Jered Weaver. Justin Verlander. And then, the draft would start at the 3rd pick with the Mets. That was the common thought process over the past few months concerning the top of the draft. However, indications are that this common-held belief may not come to fruition after all.
Reports have indicated that over the past few weeks the Padres have become weary of selecting Weaver, due to his apparent high signing bonus demand, as well as the realization that while Weaver has dominated this season, he may be as good as he's ever going to be; leaving him as a #2 or #3 starter – not the ideal situation for the top overall pick in the draft.
The Padres meanwhile focused their attention on another pair of players; righty Jeff Niemann of Rice and SS Stephen Drew from Florida State. While this is the draft, where nothing is ever set in stone, inside sources have stated that the pick will be Drew, the younger brother of Braves OF J.D. Drew, and not Weaver (whose brother is current Dodger and former Tiger Jeff Weaver).
The selection of Drew first overall could potentially change the entire complexion of the draft, but does it affect the Tigers? It's impossible to tell, but it sure doesn't look like it. So does that mean Verlander will still be the Tigers pick, despite Weaver being available at 2? Nope, guess again. Verlander's control issues seem to have scared the Tigers (and many other teams at the top of the draft board) away.
Weaver will have to be considered if he's still on the board, however, due to the history the organization has had with the elder Weaver, as well as the aforementioned fact that Weaver very well could never make it as a top-of-the-rotation starter will more than likely lead the Tigers to stay away from him.
So, no Verlander. No Weaver. Who does that leave with the Tigers with? Well, it looks like their focus will come down to Niemann and a surprise pick that would shock more than a few. Niemann has the highest upside of any college pitcher in the draft, but his injury issues are a big concern – especially for an organization that has seen many of its first round picks fall victim to the injury bug.
And so who is this surprise pick? Well, all three of the college studs still remain a possibility, but each has a huge question mark that could very well push the Tigers away. Which would leave the Tigers set to take Homer Bailey, a flame-throwing righty out of a Texas high school. Why would the Tigers go the Bailey route? Well, for starters, the Tigers aren't in a pressing need to get someone that will be in the majors shortly – a main draw of drafting Weaver. The Tigers have plenty of depth at their AA and high-A levels (Wil Ledezma, Kenny Baugh, Matt Roney, Rob Henkel, Preston Larrison, Jeremy Johnson, Kyle Sleeth, Joel Zumaya, Humberto Sanchez, John Birtwell), which means a good portion of that group will be knocking on the Tigers door over the next year or two. The issue is that with the possible exceptions of Jay Sborz (an extremely raw righty) and Josh Rainwater, the Tigers have no depth in the entry levels of their minor league system. Bailey fits the bill – recently drawing comparisons to Josh Beckett for his mid-90's fastball and bulldog attitude on the mound. He also has pedigree in his favor, over the past years, there have been 2 Texas high school pitchers that have gone high in the draft; Beckett and Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood. Not exactly bad company.
So, who exactly is Homer Bailey? Well, he's just your typical 18-year old. Your typical wild boar hunting, diesel truck driving, cowboy boot wearing 18-year old – who just happens to have a 95-mph fastball. More about his baseball projection? How about an 85-mph curveball that helped him strike out 144 batters in his senior season. And possibly the best statistic of all to go with those 144 strikeouts – only 5 walks. For those mathematicians out there, that leaves him with a K:BB ratio of almost 30:1, and while this is high school, these types of numbers are almost unheard of at any level.
Now, Bailey is not guaranteed to be the pick, all three still have a shot, especially Jeff Niemann, the one with the highest ceiling of any player in the draft. But if his injury-bug scares the Tigers away, the second overall pick could be used to welcome a cowboy to the organization.