Henning: Tigers need big bat in draft, and some overdue luck
Detroit — Some days on the job are better than others. The Tigers front office will have a tough time beating Sunday.
They were hopping a jet for Lakeland, Florida, which is one way to deal with Michigan’s highs of sub-zero and North Pole wind-chills scheduled for mid-week. Advice to Al Avila and the guys: Don’t come home until at least April.
But the gang wasn’t flying south for an early taste of spring camp’s climes. They had business in mind. Scouting meetings geared to June’s draft and Detroit’s fifth-overall pick were high on the docket. The Tigers planned also to begin auditioning at Tigertown some of the hitting and position thoroughbreds who look as if they’ll overload June’s Top 10 draft class.
This could be the most important draft pick the Tigers have confronted since 2004 when they got Justin Verlander second overall.
“This year, there seems like there’s a lot of guys who can hit,” said Avila, the Tigers general manager, as he thawed out Saturday during TigerFest at Comerica Park. “It looks like a promising draft.”
The Tigers don’t need, as much as they are mandated, to grab a franchise bat in June. Fail to come away with at least an All-Star position stud and their roster rebuild will be even more complicated.
The White Sox, if not the Twins, could dominate the American League Central for 5-10 years if the Tigers can’t match their emerging firepower. The Indians will be hanging around, as well.
The Tigers need some breaks if they’re going to compete for division flags and October playoff runs. And one of those breaks almost surely must come from a big bat in June’s sweepstakes.
Pitching is shaping up as the Tigers reconstruct. Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Beau Burrows, Franklin Perez — the Tigers by next year could have a playoff rotation brewing at Comerica Park.
All about the bats
Their issue has been, and remains, bats. They landed too few hitters during the past decade. Every team misses, but the Tigers have been gashed badly by the Derek Hill flameout, and maybe by a failed second-round pick in Reynaldo Rivera. Missed bats in the first three rounds too often became the fate for a team that, true, didn’t always have pleasant draft positions and because the Tigers signed a string of big-name free agents that cost them rich early-round picks.
History will remain history. What matters is drafting sagely and making a trade or two that can help balance the lineup. Pumping a few more heavyweight bats into the system will give Detroit’s budding pitching a chance to forge a team that can beat the White Sox, Twins, and Indians.
The Tigers have one edge in 2019.
Adley Rutschman and Bobby Witt Jr., probably will be gone in those first four picks, but lots of potential – potential – All-Star sluggers are on a lot of scouting directors’ early top 10.
Josh Jung, Riley Greene, Andrew Vaughn, C.J. Abrams, Shea Langeliers, Matt Wallner, Rece Hinds, Drew Mendoza — by Memorial Day it’s a fair bet Detroit will have a college or prep hitter who, in this day of more refined scouting and projections, can be a centerpiece bat.
It won’t be enough, even if June’s first-rounder is a star.
Parker Meadows, whom the Tigers were lucky to get in last year’s second round, will need to become the outfielder and left-handed basher he has a reasonable chance to be.
Wenceel Perez ideally should be the two-way shortstop the Tigers will need at the infield’s wheelhouse position.
Isaac Paredes could bring dynamite to third base. Kody Clemens probably needs to flash the same game-breaking goods at second base. Christin Stewart, if scripts go as they must, will be socking 30 home runs as a left-fielder or maybe as a designated hitter.
Somewhere a genuine first baseman who can hammer homers will need to drop anchor in Detroit. And, yes, it would help also if Jake Rogers can become that power-hitting catching ace who also shapes up as an annual Gold Glover, which he figures to be if his bat keeps him in the order.
Free agency can bring one or two prime-time bats as the Tigers move closer to resuming some old, ambitious ways. Chris Ilitch will be more aggressive there than some Tigers fans believe. This isn’t the time to be silly with spending that won’t gain much but a team swimming in redder ink. But two or three years from now, the Tigers will be investing in ways that remind you a bit of habits from a decade ago.
But it will be talented draft picks, aging and arriving at a similar time, that will determine whether Al Avila’s run as general manager pays off.
He could have had better timing.
Avila no more than got the Tigers job in August 2015, when front offices decided on a reboot. They weren’t going to spend undue bucks on free agents. They instead would hoard draft picks and their farm-system litter picks.
Avila a year or two earlier would have been getting gold for a guy like J.D. Martinez. He would have had a motivated buyer or two for Nick Castellanos.
But the old business model has been torched. The Tigers got caught with an aged, expensive roster and nobody interested in their inventory, even when a guy like J.D. Martinez was waiting in 2016 to be an October wrecking ball.
A team from Detroit that probably deserves a splash of good luck will need a bit of it this year and beyond.
It is imperative the Tigers get a handful of surprises from their farm. They have depth but not much North Star material in the bushes. They’ll need some kids to catch fire.
Not only will the lineup get a boost if Daz Cameron turns into a top-shelf player, they’ll need Brock Deatherage, or Willi Castro, or some such kid to either jolt those future lineups, or, just as important, offer a handsome trade piece if and when prodigies like Wenceel Perez are ready for Comerica Park.
They’ll need pitchers like Tarik Skubal, Adam Wolf, or Hugh Smith to fill out a rotation or, again, to make doable a playoff-push swap of the brand Detroit once made.
This all hinges on an awful lot of planet alignment in the immediate years.
The upside for Detroit’s fans: It’s all quite feasible. You don’t have bad luck forever. The Tigers are due for some of the good kind. Their draft last year was strong. This year’s harvest could be as promising.
A trade or two, alongside some smart forays into the free-agent firmament, and you’ll have good baseball, and probably a contender, headed Comerica Park’s way.