No matter the round, or spot, they take their first turn in any year’s baseball draft, rarely do the Tigers pass on pitching.
Nothing changed Monday night during the first round of the 2017 amateur sweepstakes.
Alex Faedo, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound freight train of a starter, was nabbed by the Tigers with the 18th overall pick during Monday night’s opening selections.
Faedo throws right-handed and has been on the Tigers’ short list all of 2017 as he worked for the University of Florida, polishing his status in the nation’s best baseball conference.
The Tigers opted for left-handed power with their second pick, the 57th overall, when they bit on Reynaldo Rivera, a 6-foot-6 outfielder/first baseman and Puerto Rican native who played this spring for Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla., in Florida’s panhandle.
Rivera was a 24th-round pick by the Cubs in 2016 but chose to return to college, which led to a huge 2017, with a .439 batting average, .541 on-base percentage, and .835 slugging percentage, good for a mammoth OPS of 1.376.
In nabbing Faedo early Monday, the Tigers settled on a 21-year-old Gators junior whose fastball can run into the mid-90s, with a big-league slider, change-up, and fourth-pitch curve. He is the brand of pitcher the Tigers expect can crack the big leagues in as few as two years, which could conceivably make him part of a future rotation that might well include Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris, as well as prospects Kyle Funkhouser and Beau Burrows.
The Gators remain busy in the NCAA Tournament, with Faedo their star starter. But he entered in relief in Monday’s Super Regional win over Wake Forest, earning a save with three strikeouts in two innings as the Gators advanced to the College World Series.
Faedo is 7-2 in 17 starts, with a 2.60 ERA. He has allowed 89 hits in 107⅓ innings, struck out 132, and walked 35.
A native of Tampa, only a half-hour from the Tigertown complex in Lakeland, Fla., Faedo was first drafted by the Tigers in 2014 (40th round) out of Braulio Alonso High. He passed on professional baseball and now has a shot at signing a deal with the Tigers somewhere around the slotted allocation of $3.2 million.
Baseball America had Faedo listed as its No. 10 prospect in the 2017 draft. Frankie Piliere, a prominent scout who reports for D1Baseball.com, had Faedo precisely where the Tigers took him — 18th.
The Tigers had their pick Monday of high-horsepower pitchers, as well as a handful of position players, when the 18th spot arrived.
North Carolina prep lefty D.L. Hall was known to have been on the Tigers’ chase list, as perhaps was University of Oregon lefty David Peterson. On the position side, the Tigers could have opted for Puerto Rican teenager Heliot Ramos, or a player they were considered to be particularly high on, University of North Carolina shortstop Logan Warmoth.
But it was Faedo who most intrigued, and reassured, Tigers scouts when his name continued to slip into the Tigers’ range Monday.
Faedo was a star from the get-go at Florida and was considered the top talent on USA Baseball’s 2016 Collegiate National Team.
His only red flag sprung last fall when he had minor surgery on each of his knees. And while his velocity dipped a bit following recovery, the Tigers liked what they saw during Faedo’s showcase starts this spring.
Baseball America’s scouting report on Faedo says his work on last year’s USA Collegiate National Team earned plus grades from some scouts on his three primary pitches: fastball, slider, and change-up.
“At its best,” Baseball America says, “Faedo’s slider rivals that of North Carolina’s J.B. Bukauskas (taken 15th by the Astros), though it has a bit less power in the 83-84-mph range. He manipulates the pitch’s shape well and can locate it for strikes or as a chase pitch, though at times he gets too cute and throws too many sliders.
“Faedo’s fastball velocity has tended to be average at 88-92 this spring, but he’s pitched in the 92-94 register in the past, and he fills up the strike zone with his heater despite it having plus life.
“He can sink it and cut it, and at times his change-up has similar sinking life and run.
“Faedo’s longer arm action gives scouts some pause,” Baseball America’s scouting report says, “but hasn’t impeded his feel for the strike zone, and he has plenty of track record for clubs picking high to rely on.”
Faedo is the nephew of Lenny Faedo, a shortstop who played 174 games for the Twins from 1980-84.
Rivera is an entirely different player with a far lower profile than Faedo carries. In drafting him far earlier than he was projected to go, the Tigers clearly were saying they wanted Rivera minus any gambles he would be available later.
Baseball America had him ranked 191st among all draft-eligible amateurs — 134 places later than the Tigers selected him Monday.
Baseball America’s scouting report said about Rivera:
“Scouts are enthusiastic about his offensive profile. Rivera has plus power and feel for hitting. Scouts expect him to become more of a power threat at the next level as he sacrifices some of his contact ability to tap into more of his raw power.
“He’s played mostly first base as an amateur, but he has a plus arm and runs well enough to potentially handle a corner outfield spot. His arm was good enough that he was also considered a draft prospect as a pitcher out of high school.
“Rivera got particularly hot in the second half of the (2017) season,” Baseball America wrote, “batting .561 and swatting 11 home runs in his last 30 games before the NJCAA World Series.
“He could be selected,” Baseball America concluded, “in the top five rounds.”
The Twins had the first overall pick Monday and took California prep shortstop Royce Lewis, a dazzling athlete who could play short or center field. The Reds, choosing second, went with California cover-boy pitcher Hunter Greene.
MacKenzie Gore, a prep left-hander from Whiteville, N.C., went third to the Padres, while, somewhat surprisingly, Louisville superstar Brendan McKay, who could make it as a pitcher or as a power-hitting first baseman, was swiped by Tampa Bay with the fourth pick, just before Vanderbilt ace Kyle Wright was plucked at No. 5 by the Braves.
The draft resumes today with rounds 3 through 10, with the finishing rounds set for Wednesday.
Position: Right-handed pitcher
Home: Tampa, Fla.
Notable: Drafted by the Tigers in the 40th round (1,210th overall) in 2014.
Position: Outfielder/first baseman
College: Chipola Junior College, Marianna, Fla.
Home: Toa Alta, Puerto Rico
Notable: Committed to Mississippi State, considered a good student with a 3.85 GPA. He was drafted by the Cubs in 2016 in 24th round.