This is a weekly look by Lynn Henning of The Detroit News at the candidates the Tigers could consider with the No. 1 pick in June's draft.
In last Thursday’s showcase game at the University of Florida’s baseball venue at Gainesville, Fla., it wasn’t by coincidence that six Tigers scouts and front-office bosses happened to be sitting together.
They wanted to see how the guy who most likely will be announced as the 2018 draft’s first overall pick, Auburn right-hander Casey Mize, would fare against Florida ace Brady Singer, who a few months ago was considered the likely top prize in this year’s draft, which is set for June 4.
The Tigers, per their policy, aren’t saying anything publicly about this year’s draft picks, or about last week’s billboard duel. But it’s almost certain that no opinions changed.
Singer and the Gators out-dueled Auburn, 3-1, but only in terms of a final score. Apart from a wobbly first inning, Mize was the stronger pitcher: seven innings, four hits, 10 strikeouts, one walk.
Singer: seven innings, four hits, one run, eight strikeouts, two walks.
Singer does not have the velocity or pitch-quality Mize has consistently shown this spring and his ceiling in this year’s draft could be anywhere from 10 to 20 in the first round. It’s possible, based on status, he could go earlier, but today it seems unlikely.
Mize is still the consensus blue-chipper at first overall in a 2018 draft that’s unremarkable for franchise talent. Tough luck, Tigers, although Mize is more than a lovely consolation prize.
Scouts on hand last week saw him with a rare blip — a flat cutter in the first inning, one of which Gators third baseman and No. 3 hitter, Jonathan India, parked for a homer.
But otherwise he was Mize: fastball 93-96, a slider that has been better but was still fine, with a curveball and split-finger change-up. He has multiple plus pitches, while Singer has multiple good pitches. Big distinction there.
Meanwhile, the Tigers continue to allow any hitter in the land to coax them into grabbing a bat the team is ravenous to add.
But it isn’t there. Not one they can trust at first overall.
Nick Madrigal, the Oregon State second baseman, probably is the safest bet to reach the big leagues as a hitter, and in a hurry, but he’s 5-foot-7, maybe 5-8, and simply doesn’t have the power a wee guy such as Jose Altuve all along stood to show once Altuve got to Houston.
Alec Bohm? Joey Bart? Jarred Kelenic? Connor Scott? Travis Swaggerty? Nolan Gorman?
Any of them could make the Tigers, in a few years, wonder why they didn’t bite on a guy who could have been lightning in their batting order. But there isn’t sufficient evidence today, in most scouts’ eyes, that any of them is a better bet than Mize to pay off and make a first-overall pick the best it can be.
How, then, the Top Ten draft prospects stack up barely a month before the Tigers make this year’s first overall draft grab:
1. Casey Mize, RH starter, Auburn, 6-3, 220: Still the runaway points leader ahead of June 4. Only thing that could knock him off the pedestal is something health-related. A long month to go, but Mize for now is the man. Last week: 1.
2. Alec Bohm, 3B, Wichita State, 6-5, 220: He isn’t Kris Bryant, but he’s not greatly trailing the Cubs star when you compare where Bryant was five years ago at the University of San Diego. The Tigers so badly want to take a hitter. A month from now, they might see enough in Bohm to take the plunge. For now — it’s not happening. Last week: 4.
3. Nick Madrigal, 2B, Oregon State, 5-8, 165: He will have a smooth ride, with minimal time on the farm, en route to the big leagues. He’s a skilled hitter. He is about as safe as position picks rank. But between size, maybe some questions about durability, and too little projected power, he goes no higher than third overall, especially when the Giants are steering clear of him with the draft’s second pick. Last week: 7.
4. Joey Bart, C, Georgia Tech, 6-3, 225: He can hit, and he calls his own game, which is unusual for a college catcher at this level. He guarantees, as much as any catching prospect can assure a team that he’ll be in the big leagues soon and producing beautifully. He has a tremendous arm. He does everything right. But his bat is projected to be mid-range. And that’s not good enough to go first overall. Last week: 2.
5. Shane McClanahan, LH starter, University of South Florida, 6-1, 173: It’s still about fastball prowess. McClanahan’s heater, which is acquainted with 100 mph, makes him more dynamic than other pitchers in a year when some of the early-season horses seem to be losing steam. Last week: 8.
6. Matt Liberatore, LH starter, Mountain Ridge High, Glendale, Ariz., 6-5, 200: Ah, the old prep peril: a fastball that seems to be observing too many speed limits. It has slumped a degree, to the lower 90s, and that’s not going to make him any threat at 1-1. Last week: 6.
7. Logan Gilbert, RH starter, Stetson University, 6-6, 210: Hasn’t been pitching against the kinds of Marine Corps-grade hitters you see in the Southeastern Conference, so, it’s a bit tougher to gauge Gilbert’s potential. But he’s polished, with a nice repertoire, and figures to be a nice rotation piece as soon as he’s wrapped up a short minor-league apprenticeship. Last week: 10.
8. Nolan Gorman, 3B, Sandra Day O’Connor High, Glendale, Ariz., 6-1, 210: This might be the guy the Tigers and others most regret not taking. He has incredible power for a prep player, the best of any high school or college player in North America. But he figures to be more of a first baseman, and that destination drops his stock, even if it will make some fans — and maybe a team from Detroit — wonder why it was a problem. Last week: Unranked.
9. Connor Scott, OF, Plant High, Tampa, Fla., 6-4, 180: It’s doubtful any team, let alone the Tigers, sees quite enough in Scott to brand him as the top amateur talent within this year’s draft galaxy. But there’s enough going on with Scott to make him a Top 10 pick, which would disturb the Blue Jays, who reportedly want him at No. 12. Last week: 9.
10. Brady Singer, RH starter, University of Florida, 6-5, 210: He has too much polish, and probably too much pedigree, to slip from the draft’s top 10. There is nothing terribly distinguished about any of his pitches. But he has a solid, SEC-grade, ace repertoire, and with his size and finesse, someone’s likely to bit. Last week: 5.
Dropped from list: Travis Swaggerty, outfielder, University of South Alabama. He has talent galore, but the stock has taken a bit of a dip and might keep Swaggerty out of a top 10 in which he earlier was a fixture.