What can be expected, as much as anything is certain about Major League Baseball’s draft in 2020, is that Commissioner Rob Manfred will step before a socially distanced camera on June 10 and make official a not-so-newsy news item.
Unless money issues turn whacky, Spencer Torkelson of Arizona State University figures to be the Tigers’ choice with the 2020 draft’s first overall pick. Torkelson is a mashing right-handed hitter and first baseman seemingly headed for Detroit.
The Tigers will not be finished. The next day, they will pick five times in this year’s MLB sweepstakes, which has been pruned to five rounds because of a 2020 pandemic that has toppled baseball schedules at all levels. The five picks in four remaining draft rounds is explained by way of a compensation that comes Detroit’s way, at 62nd overall, due to the Tigers’ market size, revenues, and ground-floor finish in last year’s big-league standings, which the Tigers are otherwise trying to forget.
Of deepest intrigue is who the Tigers might snatch with their second pick, 38th overall, and the first turn of the draft’s second round.
Figure on a hitter they’ll happily pair with Torkelson. Among baseball’s 30 teams, the Tigers are considered a Salvation Army kettle when it comes to offense, both at the big-league and farm levels. It is known also that if a jump-ball between a pitcher and a position player confronts them with that 38th overall pick, they’ll opt for the bat.
There are a number of contestants. And most are on the college side. The Tigers not only prefer bats they can move to the big leagues rapidly, they have more data and scouting notes on college players, which are gold in 2020. And that has to do with college and prep seasons that in March were dismantled by coronavirus. Scouts suddenly found themselves breaking down video rather than aiming radar guns and holding stopwatches at spring games.
It doesn’t preclude the Tigers drafting an arm at No. 38. Not when a potential dazzler could well have slipped to the second round. That’s especially true when this year’s projections have been jostled, if not upended, by a dearth of actual games.
But percentages and roster needs say it almost certainly will be a bat the Tigers will snag with that first June 11 pick.
Among possible partners for Detroit:
►Daniel Cabrera, 21, LF, 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, Louisiana State: Cabrera is a left-handed hitter and an outfielder, so ring two categorical bells for Detroit if he slides to the second round. Scouts love his simple, high-speed swing, his pitch-recognition, and the fact he has specialized in line drives, as well as shown fair power, all while playing in the best of all college baseball galaxies, the Southeastern Conference.
The Tigers adore LSU players. Their hang-up is that Cabrera probably goes late in the first round. At the same time, a draft that features more talent than any during the past decade means someone of stature will be there awaiting a Tigers phone call. A front office from Detroit would be expected to cartwheel for Cabrera on the draft’s second day.
►Zach DeLoach, 21, OF, 6-1, 210, Texas A&M: Another left-handed-hitting gent who could well be gobbled up on the draft’s first night, DeLoach can play center field, which is one more reason the Tigers would think long and hard — or maybe pull an immediate trigger — should DeLoach be unclaimed.
He had a lovely summer last year in the Cape Cod League, winning the batting title by hitting .353. This year, before COVID-19 shut down his junior season, he had America’s No. 11 collegiate OPS at 1.336. DeLoach’s gaudy number came courtesy of 18 games in which he batted .421, with six homers, and had a .547 on-base percentage.
DeLoach turns 22 in August, although the Tigers likely wouldn’t be bothered by his relatively advanced age for a college junior. They could just as easily decide he’s even closer to helping at Comerica Park.
►Nick Loftin, 21, SS, 6-1, 185, Baylor: The Tigers can at least dream. They need a system-star at shortstop as badly as they cry for bats anywhere on a farm that’s rich in pitching and skeletal on offense.
Loftin stings the ball and (here, Tigers fans will cheer) he’s tough to strike out. He isn’t big on power, but he is an athlete who’s just good enough on defense to stick at short and just steady enough with his right-handed bat to sit somewhere at the top of a lineup.
Of course, that’s also why he’ll probably be gone as early as the top 20 picks. But, again, someone unexpected is going to fall. The Tigers would be a natural home for an orphaned Loftin.
►Jordan Westburg, 21, SS, 6-2, 206, Mississippi State: Much like Loftin, it isn’t likely Westburg will be hanging around past that first round. But should other teams have other plans and Westburg finds himself abandoned, the Tigers could swoop.
