On MLB Draft Day 2, Tigers don't come up short on pitching
Ernest Hemingway wrote an epic novel entitled “A Farewell to Arms.”
The Tigers, who weren’t trying to be cute Sunday and Monday, decided their theme for the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft would be “a big organizational hello to arms,” which, face it, is what they needed, and what they believe they got through the first 10 rounds.
Eight new pitchers were in their grips late Monday after they began their arms race Sunday evening when they took Jackson Jobe, a prep superstar right-hander with their first pick, and followed with University of Texas right-hander Ty Madden with their next turn.
Monday, as rounds 2-10 unfurled in the three-day, 20-round, talent-picking marathon, the Tigers shopped for six more pitchers, all of them college timber.
Their lone exceptions came in the second, sixth and 10th rounds when they snared, in order: Izaac Pacheco, a 6-foot-4, 18-year-old, left-handed-slugging shortstop from Friendswood (Texas) High; Austin Murr, a left-handed hitting outfielder from North Carolina State; and Austin Schultz, a right-handed batter and outfielder from the University of Kentucky.
Pacheco was, in the Tigers’ view, a steal with the 39th overall pick — a left-side infielder with size, muscle and the ability to eventually launch left-handed bombs into Comerica Park’s seats.
Pacheco batted .543 in 34 games for Friendswood, with six home runs, four triples, 12 doubles, a .654 on-base percentage and .956 slugging average (1.611 OPS). He had 33 walks and eight strikeouts in 127 plate appearances.
“We really wanted Pacheco,” said Scott Pleis, who oversees amateur scouting for the Tigers, and who believes a 225-pound teen has the agility, for now, to play shortstop. Pacheco was MLB Pipeline’s 30th-ranked talent heading into the 2021 draft.
Otherwise, it was arms Monday. And more pitchers for an organization that, despite its arrival of new celebrity starters on the big-league level, was thin on baseball’s ever-thin commodity. The Tigers added five right-handers Monday and one left-hander, all positioned to help, soon, a team in Detroit that had a nightmarish pitching meltdown in its just-completed, four-game series against the Minnesota Twins.
“There wasn’t a philosophy to do that,” Pleis said. “Obviously, the pitching ran that way. We wanted to get some arms, but it just kind of worked out that way this year.”
The Tigers began Monday with the Pacheco pick, which, not so privately, the team believes could end up being more of a heist.
“Really exciting upside, with power,” said Pleis, who personally scouted Pacheco in multiple games. “He can play short, but he’s such a big guy he’ll probably end up moving off.
“It depends how the body goes. But he’s a really talented kid, with really good hands, and a plus, plus arm.
“He’s got good actions in the lower half (body). We think he’s going to play short. But if he had to go to third base, he’d be a plus defender.”
The Tigers returned to starting pitching in the third round, snagging right-handed starter Dylan Smith from the University of Alabama.
“A good athlete, with upside, and a lot of room to fill out with the body,” Pleis said of a pitcher 6-2, 180. “We were lucky to get him there.”
Smith had a 3.84 ERA in 16 starts for Alabama, with 113 strikeouts and 14 walks in 98-1/3 innings.
He has a fastball that runs in the mid-90s, as well as a full three-pitch secondary package.
In the fourth round, the Tigers went for another starter and, in keeping with their general policy, a pitcher with height and heft: Tyler Mattison, a 6-4, 235-pound right-hander from Bryant University, in Smithfield, Rhode Island.
Mattison was a senior this year and finished the season with a 10-3 record and a 2.46 ERA in 80-1/3 innings. He struck out 95 and walked 14, thanks mostly to a fastball that runs in the mid-90s and has topped out at 97.
“He’s big, he’s strong, he throws strikes, with velocity, a good breaking ball and a changeup,” Pleis said. “He’s definitely a starter. Just the whole package was good.”
There was more height, weight and potential rotation help to come as the Tigers zeroed in on Notre Dame right-hander Tanner Kohlhepp with their fifth-round turn.
“He can start,” Pleis said of a 22-year-old who is 6-4, 210. “I’ve seen him throw out of the bullpen. He throws strikes, he’s a little funky with the way he does it, which adds deception to a hitter, so his stuff plays up.”
The ensuing rounds feature more of a mixed bag for the Tigers:
►Sixth round: Murr, the left-handed hitter and outfielder/first baseman from North Carolina State, batted .319 in 54 games with seven home runs and an .880 OPS. Murr is 6-2, 218, and, despite his size, was a leadoff batter for the Wolfpack with a knack for drawing walks.
“We were really comfortable with his bat,” Pleis said. “We had seen him play the outfield and first base, and we think he can do both. He’ll probably do both. AJ (Hinch, Tigers manager) likes versatility. So, we’re more apt to use guys in different places and see how they react.”
►Seventh round: Brant Hurter, a 6-6, 250-pound left-hander from Georgia Tech.
“The body frame is impressive,” Pleis said. “He’s coming back from Tommy John (surgery) and he got a little tired at the (season’s) end. But we liked his slider. The farther he gets away (from his surgery) the more consistent stuff we’ll see.”
►Eighth round: Jordan Marks, right-hander, 6-2, 220, University of South Carolina Upstate: Marks is a native of Bright’s Grove, Ontario, and was the team ace with 15 starts, a 2.54 ERA, and .232 opposing batting average. He struck out 101 batters and walked 20.
►Ninth round: Garrett Burhenn, right-hander, 6-3, 215, Ohio State: He was the Buckeyes ace in 2021 with a 3.81 ERA and 91 strikeouts and 20 walks in 80-1/3 innings.
►10th round: Austin Schultz, outfielder, 5-9, 200, University of Kentucky: He’s a right-handed who batted .329 with an .882 OPS for the Wildcats, as well as six home runs in 52 games.
The Tigers will continue with the MLB’s annual talent distribution Tuesday as the draft’s last 10 rounds close.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.