Editor’s note: Latest in a series looking at the Tigers’ first 10 draft picks.
As a high school senior, Gio Arriera barely knew what a professional scout was, let alone what one looked like. He pitched in relative obscurity.
One year later, as a freshman at Palm Beach State College — a JuCo in eastern Florida — that changed.
“He had the paparazzi at every start,” said his college coach, Kyle Forbes. “It’s a great story.
“He was undrafted last year, and he had a great senior year for his high school, took his high school to the state championship over in Fort Meyers, and was undrafted. We were shocked by that.”
Arriera, a right-hander with a fastball that sits low 90s and can touch 95, was the Tigers’ fourth-round pick in this week’s Major League Baseball Draft. He reports to Lakeland on Sunday, and is expected to sign for slightly more than $400,000.
Arriera clearly expected to be drafted out of high school in Hialeah, Fla., so much so that he hadn’t chosen a college, despite interest from Division I schools like South Florida, Florida International and Miami (Fla.).
When his name wasn’t called, he was left scrambling — ending up at Palm Beach State in August, two months after the draft.
“I feel like everything happens for a reason,” he said over the phone this week, after watching the MLB draft surrounded by his mom, dad, grandparents and his closest friends. “The school, I went out and they really helped me out a lot, they really exposed me. It was one of the best choices of my life.”
Starting in the fall, the scouts started coming around. By the time the season, rolled around, they were there all the time.
Arriera couldn’t believe it, and was a bit taken aback at first.
“It was nerve-racking for sure to go on the mound and see all those guys back there,” he said. “As the year went on, it grew on me. That is crazy, but you get used to it.”
Get used to it, he did, posting a 10-2 record in 16 starts, with 90 strikeouts and 26 walks in 782/3 innings.
He throws what’s typically referred to as a “heavy” fastball, with sink, as well as a curveball.
Forbes said the velocity did go up a tick from high school, but not a ton — so it remains a mystery why he wasn’t scouted a lick last year, and scouts couldn’t leave him alone this year. The Tigers weren’t overly specific, either.
“It does happen,” said David Chadd, Tigers assistant GM. “Especially if you’re at a smaller program, a lesser high school or smaller JC, it happens. Sometimes kids just mature later. It might be that extra year that takes him 87-88 to 94, the breaking ball gets a little tighter.”
Said Scott Pleis, Tigers director of amateur scouting: “No question, they mature at different levels and age. That’s kind of what some of these guys do. They’re not all great coming out of high school.”
Chadd pointed out one example: White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, who wasn’t drafted out of high school, and wasn’t drafted after one year at community college, and then the next year was the No. 17 pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.
Arriera did concede he “matured more” over the last year, particularly with his on-mound composure.
Forbes calls him a great kid who outworks just about everybody.
“You know how they talk about off-the-bat exit velocity?” he said. “Our gauge of exit velocity is, after practice is over, who exits the dugout last? This kid is the last one to leave every day. He works his tail off.”
GET TO KNOW ...
Gio Arriera, RHP
Age: 19 (June 7, 1998)
Hometown: Hialeah, Fla.
College: Palm Beach State College, Fla.
Draft: Fourth round, 125th overall ($420,700 value)
Fun fact: He gave up a long home run to Tigers second-round pick Reynaldo Rivera in the state tournament at TigerTown in Lakeland, Fla. “At least he’s on my side this time,” Arriera said, laughing.