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'It really worked out for us': Stars (and hitters) aligned for the Tigers in 2020 draft

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — You half expected that Tigers director of amateur scouting Scott Pleis would he be popping champagne corks when he met with reporters via Zoom video chat late Thursday night.

“I was about to open a beer,” he said, laughing. “This is starting early. I thought I had another hour.”

Pleis, general manager Al Avila and the rest of the Tigers scouting and analytics departments had reason to celebrate after concluding a six-pick, five-round draft that netted them five relatively polished college hitters, including the No. 1 prospect in the draft — Arizona State third baseman Spencer Torkelson.

“It was pretty close (to the best-case scenario),” Pleis said. “Would I have liked to get an arm in there, yes. It didn’t work out but it’s hard to complain. When you start with Tork, it’s good just from there. Really, in a shortened draft, it really worked out for us.”

Daniel Cabrera

After selecting Torkelson with the first pick in the first round on Wednesday, the Tigers selected two players in the second round Thursday who were both projected to go in the first round — Ohio State catcher Dillon Dingler and LSU left fielder Daniel Cabrera.

“Definitely surprised,” Pleis said of their availability with the 38th and 62nd picks. “Looking over the names, you always think the worst. Like, ‘Aw, the guys you are looking at are going to be gone.' Maybe we got a little lucky and they got to us. They could have easily gone before us, for sure.”

Truth is, though, the Tigers had the first pick in each round and they had plenty of bonus pool money to spend ($13,325,700 deferred over the next years). They could be aggressive in each round. And it was clear, with the system heavy with recently-drafted, top-end pitching prospects, the primary targets were hitters.

“We had some good picks and it fell where we got some good players,” Pleis said. “Sometimes if you get too tricky with it, the right guys don’t get to you later. If you were saving money early and trying to spend it late, sometimes the players you want don’t get to you.

“It’s a tough call. But we thought we had really good picks, so we didn’t have to do that kind of thing.”

Here’s Pleis’ take on the five players drafted on Thursday.

Dingler: ‘He’s a high-ceiling, toolsy catcher…Really athletic. He did slide, some would say. With the injury (wrist injury in 2019), a lot of guys didn’t get a good look at him like I’m sure they would’ve loved to. But our guys did a good job. We saw him early before everything shut down. Three or four of our scouts got to see him and that worked out good for us.”

Cabrera: “We’ve got a lot of history with his bat and he’s always been good. He’s going to be an everyday left fielder. He’s got power, uses the whole field. He’s not a runner but he runs good enough. Really, out of all these guys except Tork, we probably saw Cabrera hit the most and you are most confident when you see a guy do it over and over again. He’s going to be a good player.”

Trei Cruz

Trei Cruz (Round 3, 73rd pick), shortstop, Rice: “I think he still has some upside. He’s a switch-hitter and he’s got some pop. But he’s a good athlete, very versatile. The game has changed that way, too. The more versatile you are, the more value you have. So a switch-hitter who can play multiple positions, pretty good. And he’s evolved over the last few years; he keeps getting better. So he’s going in the right direction. And with his bloodlines (father is Jose Cruz, Jr., and grandfather is Jose Cruz, Sr.) and instincts, we feel like we got a really good baseball player here.”

Gage Workman (Round 4, 102nd pick), third baseman, Arizona State: “He’s a younger guy with a huge upside. Huge power, switch hitter, good athlete, can run, throw and does a really good job at third base. But we aren’t ruling out playing him at other positions. But he has huge power and he’s growing into being a good hitter.

Colton Keith (Round 5, 132nd pick), third base, Biloxi (Miss.) High School: “He can pitch, but for us, he’s going to be a hitter. We think he’s going to hit and hit for power. We knew him from the summers. We know what Keith is all about.”

Pleis said forthrightly that he expected the Tigers to sign Keith, who had committed to Arizona State. This means three out of the six players drafted by the Tigers were from Tracy Smith’s program at Arizona State.

“I hate that,” Pleis said, sheepishly. “It wasn’t intentional, believe me. I think they aren’t going to be really happy with me, probably. But, hey, I like good players.”

Baseball is a fickle beast and projecting young players as future productive big-leaguers is far from an exact science. But, given all the hurdles of this particular draft — reduced to five rounds, no baseball at any level after March 13 — the Tigers hit this draft out of the park.

“We wanted to get Tork for a long time and we’re very happy about that,” Pleis said. “But we wanted to get impact. That’s what we wanted. Tork is impact. Dingler is impact. Cabrera is going to have a bat that will impact us. Cruz is going to play multiple positions and be a versatile athletic player — and there’s impact there.

“Workman’s got raw-70 power (with 80 being the top mark) — huge guy with huge power. Keith, left-handed hitter, can run and has power -- there’s upside there. I think we did pretty good.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky