Will one of these gifted pitchers tempt Tigers at top of second round?
Given that this is the Major League Baseball Draft, where in the span of minutes a front office’s plans can be turned into confetti, it’s possible the Tigers will pull a surprise with their second overall pick on June 11, which will begin the 2020 draft’s four-round second phase.
The first pick will presumably have been locked up the night before, on June 10, when Detroit is expected to anoint Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson as the 2020 beauty pageant’s first overall selection.
As every rival club in either league knows, the Tigers would prefer to swipe another bat with that first pick of the second round, the 38th overall.
But if neither Daniel Cabrera, nor Zach DeLoach, nor Nick Loftin, nor any other hitter the Tigers probably have on their second-round shopping list is unclaimed, the Tigers could decide to do what they tend to do best: grab a pitcher.
That could also become the case if a pitcher the Tigers view as a true thoroughbred – better than any available position player – and one who was projected to go much earlier in the draft’s first round, slides to that 38th spot.
The Tigers aren’t sharing their yet-incomplete draft board. Nor will they tip hands heading into June 10 and to a two-day, five-round event crimped by 2020’s coronavirus pandemic.
But in the same manner – albeit unlikely – that a pre-draft money impasse could doom Torkelson’s selection at first-overall and move the Tigers to pluck Texas A&M left-hander Asa Lacy, the Tigers could decide, quite simply, that the best player on the draft board at 38 is a pitcher.
Among those that various teams, including the Tigers, might see as a jewel not to be bypassed are:
►Chris McMahon, 21, 6-2, 195, RH starter, University of Miami: His resume will come as no surprise to those acquainted with standard, college-junior, early-round qualities: fastball in the mid-90s, good breaking ball (curve/slider), decent change-up.
McMahon, like so many of this year’s draft-day dandies, was doing beautifully in his early starts before COVID-19 ravaged 2020’s college and prep seasons.
It’s difficult to imagine McMahon being grabbed ahead of a hitter who seemingly will be there for the Tigers at 38, but no one pretends to know how those first 37 picks will unfurl. Especially in 2020.
►CJ Van Eyk, 21, 6-1, 198, RH starter, Florida State University: About the only knock against Eyk is his size. Not that 6-1 is exactly Lilliputian, but the Tigers, like most clubs, tend to favor starters who are big boys and fit their body-models.
Van Eyk otherwise measures splendidly: mid-90s fastball, excellent curve, change, and a fourth-pitch slider. He had only four starts before this year’s shutdown, and considering the competition – Rutgers, for example – and the fact early outings can be just shy of crazy, it’s easy to dismiss those 12 walks in 20.2 innings. That’s especially true when Van Eyk struck out 25 and allowed but 11 hits.
Van Eyk figures to be near the first round-second round cut line. Only if the Tigers believe they’ve seen something extraordinary about him, some feature that leaves a position player or another pitcher in the dust, is Van Eyk headed to Detroit.
►Slade Cecconi, 20, 6-4, 212, RH starter, University of Miami: Cecconi probably is a better bet than either McMahon or Van Eyk to entice the Tigers, if, again, taking a pitcher is conceivable at 38.
He has the body the Tigers pretty much demand. He also has a fastball (mid-to-high 90s) and slider combo more in keeping with a power starter’s repertoire.
Whether his tool belt equips him for a big-league rotation or bullpen is more the question in 2020. He struck out 30 batters in 21.1 innings during Miami’s early 2020 games. But it’s not necessarily clear that his personal fuel tank – staying strong deeper into a game – or that his third-and-fourth pitch options will flourish in the big leagues.
Still, if the betting window is open and one cares to wager a shekel or two on a pitcher at 38, Cecconi makes sense.
►Carmen Mlodzinski, 21, 6-2, 232, RH starter, University of South Carolina: This is one of 2020’s more curious prospect stories, all because, at least early, Mlodzinski was viewed as a possible Top 10 guy.
That had to do with his work last summer pitching for Falmouth in the Cape Cod League. The numbers: 29.1 innings, 15 hits, four walks, 40 strikeouts.
Yes, indeed: a 10-to-1 ratio on strikeouts vs. walks will sell scouts on a right-hander’s power portfolio, especially when he’s 6-2 and 232.
Mlodzinski would have been fine had the Gamecocks not played any games in February and March. But they did, and Mlodzinski’s starts were a bit polarized. He was stung for 25 hits in 25.1 innings, which isn’t disqualifying. But nothing about his spring work indicates he holds even second-round status on the Tigers’ shopping list.
►Bobby Miller, 21, 6-5, 220, RH starter, University of Louisville: Again, the fact Miller is built like a Sequoia and throws standard, high-90s gas is of huge appeal to big-league scouts. Especially those from Detroit.
Miller could well be gone by the time the Tigers pick at 38. And if so, they probably will forgo grief counseling. When a team has other needs – hello, offense – a pitcher even with Miller’s fire and upside won’t easily seduce the Tigers.
But there’s a reason he’s projected to go in the draft’s first day. And that big right-handed power package explains why.
►Tanner Burns, 21, 6-foot, 215, RH starter, Auburn: If he were at least a couple of inches taller, and if he had shown during his time at Auburn that he got stronger during the course of a season, Burns might be a steal at 38.
He has an inventory not greatly different from his old Auburn cohort, Casey Mize, who was the Tigers’ and the 2018 draft’s top choice.
But that’s not to suggest for a nanosecond that these two right-handers are clones. Mize is bigger, Mize has more pitches, and more command, and Mize was a certified top-of-the-heap pick in 2018.
Burns looks like a nice addition to some team’s farm stable. But not Detroit’s, unless something weird occurs and Burns is there as a later-round, bargain-aisle option.
►Carson Montgomery, 18, 6-2, 190, RH starter, West Orange High, Windermere, Fla. – Granted, this young man classifies, generically anyway, as that most daring of draft-day risks: a high-school pitcher.
For that reason, alone, the Tigers probably take a powder on Montgomery, perhaps even if they were in the market for arms and not morally and competitively driven to choose a hitter at 38.
And because Montgomery is so talented, and so committed to Florida State that he likely won’t accept draft cash unless it’s extremely compelling – read: above slot – the Tigers likely judge Montgomery to be an impractical investment, anyway.
But his name will be one to keep in mind on June 10. Montgomery could well have sold scouts from a particular club who see not a prep arm, but a big-league pitcher masquerading as a teen.
►Justin Lange, 18, 6-4, 220, RH starter, Llano (Texas) High: Again, it’s like a risk-reward hole in golf. Hit the distant fairway, avoid the hazards, and you’re looking at birdie. Lange’s payoff could be huge. He has the physique, has the 100-mph heat, and has the overall athleticism to suggest upside in the Justin Verlander realm.
But … percentages. They argue against trusting prep arms. That’s particularly true this year when one examines the Tigers and odds that they’ll be more inclined to obey. Not only does Lange not play a position, nor swing a bat with fury, he is a good number of years from helping a big-league team that needs more immediate manpower.
So, no, a pitcher isn’t in the forecast. Prep or college. Not at 38. Unless, it should be remembered, that this is baseball, and with three-dozen picks ahead of 38, there’s always the chance appealing hitters will be gone – and a big arm is just too good to ignore.