Verdict's in: It's Verlander

The top of the draft board has been a work in progress for a while now, but Monday the picks came in. The Padres shocked many, jumping from Jered Weaver, to Stephen Drew, then signing Matt Bush the night before the draft, leaving the first pick of the draft to the Tigers. Jered Weaver, Homer Bailey, Drew and Jeff Niemann were all pushed aside, in favor of high-potential righty Justin Verlander, the guy many expected the Tigers to take all along.

A month ago, Jered Weaver seemed to be a lock for the top overall pick, solidifying his position with an excellent college season for Long Beach State. The other "lock" as a top selection - Justin Verlander - seemed to be falling, and falling quickly. An inconsistent season for Old Dominion combined with questions about his control prompted many to speculate that Verlander would be falling well out of the top 2. However, on draft day, it was Weaver, not Verlander, that fell, and fell hard.

The Padres sat atop the board with their choice of any player in America, and ended up passing on the 2 guys most expected - Weaver or Florida State Shortstop Stephen Drew - in favor of High School Shortstop Matt Bush, not considered a top talent by many. It is believed that signability concerns pushed both Weaver and Drew out of contention for the top spot.

So with the Padres reaching, the Tigers were left with every guy left on their wish list. And who did they go with? Not Weaver, the one who could be in a big league uniform later this year. Not Jeff Niemann, the one that without the injuries could have very well been the top overall pick. Not Homer Bailey, the flame-throwing high schooler skyrocketing up draft boards. No, the Tigers went back to the guy many predicted all along - Verlander.

While Weaver ended up falling all the way to the Anaheim Angels at 12, Verlander stayed right at the top of the board, despite a suspect senior season that prompted many to question his ability to ever develop into a frontline starter.

Verlander is not your prototypical top college pick. Unlike last year's selection, Wake Forest RHP Kyle Sleeth, Verlander is not expected to move quickly. Verlander has a fastball that can get up to the high-90's, as well as a hard knee-buckling curveball. However, as noted previously, Verlander didn't have a great senior season, going 7-6 with a 3.49 ERA. The more promising statistic was his strikeout numbers - 151 K's in 105 2/3 innings. He did however have 43 walks, indicating that he'll definitely have to harness his control.

The Tigers have not yet committed to Verlander's future this season. It is possible that the Tigers will shut him down, similar to Sleeth last year to avoid arm problems. If he does make his pro debut in 2004, it will probably be with short season A Oneonta, who starts their season in just a couple of weeks.

Verlander will definitely fit in with the Tiger farm system, as GM Dave Dombrowski and Scouting Director Greg Smith continue to stockpile hard-throwing arms. Last year, the Tigers selected Sleeth (who possesses a mid-90's fastball) and their 2nd round pick was high schooler Jay Sborz, who just also happens to have a mid-90's fastball.

Verlander throws harder than both of them, and with a little bit of work on his offspeed pitches and a little bit better control, Verlander has the potential to become the Tigers' ace at the front of the rotation.


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