They will sign many of Wednesday’s picks from an exhausting final 30 rounds of a three-day draft, and watch others decide instead on playing college baseball, perhaps to the benefit of all parties.
But it’s also possible the Tigers found some roster pieces during Wednesday’s cavalcade that marked a formal end to big-league baseball’s 2018 talent hunt.
The Tigers opened festivities Monday evening when they dubbed Auburn right-hander Casey Mize as the 2018 draft’s first prize. They added another blue-chipper, Georgia prep outfielder Parker Meadows, in Monday’s second round, all before boring into Tuesday’s segment when in rounds 3 through 10 they took five position players and three pitchers.
That left the Tigers to ponder Wednesday’s grand finale when odds of anyone reaching the big leagues among teams’ later picks become almost prohibitive.
The Tigers on Wednesday began with the day’s first choice, in the 11th round, when they plucked Kacey Murphy, a left-handed starter from the University of Arkansas. They finished three days of shopping by taking in the 40th round Kevynn Arias-Liriano, a catcher and Dominican Republic native who had earlier played at Southeastern University.
As had been their intent in the earlier rounds, the Tigers stuck with size and overall athleticism they hope will deliver down-the-road dividends to their farm and big-league rosters.
Murphy, a 6-foot, 200-pound senior, is 8-6 in 14 games for the Razorbacks with a 2.86 ERA. He has thrown 88 innings, allowed 71 hits, struck out 74, and walked 16.
Baseball America’s scouting report on Murphy (pay site):
“There’s little flashy about Murphy, but he has been effective with fringe-average stuff and above-average control. Scouts like his competitiveness and his ability to get ahead of hitters.
“He bumps up to 90-91 at his best, but Murphy lives in the upper 80s with his fastball. What has made the fastball effective is its movement and his ability to locate it to both sides of the plate. The same can be said for his fringe-average change-up and curveball. Neither is particularly sharp, but he locates them well.
“Murphy’s margin for error is small and, when he misses, he’s prone to giving up home runs. But he doesn’t make many mistakes …”
In the 12th round, the Tigers took an outfielder, Reece Hampton, from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. They chose Duke catcher Chris Proctor in the 13th round, Texas State shortstop Luke Sherley in the 14th, and Nevada-Las Vegas first baseman Nick Ames in the 15th round.
In the 16th, they went for a Wichita State outfielder, Dayton Dugas, a right-handed hitter who is 6-3, 225, and who was a 29th-round pick by the Tigers in 2015 before he carried on with his Shockers commitment. He batted .250 this season, with five home runs and a .716 OPS.
“He has plus raw power,” Baseball America says in its scouting synopsis of Dugas, “but that power struggles to translate into games because he doesn't make consistent enough contact.”
The Tigers gambled in the 20th round on a prep shortstop, Kelvin Smith, from Stone Mountain, Ga., who is committed to the University of Missouri.
Baseball America’s scouting capsule says Smith, who is 6-foot, 185, “shows all the actions and tools necessary to stick at shortstop, although he still needs some additional reps and added polish.
“He has average arm strength and solid-average footwork to go along with quick hands and the ability to make plays on the run and throw from multiple slots. He tends to play with flair at times, which showcases his natural ability but also leads to fairly routine errors.
“Offensively, Smith Jr. has plus bat speed and at least average raw power. He's also an above-average runner and has the work ethic needed to make adjustments going forward.”
Jordan Vernon, a first baseman for San Diego State was scooped in the 23rd round. Baseball America’s summary of a player who this year batted .333, with a .994 OPS:
“A 24th-round pick of the Mets out of high school, Verdon is a physical left-handed masher who hit 26 doubles and 12 home runs this spring and likely lost some more to the deep alleys and high walls of Tony Gwynn Stadium. The 6-foot-3 Verdon is just now learning to tap into his power. He used to get out in front and hit balls the other way, but has made strides letting the ball get deep and uses his strength and leverage to lift balls in the air.
“Verdon’s power is real, but he has holes in his swing and doesn’t always find the barrel. He is limited defensively to first base, so he’ll have to mash to rise in pro ball.”
Another of San Diego State’s stars, right-handed pitcher, Garrett Hill, was a Tigers choice, three rounds later (26).
Hill had Tommy John surgery two years ago while pitching for a California junior college but made it back this season and became the Aztecs’ ace.
“Hill pitches at 87-90 and touches 92 out of a casual, low-effort delivery, with the ability to ramp up to 94,” Baseball America’s scouts wrote. “His 75-76 change-up is his best secondary pitch. Hill throws all his pitches for strikes, works quickly, and pitches deep into games because he keeps his pitch-count low.”
The Tigers’ insistence on drafting size and athleticism moved them to take in the 32nd round Clark Brinkman, from Creighton University, the same school that sent the Tigers outfielder Mike Gerber in 2014.
Brinkman is 6-2, 200, bats right-handed, and this season hit .317, with an .893 OPS, and stole 24 bases. The Baseball America rundown says “Brinkman’s swing isn’t smooth or pretty, but it works, and he’s a center-fielder who should be able to stay at the position in pro ball, thanks in part to his plus speed.”
Brinkman, the BA report continues, “is a table-setter with well-below-average power (professional baseball), but he has the tools and skills to make that work.”
Another gamble on persuading a player to reconsider college came in the 38th round when the Tigers jumped on Cole Henry, from Florence (Ala.) High, who is a Louisiana State pledge.
Henry is 6-4, 205, and, says Baseball America, has “a power arm to match.”
Henry’s fastball can reach 97, BA says, adding:
“He throws both a power breaking ball and a change-up. He repeats his delivery well and has shown the ability to pound the strike zone.”
With their next-to-last turn, the Tigers took a top-shelf Florida prep hitter and third baseman, Cory Acton, who is headed to the University of Florida and who isn’t expected to consider seriously the Tigers’ 39th-round bid.
It is customary in big-league baseball for teams to draft players already committed to college teams and to scholarships. The difference is teams generally know what a player expects in terms of money to forgo college and turn professional. Those conversations guard against wasting energy on precious early picks that might prove futile.
Teams also take calculated chances later in the draft on players who might be coaxed out of so-called “hard commits” to colleges, especially if a few extra dollars can be scraped up to sell a player on turning pro — now.
The same process can apply to college juniors. Because juniors are eligible for the draft, some can be lured away from their senior season, while others will opt to head back for a senior year and perhaps for higher draft status, and better money, in a year when they might also be armed with a diploma.
The Tigers now will work to sign their 40 choices, with special emphasis and higher expectations on early-round picks. Those players then can report to the Tigers’ minor-league headquarters in Lakeland, Fla., and from there, in some cases, to a short-season team such as Single-A Connecticut, which begins its schedule June 15.