough game.
2. The Indians’ recent draft history isn’t much better than the Tigers, but they can make amends with four picks Thursday.
3. Give it up for the Bay Area Brothers. The A’s and Giants have MLB’s best records, combining for a record of 73-43.
… Three down
1. On the one-year anniversary of his major-league debut, Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig celebrated by being late for B.P.
2. David Ortiz certainly shouldn’t be calling the Red Sox-Rays rivalry “a war.” Kudos to Rays ace David Price for calling him out.
3. Attendance is well down for the Tigers. Of course, they were done no favors by the April weather or all those early day games.
3 -- Consecutive home losses by the Yankees – to three different teams (Twins on Sunday, Mariners on Monday, A’s on Tuesday). Per Elias, the last time that happened, the Yankees played at the Polo Grounds, in 1915.
90 -- Years Cubs games aired on WGN Radio, which on Wednesday announced it was finally cutting ties.
6/5/89 -- Featuring a state-of-the-art, $100-million retractable roof, SkyDome, now known as Rogers Centre, opens in Toronto.
He said it
“If Barry Larkin is in the Hall of Fame, you’ve got to think about Jimmy Rollins.”
-- Mike Schmidt, Hall of Fame third baseman, talking to ESPN about the Phillies shortstop – who’s about to break his franchise record for career hits.