With a fluid draft board and several players with late helium across the country, the Tigers will have a difficult task managing their plan of attack against what could be a volatile first eight picks with the potential to leave unexpected players on the board. Such a result could force the Tigers to pick between players they have scouted heavily and ranked highly on their board, versus players they are familiar with but didn’t put heat on down the stretch because they were assumed to be gone by the Tigers were on the clock.
Over the last month, industry sources have consistently noted that the Tigers dream scenario is for Kansas high school right-hander Riley Pint to slip through the cracks and land in their lap. Having reportedly hit 102 mph with his fastball this spring, Pint is a rare talent with extreme arm strength, though that comes with some concerns over his delivery and how he will hold up. The Tigers, under David Chadd’s watch as Scouting Director, have had a history of digging into the Kansas talent pool during the draft, and they’ve also had a penchant for hard throwers, but it remains to be seen how the club will draft under the guidance of new General Manager Al Avila and new Director of Amateur Scouting Scott Pleis.
Another player that was believed to be coveted by the Tigers until recently was Puerto Rican shortstop Delvin Perez. With word swirling around Perez’s failed test for PEDs, he’s sliding in the first round and word as of last night has the Tigers looking in other direction; a drastic change from the last few weeks where he was believed to be a high priority for the club if he somehow fell to the ninth selection.
In terms of bats, the Tigers have been rumored to maintain interest in both outfielder Mickey Moniak and third baseman Nick Senzel, but both are likely to be long gone by the time the Tigers pick tonight. Senzel has a chance to fall far enough to force the Tigers to consider him at #9, but in the end, I think the most polished college bat in the draft will come off the board too early to be a factor for Detroit.
One position player that seems to be sliding as the draft approaches is California prep outfielder Blake Rutherford, and while the Tigers have kept their distance from him of late, that’s only because they suspect he will be picked early. It’s easy to think that because the Tigers have been focusing their scouting efforts elsewhere in the weeks leading up to the draft, that they may not be interested in Rutherford, but that simply isn’t the case according to folks in the industry that I’m speaking with.
Among college arms with good fastballs, the Tigers have maintained significant interest in Mississippi State’s Dakota Hudson and Pittsburgh’s TJ Zeuch. Hudson is very much in play for the Tigers in the first round and while he may not have the true high-end ceiling typically associated with a top ten pick, his broad arsenal of quality pitches and success in the SEC make him a strong bet to find big league success as a #3 or #4 starter down the road. According to most in the industry, Zeuch would be a reach inside the top ten picks, but he has been considered to some extent and shouldn’t be ignored by Tiger fans looking to learn about possible selections.
Another college arm that has a lot of helium throughout the league right now, and particularly within the Tigers organization is Boston College righty Justin Dunn. A raw pitcher with excellent athleticism, Dunn’s performance down the stretch in the ACC tournament and BC’s NCAA regional tournament win, have him soaring up draft boards as a viable top ten pick. Dunn lacks the polish of Hudson and Zeuch, but he offers a fastball that has reached 98 mph at times, improving command, a plus slider, and both a curveball and changeup that could be viable additional offerings.
At the end of the day, expect the Tigers to make their choice between right-handers Dakota Hudson and Justin Dunn. There could be some surprises like Rutherford, Senzel, or Pint remaining on the board when the Tigers get their turn, but barring a shocker like that, Hudson and Dunn will likely be where the choice stands. After that, Tiger fans should settle in for a lengthy wait since the Tigers don’t pick again until the fourth round, at which point names like Zack Brown (RHP, Kentucky), Zac Gallen (RHP, North Carolina), and Francisco Thomas (SS, Osceola (FL) High School) could be ones to watch when the Tigers pick comes around.