San Diego – General manager Al Avila seemingly tipped his hand on Wednesday night, telling reporters the player he’s taking with the first pick in the Rule 5 draft will not be somebody they need to stash on the roster but someone who can contribute.
Which almost always means, hard-throwing reliever.
In this case, though, he flipped the script. The Tigers Thursday morning took former Yankees right-hander Rony Garcia, whose fastball sits typically around 91-92 mph and has mostly started through his four years of pro ball.
"He's performed well," said Tigers vice president of player development David Littlefield. "He's a good-sized kid with a good arm. He's a four-pitch pitcher who has been a starter. For a group that's looking to add some pitching, this is a good pick for us."
The Tigers have scouted him for several years, going back to 2015 when he was pitching in the Dominican. They've also seen him plenty the last four springs, playing the Yankees so often in Grapefruit League games.
The consensus among scouts and the analytics was, at age 21 last season, he took a big step forward last season, posting 104 strikeouts with just 38 walks in 105.1 innings at Double-A Trenton.
"He's got a very good arm," Littlefield said. "He can go 91-95 mph. For a starting pitcher to throw in that range, it's very solid. And he's got a mix of pitches to go with it."
Garcia, described by scouts as mature physically and mentally, will turn 22 next week and he projects to be the 13th pitcher on the staff, working long relief and making spot starts. But that is not etched in stone.
"Until you get your hands on him and see him in camp, there's no urgency to pigeon-hole him to a certain role," Littlefield said. "We'll just see how it goes. There's a lot to like and we have a lot of opportunities."
A cautionary tale about Rule 5 picks, though: Over the last 10 years, the first overall pick has generated just 0.3 WAR. Eleven of the 14 Rule 5 picks last year were returned to their teams.
"Being drafted isn't the end-all," Littlefield said. "You've got to be up (at the big-league level) the whole year and we've seen the numbers through the years. That is a big challenge."
The Tigers took a hard-throwing, command-challenged reliever in Rule 5 last year – Reed Garrett. Ultimately, he was sent back to his former team, Texas.
Two years ago, when the Tigers again had the first overall pick, they selected outfielder Victor Reyes, who developed into one of the club’s most productive players last season.
“If you have roster space, it’s a free look at a player,” Avila said. “But if your roster is tight, then you get in a situation where you have to stash a player and that’s not what we want. Maybe this is a guy who can contribute and continue to develop and we’re not taking a year of development away from him.”
The Tigers did not make a pick in the second round of the Rule 5 draft. In the Triple-A Rule 5 draft, they selected right-handed reliever Ruben Garcia, who in four seasons in the Orioles system didn't rise above Low-A, and infielder Brian Schales, who got to Triple-A with the Twins last year but was waylaid by mononucleosis.
The Tigers did not lose any players in either section of the Rule 5 draft.
A player is eligible for the Rule 5 draft if he is not on his team’s 40-man roster.