When starting with their first round selection, 22nd overall, it’s likely that their board is focused on two names: right-hander Kyle Funkhouser out of Louisville, and right-hander Phil Bickford out of Southern Nevada (Junior College).
Funkhouser was a consensus top ten selection a month ago it seemed, but an inconsistent close to the college season has left him falling down team’s draft boards. For the year, he’s still had a good season, with a 3.29 ERA over 15 starts, with 93 strikeouts in just over 98 innings. But a few bad outings as of late have teams selecting at the top of the round concerned.
He fits the Tigers prototype pitcher of a big body (6-3, 200+) that throws hard with a still developing off-speed repertoire. According to multiple reports, David Chadd saw his most recent start on May 21, where he struggled, giving up seven runs (five earned) on nine hits in five innings of work, walking two and striking out three. It’s been a far cry from the pitcher that was showing dominating stuff last season and two summers ago in the Cape. Those struggles mean a team selecting in the top ten is probably no longer sold on him, but the upside he presents as a later first round pick would make him an easy choice for the Tigers.
There’s still a good chance that he’s off the board by the time the Tigers pick though – other clubs recognize that talent, and at least a few believe his issues are more mechanical that can be easily addressed. If he’s gone, the odds-on favorite becomes Bickford, who was at Cal-State Fullerton until he transferred to move up his draft eligibility to this season. He’s absolutely dominated his competition in JuCo ball this year, with a 1.45 ERA in 86 2/3 innings. He’s also struck out 166 while walking 21, highlighting exactly how overmatched the league is for his stuff.
Bickford fits the Tigers model to a tee. He has a power fastball, he’s tall at 6-4, and the concerns reside on him developing his breaking pitches and improving his command. If he’s able to do that, he’s a top of the rotation starter. If he’s not, he’s more likely a bullpen arm. Similar things were said about Jonathon Crawford two years ago, and Spencer Turnbull last year.
The Tigers also reportedly are enamored with Arkansas outfielder Andrew Benintendi, but he’s shot up the draft boards with a monster sophomore season, currently hitting .391 with 18 home runs. It’s almost a guarantee at this point that he’ll be gone by the time the Tigers pick at 22, but if by chance he is, he’d be a no-brainer for Detroit.
The Tigers have been linked to a handful of high school outfielders, but the top ones like Garrett Whitley, Kyle Tucker and Daz Cameron all figure to be off the board by the time the Tigers pick. They’ve shown interest in local product Nick Plummer from Birmingham Brother Rice, but word on the street is that they’d be more serious about him at 34 than 22.
As far as 34, if someone like Plummer is still on the board, the Tigers would likely pop him there. The same goes for Florida State slugger D.J. Stewart, Duke right-hander Michael Matuella and Cal Poly righty Cody Ponce.
If not, you start getting down the list of names, and you’ll start to see schools pop up with familiar names. Tyler Ferguson from Vanderbilt could be the guy the Tigers pop from Vandy this year, while Brandon Koch from Dallas Baptist is another arm that has gotten attention (the Tigers took Paul Voelker from Dallas Baptist last summer). UVA outfielder Joe McCarthy is another name that has gotten consideration, but is a wild card after off-season surgery delayed his start and has hindered his game this spring.
In the final days, the board will start to narrow further, but for now, Tigers fans should focus their attention on Bickford and Funkhouser on June 8.
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