With their trademark tradition of leaning toward big, power-throwing starters, the Tigers on Monday made Texas high school right-hander Beau Burrows their first-round selection in the 2015 big-league draft.
They followed up by taking Christin Stewart, a left-handed, power-hitting outfielder from the University of Tennessee. Stewart, who is 6-foot, 190 pounds, was taken at No. 34 overall, in the so-called compensation round, as payback for the Tigers losing Max Scherzer to free agency last winter.
In the second round, with the 65th overall selection, the Tigers pulled something of a surprise, plucking Texas Christian left-hander Tyler Alexander, a sophomore and control pitcher, who had a 2.86 ERA in 15 games for the Horned Frogs.
David Chadd, the Tigers' amateur scouting director said late Monday night that "we got our pockets picked a couple of times," a reference to alluring players the Tigers lost to teams selecting ahead of them.
"But overall," Chadd said, "we're real happy with tonight."
Burrows is 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, and played at Weatherford High, in the Dallas-Ft. Worth region, where he struck out 132 batters and had an 0.78 ERA in 78 innings. He was selected ahead of multiple high-profile pitchers who were still available: Walker Buehler of Vanderbilt, Jon Harris of Missouri State, and Pennsylvania prep right-hander Mike Nikorak.
"We scouted him heavily," Chadd said of Burrows. "We like his arm, his athleticism, and his strength. He's a fierce competitor, which kind of pushed him over the top."
Burrows has a typical Tigers draft-day profile in terms of size, and particularly, with respect to his power arsenal: a mid-90s fastball that hit 99 during his senior season, as well as a heavy curveball.
He comes from the same area as the Tigers' second-round pick in 2012, Jake Thompson, who last July was traded to the Rangers as part of a package for Tigers closer Joakim Soria.
The Tigers took Burrows one pick ahead of the Cardinals selecting Birmingham Brother Rice outfielder Nick Plummer.
Stewart was a plus.-300 hitter who hammered 15 home runs for the Volunteers in 2015, his junior season at Tennessee. He played against tough Southeastern Conference pitching and batted .311 in 50 games, with a .443 on-base percentage, a .633 slugging percentage, and 1.076 OPS.
Stewart is considered to have one skill particularly attractive to the Tigers: left-hand power. A native of Georgia, he is viewed by scouts to own, at best, average speed and perhaps a below-average throwing arm. But a left-handed bat that can deliver home runs and gap hits lured the Tigers into taking him at No. 34.
"He's a 5-or-6-hole-type hitter who drives in runs," Chadd said. "He's an offensive player. And I think his defense will be adequate."
The Tigers made a somewhat baffling choice in the second round when they grabbed a lightly ranked left-hander, Alexander, whose numbers in 2015 were unremarkable: 91 1/3 innings, 85 hits, 69 strikeouts, and a .241 opposing batting average.
The Tigers, however, have a history with Alexander, who was their 23rd-round pick in 2013, before he opted for a TCU scholarship offer.
"He reminded me a lot of (Drew) Smyly," Chadd said, referring to a left-hander whom the Tigers took in the third round in 2011, and later traded to the Rays in a deal for David Price. "If you look at his overall body of work, he's not a big strikeout guy. He throws 88-92, but he throws it over the plate. He rarely walks people. We've always liked him."
Even in a year when baseball's annual draft appeared to be more wide-open than usual, Monday's selections were stunning for how many shortstops were picked early (the first three players selected) and for how many top-shelf pitchers were still available when the Tigers picked at No. 22.
The Tigers and area scout Tim Grieve were so high on Burrows that to take him they passed not only on Buehler, Harris, and Nikorak, they also shied away from Louisville right-hander Kyle Funkhouser. The Tigers, like many clubs, were keen on Funkhouser early in the spring, but his stock fell as the 2015 season wore on.
Burrows and his high-octane package ultimately convinced the Tigers to go with a prep pitcher over their college options.
The Tigers might also have preferred Daz Cameron, the Georgia prep hotshot, whose talents are compelling and who would almost certainly have been chosen early in the first round had money not been a consideration. Son of former big-leaguer Mike Cameron, the younger Cameron reportedly was seeking $5 million to forgo his college scholarship and sign with a big-league team — a demand that apparently steered away most clubs, the Tigers included.
Teams are allowed a set amount of cash by Commissioner Rob Manfred's office with which they can sign their amateur draft picks. The Tigers are at $7.1 million. If they had opted for Cameron, and paid his reported price, options for signing attractive additional talent would have been reduced dramatically.
The big-league draft continues Tuesday, with the third through 10th rounds, and will wrap up Wednesday as rounds 11-40 are completed.
TOP THREE TIGERS PICKS
First round (No. 22 overall): Beau Burrows, right-handed pitcher
High school: Weatherford (Texas) High
Size: 6-2, 200
Essential numbers: Had an 0.78 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 78 innings.
Compensation round (No. 34 overall): Christin Stewart, outfielder
College: University of Tennessee
Size: 6-0, 190
Essential numbers: Hit .311 in 50 games for the Volunteers, with 15 home runs, eight doubles, two triples, 47 RBIs. Had a .443 on-base percentage and .633 slugging percentage for a 1.076 OPS.
Second round (No. 65 overall): Tyler Alexander, left-handed pitcher
College: Texas Christian
Size: 6-3, 180
Essential numbers: He had 69 strikeouts and a .241 opposing batting average in 91 1/3 innings.