Avila not saying who Tigers will take No. 1 overall in draft

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Al Avila, the Tigers executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager, isn't saying who the Tigers will take at No. 1 overall on Monday.

Detroit — Whether he was being coy, or guarded, or careful, or cagey, or maybe just plain smart, Al Avila wasn't tipping hands Wednesday.

 Five days before his team makes the first overall pick in baseball's 2018 draft, the Tigers general manager said lovely things about Auburn ace Casey Mize, but also said the Tigers were still talking and thinking.

And, no doubt, waiting to make sure Mize pitches with vigor and health Friday when Auburn plays Northeastern in a first-round NCAA tournament game.

 Avila acknowledged there probably isn't a "once-in-a-decade player" in this year's sweepstakes, which is a shopping spree in which 30 big-league teams grab prep and college players, but that "we still feel confident we'll make a good pick."

Mize was discussed during Tuesday's Tigers-Angels game when Avila talked with Fox Sports Detroit's broadcast team of Mario Impemba and Rod Allen.

He started something of a Twitter flap when Avila said "at this stage, Mize is more refined, more advanced," than was Justin Verlander at the same point when the Tigers drafted Verlander, second overall, in 2014.

Avila was making a point about Mize's secondary pitches, but was not equating the two players' fastballs, the pitch Verlander could then throw at 100 mph and that became his trademark during a big-league career now in its 14th season.

Mize has four pitches: a mid-90s fastball, a cutter, slider, and split-finger change-up. 

Avila and the Tigers will convene later this week in Lakeland, Fla., at the team's spring-training and minor-league headquarters. The Tigers' analytics department has been in Lakeland for two weeks, focused on individual prospects, their metrics, and projections for how they will develop, based on historical data.

Avila said there was time for drama to yet change the top of Detroit's draft board. Health, late performances, a convincing sales pitch from nearly two-dozen scouts and their cross-checkers and supervisors — all could shake up any suppositions on anyone's part, Avila said.

"Things can change," Avila said. "New info comes in."

Avila gave no hints on what style of player the Tigers might want with their next pick, at 44th overall.

He said the sheer volume of first-round picks, and compensation turns between the first and second rounds, made it impossible to guess with any accuracy what players would still be within reach.

Avila spoke Wednesday about a move apart from the draft — the Tigers' decision to release right-handed reliever Gerson Moreno. 

Moreno, 22, will have Tommy John surgery next month. He became a 40-man roster casualty when the Tigers needed space to add pitching help when Francisco Liriano and Daniel Stumpf this week were added to the disabled list.

Moreno, who once was one of the bright lights in the Tigers system, had a near-100-mph fastball but had a bad spring at Double-A Erie, with a 5.29 ERA in 14 games, with a mile-high 1.82 WHIP.