These prep stars might be on Tigers' radar during draft

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Draft day is different for the Tigers in 2015.

They have some actual shots in the early rounds to grab players the Tigers normally aren't offered, mostly due to their past forays into the free-agent market. Those safaris often robbed the team of a first-round prize that went to another team whose pocket Detroit picked, which was the case in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

This year is an exception, all because the Tigers were on the losing end in last offseason's free-agent shopping spree that sent Max Scherzer to the Nationals and at least rewarded the Tigers with a compensation pick when the 2015 draft begins at 7 p.m., June 8.

The Tigers have their own first-round turn at No. 22 overall, then get their Scherzer compensatory award at No. 34. They will choose again at No. 65 (second round) and No. 99 (third round).

The prevailing guess in any Tigers draft with Dave Dombrowski running the front office is that Detroit will take pitching. That's particularly plausible when the farm system is perceived as carrying a bit less inventory than would be the norm.

But there is no give-away sign the Tigers will go with a pitcher when their first turn arrives at No. 22 overall.

"We're not really locked in on a particular player or position — we're open to anything," said David Chadd, the Tigers vice president for amateur scouting.

"The great thing about Dave is he lets us take the best players at a particular spot. I certainly know from the standpoint of organizational depth, some pitchers have been traded. And everyone likes left-hand hitting. But we'll take the best player."

This year, it could be a high school hitter, which is one of the draft's stronger features, at least when the Tigers' seat late in the first round is considered.

The Tigers, of course, will happily grab any pitcher who might have been bypassed in those first 22 spots, particularly if a big, powerful right-hander along the lines of UCLA's James Kaprielian, or — in a stunning surprise — if Vanderbilt's Walker Buehler might for whatever reason have slipped. The same with a Big Ten left-hander, Tyler Jay, from Illinois.

But none of those horses figures to be around. The Tigers, meanwhile, are believed to have cooled on a pitcher, Kyle Funkhouser of Louisville, to whom they have been tied by national bird dogs.

Funkhouser's velocity dropped late in the season and he isn't carrying quite the cachet a 6-foot-2, 235-pound right-hander would figure to hold for a Tigers team that loves, big, sturdy, power-armed starters.

It's a similar story with other college pitchers the Tigers don't appear to be chasing: Cody Ponce (Cal Poly Pomona), Phil Bickford (Junior College of Southern Nevada), and Mike Matuella (Duke), who has had health issues the Tigers aren't likely to trust with that 22nd pick.

College position players are always attractive, as well, but billboard stars Dansby Swanson (Vanderbilt), Alex Bregman (LSU), Andrew Benintendi (Arkansas), etc., almost surely will be top 10 or top 15 picks. Another position player the Tigers might ponder, Cincinnati outfielder Ian Happ, isn't believed to be on Detroit's dance list at 22.

It leaves the Tigers, if they so choose, to ponder a ton of prep talent that should be there for the grabbing —and paying, if they care to talk some of the prodigies out of their college commitments.

Trenton Clark, an outfielder from North Richland Hills, Texas, would please the Tigers greatly. But they aren't picking in the top 10, where Clark figures to go.

They would love Tyler Stephenson, a catcher from Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, but look for him to drop no deeper than the Braves at No. 14.

They do not show any evidence of being hot on a prep pitcher some national prognosticators like: Donny Everett, a 100-mph flame-thrower from Clarksville (Tenn.) High.

The Tigers, though, have a percentage shot of nabbing a prep star with upside so high the team perhaps won't mind taking a stab at any of the following:

Cornelius Randolph, SS, Griffin, Georgia: He is a 6-1, 190-pound left-handed hitter with one of the 2015 draft's best bats. It's likely he won't play shortstop in the big leagues but will move either to third base or to the outfield. He's a Clemson commit and the scouting world believes he wants major dollars to sign. The Tigers won't be bothered by the dollars if they decide Randolph is their man.

Chris Betts, C, Long Beach, California: Betts is every club's dream: a left-handed hitting catcher who can mash a baseball. The Tigers love Betts. He might not stick around at 22, but Chadd and his staff have made a habit of loading up on catchers in recent years, knowing their value to a team, and to trade discussions.

Ashe Russell, RHP, Indianapolis: Definitely a youngster to keep in mind as the Tigers ponder how much they can bank on a right-handed star who goes 6-foot-4, 195. But, of course, the Tigers opted for pitcher of Russell's size and vintage eight years ago named Rick Porcello. And while Porcello had a scholarship to North Carolina that he ultimately declined, Russell has one to Texas A&M that he might or might not forgo.

Austin Smith, RHP, Boynton Beach, Florida: Same frame as Russell, with many of the same attributes, and a ton of competitive history pitching in the spotlight. Fits the Tigers' past habits, not only in the case of Porcello, but in Texas prep star Jake Thompson, who last summer was dealt to the Rangers for Joakim Soria.

Eric Jenkins, OF, Cerro Gordo, North Carolina: Left-handed hitting center-fielder, with size (6-2, 165) and all the athleticism you would expect in a first-round pick, which Jenkins is certain to be.

Tyler Nevin, OF, Poway, California: He's the son of Phil Nevin, who played for the Tigers long before he became manager at Triple A Toledo. He's bigger and more athletic than his dad, at 6-3, 200, and carries a dynamite right-handed bat. He had Tommy John surgery a year ago, but is back strong. The Tigers are highly interested.

Nick Plummer, Lathrup Village: A dazzling outfielder for Birmingham Brother Rice hasn't had quite the senior season he, and others, had been counting on. But he's a sure first-round pick the Tigers have been following for years. He's 5-11, 200, bats left-handed, and — for now — plays center field. Teams love his mechanics and ceiling. And that includes the Tigers.

The Tigers, of course, know that much will change in the draft's final days, and even hours, as decisions shift, money demands quietly become clearer, and an immense talent hunt, involving more than 1,200 players, shakes out.

Chadd isn't sure how to view 2015 — except that it has a legitimate crop of future big-leaguers.

"I'm always optimistic, and this is a decent draft," he said. "I don't think there's a lot of impact in the draft — no (Stephen) Strasburgs, or (Bryce) Harpers or (Troy) Tulowitzkis, or (Andrew) McCutchens. I may be proven wrong there in the years ahead.

"But I do see good players. Good big league players."

2015 MLB Draft

When: June 8-10

Coverage: June 8 — 7 p.m. (pre-draft coverage at 6 p.m.), MLB Network and; June 9 — 1 p.m.,; June 10 — noon,

Breakdown: Round one through the Competitive Balance Round B (top 75 draft spots) are June 8, with rounds 2-10 on June 9, and rounds 11-40 on June 10.

Tigers early picks: No. 22 (first round), No. 34 (as compensation for loss of free agent Max Scherzer), No. 65 (second round), and No. 99 (third round).

First pick: Arizona Diamondbacks