Tennessee's Stewart, Simcox shaping up as Tiger keepers

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Christin Stewart

Some regions, some conferences, a scout learns he can count on each year to make an afternoon or evening in the bleachers worthwhile.

Texas always pays off on the high school or college front. And so, of course, does the Southeastern Conference, which annually throws an early-round pick or two Detroit’s way.

It might be an old favorite like Vanderbilt that donates a couple of pitching prospects. Or, as was the case in June’s draft, help arrived from the University of Tennessee.

Left-handed hitting outfielder Christin Stewart was the Tigers’ second pick in June when they turned a compensation pick awarded for losing Max Scherzer into a power bat that, if all goes according to plans, could debut in Detroit inside of two years.

Stewart is batting .307 with a .921 OPS in two Single A stops this summer at Connecticut and West Michigan. He is 6-foot, 205 pounds, and was on Detroit’s must-watch list since his days at Providence Christian Academy in Atlanta.

“We’ve been watching him for years,” Chadd said. “In high school, college, and in international competition.”

A.J. Simcox, a right-handed hitting shortstop, was another Volunteer grabbed by Detroit, in the 14th round, and a player Tigers assistant general manager David Chadd says was “kind of a key to our draft.”

Simcox is hitting .405 in his last 10 games for West Michigan and .313 in 41 games. He is 6-3, 185, turned 21 in June, and impressed Tigers scouts, as well as special assistant Alan Trammell, during pre-draft workouts.

Chadd headed amateur scouting before he was promoted this month to assistant GM and concedes there’s a back story to his “key to our draft” remarks.

It has to do with a player the Tigers drafted in June and subsequently lost to a University of Kentucky scholarship: high school shortstop Nick Shumpert, son of former big-leaguer Terry Shumpert.

The Tigers had done their homework and had reason to believe Shumpert, from Highlands Ranch High, in Lone Tree, Colo., would sign a contract with the Tigers, for more than the money typically slotted a ninth-round pick.

But quiet assurances fell through. Shumpert opted for college. And the Tigers, as protection against losing an essential up-the-middle pick in June’s early rounds, also plucked Simcox.

“We think he’s a true shortstop,” Chadd said. “And hitting the way he’s been hitting, he’s got a chance to be an impact shortstop.”

That depends, in part, on Simcox adding muscle and power that hasn’t been on great display, at least in proportion to his impressive frame. But power tends to be the last stage of development for hitters, as has been the case with Tigers catcher James McCann, who late in 2014 began hitting the ball for distance and has since made the 400-foot drive part of his arsenal.

The Tigers might have put together their best draft in a decade in 2015. Returns won’t be in for years, but their early-round pitchers — Beau Burrows, Tyler Alexander, Drew Smith, Matt Hall, Dominic Moreno, etc. — have had at various times the best collective ERAs among the 30 big-league clubs and their particular pitching hauls.

Stewart has helped balance an intentional focus on re-stocking the Tigers’ farm arms with a bat that the Tigers believed they couldn’t resist, all because left-handed power is one of baseball’s eternal precious metals.

The Tigers also went for a catcher early, Kade Scivicque, who was snagged from another Southeastern outpost, Louisiana State, in June’s fourth round. Scivicque has cooled of late but is batting .291, with a .752 OPS, in 45 games at Connecticut and at West Michigan.

Chadd acknowledges the Tigers will almost always take a catcher in the early rounds, given their scarcity and big-league teams’ hunger for depth.

And, of course, he also admits the Tigers will tend to opt for pitching when pitching still most determines a team’s playoff pedigree. The Tigers this year were all but out of arms. And that had a bearing on June’s picks.

“Yeah, I think we identified that were light on pitching and development, with past trades we made,” said Chadd, who will see his top lieutenant, Scott Pleis, become chief steward of Detroit’s upcoming drafts. “You can never have enough pitching, but you also never go into a draft necessarily drafting by need.

“The key to any amateur draft is to have balance between high school and college players, left-handers and right-handers, pitchers and position talent. What it comes down to, at the heart of a draft, is to take in all your information and hopefully come up with some intelligent opinions.”