Commissioner Bud Selig, right, poses with Derek Hill, the 23rd overall pick by the Detroit Tigers in Thursday's MLB draft in Secacucus, N.J. (Bill Kostroun / Associated Press)
Even as deep as the Tigers were tucked Thursday, at the 23rd slot in the first round of the 2014 big-league draft, high-profile names with scouting reports to match were available.
The Tigers this time bypassed pitching and went with a position player as their first-round prize, Derek Hill, a senior from Elk Grove (Calif.) High whose speed and all-around pluses make him, in a team from Detroit’s view, a natural fit at some point for center field at Comerica Park.
“An extremely talented player with an exciting tool package,” David Chadd, the Tigers director of amateur scouting, said late Thursday night after the Tigers had grabbed Hill, as well as University of Alabama right-hander Spencer Turnbull, as the first two rounds of a three-day, 40-round talent hunt wrapped up.
The Tigers typically go with pitchers as their top picks. And a pitcher could easily have been Detroit’s first choice Thursday until the Dodgers, picking one spot ahead, snatched South Carolina prep right-hander Grant Holmes, who was known to have been a heavy favorite with Tigers scouts.
Hill, though, is likely no runner-up trophy, all because of his 6-foot-2, 195-pound chassis, with speed, defense, and a quick right-handed bat on a level the Tigers, and other big-league scouts, agreed made this 18-year-old a natural first-round pick.
He batted .500 in 29 games for Elk Grove High and, although he is regarded more as a line-drive hitter, Hill is projected to build power as he matures.
“It sounds amazing,” Hill said of a move to Detroit, in an on-air interview with MLB Network. “I can’t wait to get out there and get with the guys.”
Ironically, it was the Dodgers who were believed to be heaviest on Hill, not only because of his prowess, but because his father, Orsino Hill, is a Dodgers scout.
But when they opted for Holmes, the Tigers pounced on Hill after several other short-list contestants also disappeared in the slots just ahead of Detroit’s No. 23 pick.
Nick Howard, a powerful right-hander from the University of Virginia, was grabbed at No. 19 by the Reds. One pick later, switch-hitting first baseman Casey Gillaspie, a serious Tigers target from Wichita State, disappeared to the Rays. The Dodgers struck with Holmes at No. 22 and the Tigers opted for Hill at 23.
The Tigers did not select again until late in the second round, after a series of compensation picks that followed the first round. With the 63rd overall turn in Thursday’s draft, they went with a more conventional Detroit selection, nabbing Turnbull, who is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, and could be headed for future work in a big-league bullpen.
“He has a power arm with a good delivery and arm action — and excellent makeup,” Chadd said of Turnbull, who had a 2.22 ERA in 931⁄3 innings in 2014. He struck out 61 batters and held opposing hitters to a .192 average.
Turnbull throws a mid-90s fastball, as well as a hard two-seam sinker, and he has a three-wheeled package of secondary pitches: slider, cutter, and change-up.
The Tigers will continue with their farm-system stocking Friday when they join in the draft’s second-day focus: rounds 3-10. The draft wraps up Saturday with rounds 11-40.
The Detroit News’ Tony Paul contributed