In 2002, Dave Dombrowski began taking over the reigns, guiding the Detroit franchise in his desired direction. Randy Smith took a lot of heat for some of his high profile picks, such as University of Rice reliever Matt Anderson, and catcher, turned firstbaseman, turned thirdbaseman, Eric Munson. However, the 2000 and 2001 drafts may go down as the culmination of his drafting and scouting failures.
Taking a look at that stellar 2000 draft class, who do you think of? Such great names as Steven Hofius, Cole Bruce, Antoine Tellis, Tom Muldoon, Josh VanVessen, and Christopher Langlois? Wait. You don't remember those names? That's right; those are all players the Tigers decided not to sign, a common theme in 2000. Out of the 43 players drafted, the Tigers only signed 16 of them. The only saving grace seems to be that the Tigers may have been better off by not signing many of those players. Only five of the unsigned Tiger's draftees were taken in subsequent drafts, with 28th round pick Scott Sturkie being the only one to make a significant impact in the minor leagues at this juncture. Sturkie was taken by the Indians in 2001, and recently traded to the Atlanta Braves as the player to be named later for Russell Branyan.
One would hope that as you begin to look through the list of players who actually signed contracts, your overall outlook would become more positive. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Of the 16 players signed, only 6 have enjoyed any level of success in the minors, and many are no longer with the organization. Relief pitcher Mark Woodyard and Jordan Gerk, starters Jeremy Johnson and Matt Parris, and outfielder Nook Logan have enjoyed some moderate success to this point. Woodyard and Gerk appear to be on their way to solid careers as relief pitchers, and could eventually find their way to Detroit. Prior to a multitude of arm problems, Johnson was considered one of the better pitching prospects in the entire organization. Having recently began his comeback from surgery, Johnson is looking to regain his prospect status, and continue his rise through the organization. So far in 2004, high school draftee Parris has strung together some solid starts, after struggling in his first few professional seasons. And lastly, Nook Logan has made a steady climb all the way to AAA-Toledo, despite his apparent difficulties in making consistent contact. The owner of blazing speed, Logan still catches the eye of scouts, and wows fans with his baserunning fireworks. The biggest stumbling block standing in Logan's way is his mediocre hitting ability. If he can somehow become a consistent hitter, he could turn into a useful major league player. Until then, however, the 2000 draft class doesn't look terribly promising.
With all this talk of disappointment, it should be mentioned that the biggest disappointment of the entire class has yet to be discussed. First-round pick Matt Wheatland, recently released by the organization, was never healthy enough to show what made him such a lofty choice. Armed with a hard, heavy fastball, an outstanding slider, and good command, Wheatland had the makings of a solid major league starter. Continuing shoulder trouble derailed his career, and eventually lead to his release this spring.
While the 2001 draft is not nearly as revolting as the 2000 version, it is still not one of the Tiger's better drafting efforts. The Tigers still left 18 players unsigned in 2001, including Seattle's 2002 third round choice Eric Thomas, as well as a likely high round choice in 2004, Joey Metropolus.
The list of players signed from the 2001 draft reads as a much more promising list, although fans have yet to see anyone from this class reach the majors. Some of the more well known names from this draft include Kenny Baugh, Mike Woods, Preston Larrison, Jack Hannahan, Ryan Raburn, Don Kelly, Jon Connolly, and Humberto Sanchez. Having battled a torn labrum after working over 200 innings during the combination of his final year in college and first year as a professional, Baugh is back to performing as an effective starter at AA-Erie. With continued success, Baugh could see some time in Detroit this season, and will likely compete for a spot in the 2005 rotation. A supplemental first-round pick, Mike Woods has had to overcome injuries to both knees to try and get his career back on track. A slap hitter with very good plate discipline, Woods has been hot lately, and appears to finally be figuring out High-A ball in his second try. Both Larrison and Hannahan are experiencing increased success in the AA Eastern League, and look to be regaining their status as top prospects in the organization. Preston Larrison came close to making the 2003 Detroit rotation, but it was all down hill from there, struggling to put together even a few solid outings at Erie. After a wonderful debut in 2001 from Hannahan, his luck appeared to have run out. That is, until this season. Hannahan has rediscovered his eye at the plate, as well as his ability to make consistent contact. So far this season, Jack is batting well over .300, while helping to lead Erie to the top of their division. Humberto Sanchez was a draft and follow selection, who was not signed until just before the 2002 season. After signing, Sanchez showed why the Tigers chose to hand him such a lofty signing bonus. Despite struggling with his control, Sanchez established himself as a pitcher to watch. Sanchez' former teammate in Lakeland, Jon Connolly, was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for left-hander Felix Sanchez, despite leading the organization in ERA last season.
Two prospects that continue to fly under the radar, Garth McKinney and Ian Ostlund have both begun to make some noise during the 2004 season. Ostlund is pitching extremely well out of the Lakeland bullpen, while McKinney has begun to show the flashes of brilliance many had hoped while playing at West Michigan. Randy Smith had a little better luck with his bizarre drafting tactics in 2001, but it still doesn't appear that this class will produce any front-line talent. Since taking over, Dave Dombrowski has added two players to the Tiger's system from the 2001 draft, thirdbaseman Kody Kirkland, and right-hander Jeremy Bonderman. Kirkland has a lot of developing to do before fans should count on him, but Bonderman has already begun to pay dividends in Detroit, pitching last year as a 20 year-old rookie.
The Tigers have had many high draft choices in recent years, none of which have yet to provide any impact players, something the organization sorely needs. The 2000 and 2001 drafts were no different in this regard, yielding very little in the line of top-flight talent. Hope still remains for a select few of the 90 player taken. It is that small hope that keeps Tiger fans dreaming of future success in Detroit. Dave Dombrowski has demonstrated in Montreal and Florida, his ability to resurrect a franchise through both trades and sound drafting strategies. Let's hope he is able to continue this trend with the upcoming 2004 draft.