Tigers draft notes: No rush with pitchers, even college arms
Detroit – Of course, it's hardly unusual to see the Detroit Tigers take so many pitchers in the early rounds of the Major League Baseball Draft.
Standing out this year, though, was the fact that all five pitchers the Tigers took through two days are college arms.
They didn't draft a single high school pitcher until the 31st of 40 rounds, which begs the question: Could this crop be fast-tracked to the major leagues?
Not so fast, the Tigers are warning.
"I can see them moving to Connecticut pretty quick," quipped assistant general manager David Chadd, speaking of the Tigers' short-season, Single-A ball team. "I mean, look ... I think it's unfair to say how quick they move or don't move. Once they get out, once they get established, then their performance will dictate how quick they move."
Chadd noted that the Tigers are an organization that has a reputation for moving pitchers along at a swifter pace through the minor-league system than other teams.
Drafting college arms, which are more advanced, would seemingly allow that trend to continue.
Detroit used its first-round pick on Florida right-hander Alex Faedo, who won't sign with the Tigers until after the College World Series. The previous two years, the Tigers took high school arms with their first-round picks.
Interestingly, even they're moving at a decent pace. Beau Burrows (2015) already is at Double-A Erie, and Matt Manning (2016) is expected to be the Opening Day starter in Connecticut.
"We're not gonna throw them in the fire and say, 'Hey, we need you in the big leagues two years from now,'" Chadd said. "That's how fast he'll move, is how he does."
The last Tigers pitcher to make his major-league debut the same year he was drafted was Andrew Miller, in 2006.
Late on Day 3 of the draft, the Tigers took a trio of local high school stars in the span of four rounds. All three -- Portage Central right-hander Jeff Criswell (35th round), Holt left-hander Jesse Heikkinen (36th) and Detroit Country Day center fielder Steven Mann (38th) -- are expected to go unsigned and attend college.
Criswell is committed to Michigan, Heikkinen to Michigan State, and Mann to Duke.
"We expect them to go to school," Chadd said.
So why take them?
In short, relationship-building. The Tigers want to be a welcome sight in scouting circles over the next three years, and create some good faith should they draft them again after their junior years in college.
"A perfect example is Faedo," Chadd said of a kid the Tigers took out of high school in the later rounds, and then again this year in the first round. "It doesn't always work that way.
"But, you know, establish relationships with the players and families, and also continue friendships with college coaches. That, in turn, pays dividends."
Another late-round pick the Tigers expect to go to school is New York right-hander Nick Storz, a top-200 prospect who slipped to the 31st round because of his firm commitment to LSU.
Around the horn
The Tigers did scout Luke Heimlich, the Oregon State left-hander who once was considered a top draft prospect, until a recent story came to light about his pleading guilty to molesting a 6-year-old family member as a teenager.
He went undrafted, and now will skip the College World Series, as well.
"We wrote him up," said Scott Pleis, Tigers director of amateur scouting. "We took him off the board."
... Pleis on 22nd-round pick Colby Bortles, the younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles: "A four-year starter (Mississippi), a big-body guy who's gonna play a corner outfield position. He's got some raw power and certainly looks the part. I think he's 6-5, 225, something like that, so yeah, good bloodlines there.
... The Tigers' first high school selection was fifth-round pick Sam McMillan, a catcher from Florida. He suffered some arm soreness in the spring, costing him zip on his throws -- and perhaps scaring off some other teams. But following the Tigers' circle-back, they were sold it wasn't a chronic issue.