He bats right-handed and has splendid size for a shortstop. He also showed at last week’s prime-time summer laboratory, the Cape Cod League, that he could handle premium pitching as he slammed four homers and had a .900 OPS.
Westburg and Mississippi State played only 16 games this year, but he reassured scouts: .317, .517 slugging, and .432 on-base, with a pair of homers and six doubles.
He does have a higher strikeout rate than the Tigers’ analysts prefer, but that hasn’t lessened expectations Westburg will go either in the first round, or very, very quickly in the second. Which, if such a scenario evolves, could be Detroit.
►Freddy Zamora, 21, SS, 6-1, 190, University of Miami: Interesting situation here. Zamora was all set to ensure during a big junior season that he might be the best of all college shortstop options come June. Then, in the span of a few days in February, he was suspended for an unspecified team-rules violation, all before tearing an ACL in his knee, which ended his year even before coronavirus set in.
As long as doctors say everything is healing fine, it isn’t likely the knee would overly scare the Tigers or any pursuing club.
Zamora has the size and arm to play short, although some scouts say second base is a more likely perch. He gets his bat on the ball and has a right-handed stroke scouts appreciate.
But it’s also a fact that in scouts’ eyes Zamora lost some steam during the past year for reasons that speak to perhaps any number of issues — on or off the field.
►Alika Williams, 21, SS, 6-2, 180, Arizona State: Williams is one of the three reasons his teammate, Torkelson, plays first base for the Sun Devils. ASU’s infield is loaded, and after Torkelson, Williams is the big-league scouts’ favorite Sun Devils star.
He got short-circuited during ASU’s 17-game schedule, which probably best explains why his numbers were comparatively so-so: .250, .344, .359.
But his defense and right-handed potential are what scouts most trust as one of those traditional prizes from Rancho Bernardo High in San Diego, California, hovers somewhere around first- and second-round classification.
►Justin Foscue, 21, 2B/3B, 6-foot, 197, Mississippi State: Here we have Westburg’s double-play partner and a certified second baseman with power. This also would explain why he is considered first-round talent more than a prospect who would be ignored heading into the draft’s second day.
Foscue bats right-handed, with a leg-kick that doesn’t disturb scouts as much as it bothers pitchers who know he can put a ball in the seats. Fairly regularly.
He’s not much of a runner, as if that would bother the Tigers greatly. They’re more concerned that guys get their bat on a pitch and then do something that shakes up a game. Foscue qualifies.
►Austin Wells, 20, C, 6-2, 220, University of Arizona: He’s probably a goner, as well, as the first round evolves. If not, the Tigers, who view powerful left-handed bats the way most clubs assess them — as treasure — could pounce.
It should be noted Wells probably won’t stick as a catcher. And it should likewise be observed that few big-league clubs will have any issue there. It’s the weaponry Wells expects to bring to a lineup that matters, especially when he can function in the outfield or at first base.
True, he whiffs a few too many times: 14 in 15 games this year against pitchers who weren’t always among America’s best. But it was the fast bat 1.116 OPS, built around .589 slugging and .527 on-base, which affirmed for most scouts that Wells will do damage in the big leagues.
►Dylan Crews, 18, OF, 6-foot, 195, Lake Mary High, Longwood, Florida: Would the Tigers gamble on a prep hitter when they haven’t seen a teen like Crews perform, in any extended fashion, during his senior spring?
Perhaps. Some team is going to gamble that Crews’ right-handed weaponry will wend its way to the big leagues. Some club will have banked that Crews will opt for draft dollars, perhaps even if it’s second-round cash, over his LSU commitment.
Another advantage is Crews could stick in center field. Couple athleticism with power and you have the makings of an upside investment if a team is convinced Crews could be the best stock-buy of 2020’s draft.
The Tigers know all about Crews. It’s a safe assumption they also expect less risky college bats to be there at No. 38.
But there will be, almost certainly, some gasps and groans next month as those first two rounds take shape. Based on all that so far has happened, this is not a year to expect the traditional, which is something a team from Detroit could very well confirm as early as that 38th overall pick.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.