Whether it was their need for more bats, their new and heightened focus on analytics, or simply a desire to shake up some traditional habits, the Tigers turned adventuresome Tuesday during rounds 3-through-10 of the big-league draft.
They all but attacked size, speed, power, and risk-reward potential as they continued a drive for more fire in their future rosters.
After moving Monday to nab Auburn pitcher Casey Mize with the first overall pick, then blue-chip Georgia prep outfielder Parker Meadows at the top of the second round, the Tigers drafted five position players Tuesday — two infielders and three outfielders — and added three pitchers, one of whom is 6-foot-10.
Tuesday’s haul began with the day’s first pick: Kody Clemens, son of Roger Clemens, the supposed Hall of Fame-bound pitcher who hasn’t yet won the affections of Cooperstown voters. Kody Clemens is a left-handed hitting second baseman from the University of Texas, who had an enormous senior season, racking up a 1.139 OPS.
They added California prep outfielder Kingston Liniak in the fourth, then reverted to pitching in the fifth when they nabbed Louisville left-hander Adam Wolf, and again in the sixth round, opting for a 6-10 right-handed starter, Hugh Smith, from Division III Whitworth College.
They closed out Tuesday’s session with three hitters in the day’s final four rounds: outfielder Eric De La Rosa from Grossmont (California). Junior College in the seventh; Fresno State shortstop Jeremiah Banks in the eighth; and North Carolina State outfielder Brock Deatherage in the 10th.
Their only late-rounds pitcher was Tarik Skubal, a left-hander from the University of Seattle.
“Every draft is different, but it’s no secret we like bigger, more athletic players if we can get 'em,” said Scott Pleis, the Tigers director of amateur scouting. “They don’t all come 6-5, but we like that (size) as more of a preference."
Pleis conceded analytics weren’t much of a factor in previous drafts but said Tigers numbers-crunchers, who have been at work mining data and building forecasts ahead of this year’s talent show, were very much a part of Detroit’s 2018 hunt.
“It was a factor on every pick, absolutely, every pick,” Pleis said. “There was an influence with the analytics, combined with the scouts, so it worked out very well.”
It was easy to analyze Clemens’ work for the Longhorns, which continues in the NCAA Tournament. He was the first of Tuesday’s eight rounds of selections after he, to date, rolled up a .346 batting average, 21 home runs, a .433 on-base percentage, and a mighty .706 slugging percentage, thanks in part to 14 doubles and three triples.
He is 6-1, 185, bats left-handed, and played most of last season as a designated hitter after having Tommy John surgery in 2016.
“Great baseball family, great baseball knowledge,” Pleis said. “You can see how much he has improved and has worked on his craft — how much more power he has this year. He’s excited to play, he plays with energy. There are a lot of pluses. We’re really excited to have Kody and see him in Lakeland.”
Clemens acknowledged that his dad’s work has left its marks, as much in helping him understand the psychology a hitter needs to build against pitchers.
“We kind of joke about it,” Clemens said. “He tries to tell me he was a good hitter in the big leagues. So we kind of laugh about it. But I’ve learned a lot from him. He kind of talks to me about the pitching side of hitting, as in learning what they (pitchers) have done to you in previous at-bats. Knowing if I have a bad at-bat I’ll be coming up in the later innings in a crucial situation.”
His big junior season, he said, was simply a matter of getting older and smarter.
“I’ve definitely matured as a hitter, in general,” Clemens said. “Just knowing I have to have great pitch discipline. Making sure I wait for my pitch, and if the pitcher makes a mistake, jump on it.”
The Tigers went for potential, however raw, with their remaining seven selections Tuesday. In order:
Fourth round, Kingston Liniak, outfielder, Mission Hills High, San Marcos, California: Liniak is 6-3, 170, bats right-handed and embodies the brand of size and speed the Tigers were particularly keen on adding. He committed to the University of San Diego but is expected to join the Tigers.
“Really athletic kid, good size, strength, and upside with the body,” Pleis said. “He’s going to stay in center field. He can run and throw. He brings energy to the game. And great makeup for the game.”
He also has bloodlines the Tigers like: His uncle, Cole Liniak, played for the Cubs, while his father, Justin, was a one-time Rockies prospect.
Fifth round, Adam Wolf, LH starter, University of Louisville: He’s a 6-6, 220-pound senior who was Louisville’s Friday-night ace after working earlier seasons as a reliever. He isn’t a fireball lefty, but the Tigers like his overall portfolio.
“He’ll show you some power, with a good slider, good change-up, and some pitchability, and some deception,” Pleis said. “He knows how to pitch. He knows the game.”
Sixth round, Hugh Smith, RH starter, Whitworth University: The Tigers like a lot about Smith, and not only the way this 6-10, 220-pound Redwood of a pitcher already twirls a baseball. Pleis insists a Division III prodigy will get significantly better.
“Huge upside,” Pleis said. “We’ve seen him up to 98, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if he throws 100. He’s a great athlete. We’re going to have to work on his delivery a little bit, but he’s really exciting.”
Seventh round, Eric De La Rosa, outfielder, Grossmont (Calif.) Junior College: He classifies as a project, but one that could pay off. De La Rosa is 6-4, 175, bats right-handed, with terrific power, but will need to refine his overall hitting profile dramatically if he cares to move past Single-A ball. The Tigers believe there’s a chance to cut down on his strikeouts and develop pitch-recognition that is, at the moment, minimal.
“High upside, and for now he stays in center field,” Pleis said. “If he fills into his body, maybe at one point we’ll make a decision. But he’s exciting.”
Eighth round, Jeremiah Burks, infielder, Fresno State: The Tigers are in love with Banks, who can play second base, or work in the outfield. He is 6-2, 175.
“Right-hand hitter who shows power,” Pleis said, “and who squares the ball up every time we’ve seen him.”
Ninth round, Tarik Skubal, LH starter, Seattle University: He spent much of last year healing from Tommy John surgery but returned this season to strike out 106 in 80 innings, thanks in great part to a mid-90s heater.
“Another good guy with three good pitches,” Pleis said ahead of repeating his favorite word. “There’s a lot of upside there.”
Tenth round, Brock Deatheridge, outfielder, North Carolina State: He had a miserable junior year but came back nicely this season for the Wolfpack, batting .307, with a .957 OPS. He’s another speedster, with a left-handed bat, and size (6-1, 175) as a center fielder.
The Tigers had wanted offense, primarily, from their 2018 draft but were happy to make an exception when they picked Mize first. The Auburn junior ace was considered, by most coast-to-coast scouts, as the top talent in this year’s sweepstakes and is expected to sign a contract between $6 million and $8 million.
The Tigers followed with what is likely to be an over-slot package to Meadows, 18, from Grayson High in Loganville, Georgia. Meadows is 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, bats left-handed, and has loads of speed and potential power that the Tigers found too tempting as they try to pump more fury into their farm system.
Meadows has committed to Clemson but is believed to be ready to take the Tigers’ offer, which is expected to exceed the $1.625 million Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office has allocated for the second round’s top pick. The Tigers can offer Meadows, or any player, an above-slot contract but must expend a lesser corresponding amount to stay within the good graces of Manfred’s office in New York.
The Tigers and their 29 big-league colleagues will close out the 2018 draft today with 30, rapid-fire rounds.