On November 4, 2004, there was a changing of the guard atop the Tigers' scouting department. David Chadd was brought over from Boston to oversee the draft and Greg Smith was reassigned after running the department since 1996.
This past June was Chadd's first effort and perhaps the most ironic number to come out of the draft is the vast number of college players the Tigers selected. Chadd has professed to be more of a "tools" type scout, which usually indicates a preference for high school players, but 27 of the first 29 selections were college players, 22 of which came from four-year institutions.
What do these numbers mean? Well, there is a possibility that the Tigers could get a very quick return on a few of these players, depending of course on how fast they can handle the advanced levels of the minor leagues. With that in mind, lets take a close look at the 2005 draft. In the first round, the Tigers drafted high school outfielder Cameron Maybin from North Carolina. Simply put, Maybin is the most gifted offensive player the franchise has ever drafted.
Maybin has drawn comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero physically, and he is considered a premium defender in center field. Maybin's bat is also a plus tool, but he needs to handle breaking balls better. Maybin agreed to terms too late to see any action during the season, but he will see playing time at instructional ball.
The Tigers lost their second round pick to the Angels for signing Troy Percival.
Chris Robinson, a Canadian native, was Detroit's selection in the third round. A catcher from Illinois, Robinson was considered one of the top defensive backstops in the country, but it will be his bat that determines how far he can go. He doesn't have great hitting tools, but should hit for a decent average and provide some power. He was pushed aggressively to West Michigan and hit .257 in 143 at-bats and will likely start back there in 2006.
In 2004, the Tigers went for a catcher turned relief pitcher in the fourth round with Collin Mahoney. In 2005, the Tigers tabbed another player with a similar background in Kevin Whelan from Texas A&M. Even though Whelan only pitched for two years as an Aggie, he developed rapidly and blew away the Cape Cod League with 11 saves and a 0.42 ERA in 2004. Armed with a fastball that can reach 96 and two devastating breaking balls (splitter and forkball), Whelan didn't miss a beat after signing and could be on the fast track. His combined numbers at Oneonta and West Michigan were ridiculous. He racked up 15 saves and in 24 1/3 innings of work, he allowed only six hits, walked eight, and struck out 41. Whelan has a very good chance of closing at Lakeland next year and could move very quickly.
The Tigers grabbed one of the most well-known players in college baseball in the fifth round, selecting Jeff Larish from Arizona State. The first baseman first grabbed headlines with a banner sophomore year, but he struggled in his junior year and fell to the 13th round to the Dodgers, who offered him third-round money to sign, but he elected to return for his senior year. He performed better as a senior, but scouts were still unsure if he had the pop to stay at first base and with Scott Boras advising him, he was one of the true wild cards of the draft.
Despite missing a good portion of the summer, Larish signed for a little over his slot and after a brief stint in the GCL, he moved up to Oneonta, where he made an immediate impact, crushing six homers and striking out just six times in 64 at-bats, while drawing 13 walks. There is no doubt Larish has one of the most polished bats in the system and the Tigers would love to see him move quickly. With Dmitri Young likely gone after 2006 (if he isn't traded sooner), and Carlos Pena likely gone after this season, Larish has the opportunity to bring some left-handed punch to Detroit, if he can handle the higher levels of the minors. He is the early favorite from this class to reach Detroit first.
Clete Thomas has been considered a premium prospect since his high school days, when the Twins selected him in the fifth round. After turning down Minnesota, he went to Auburn where scouts felt his production didn't live up to his tools, and the Tigers were able to get him in the sixth round. He had no problems producing after signing, as he torched the New York-Penn League with a .386 average and earned a promotion to West Michigan, where he hit .284 and recorded a .356 OBP. Thomas stole 20 bases in 23 attempts combined . at his two stops. Thomas has the tools to play in center field and is considered an above average runner, a good base stealer, and has a strong throwing arm. If his bat continues to develop as nicely as it did during his debut, the Tigers could have an early steal.
The Tigers went bargain hunting in the seventh round, selecting senior P.J. Finigan from Southern Illinois. Finigan was one of the top two-way players in the country, doubling as a shortstop and hitting .386 for the Salukis. However, the Tigers liked the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year on the mound, where brings a solid three-pitch repertoire to the table. His fastball has been clocked in the 87-92 range and he complements it with a good slider and a changeup, which is his best pitch. With his focus squarely on pitching, he has the opportunity to blossom. After signing, Finigan went to the bullpen at West Michigan after tossing 105 innings at SIU and it will be interesting to see how he fares as a starter at West Michigan in 2006.
If the Tigers first six selections were at least somewhat known to fans, the Tigers next pick certainly was not. Brendan Wise, an Australian native, was Detroit's eighth round pick out of Pratt Community College in Kansas. Considered a diamond in the rough, the right-handed pitcher has seen velocity creep to 93 as he has filled out his frame. He also has a curveball and a circle changeup. He made his debut in the GCL and posted a solid 9 BB/35 K ratio in 57 1/3 innings. Wise could start at Oneonta next year, but West Michigan isn‘t out of the question with a good spring.
The Tigers tabbed Pepperdine lefty Paul Coleman, the West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year, in the ninth round. Coleman won his first eight decisions, including a win over top-ranked Tulane. Coleman has a solid slider and a changeup to go with his high-80's fastball, but elected to return to the Waves for his senior year and is the highest player Detroit drafted that did not sign.
Kevin Ardoin became the third senior selection for the Tigers when he was taken in the 10th round. After being drafted by Texas in the 12th round as a junior, Ardoin returned to Louisiana-Lafayette for his senior year, and won 10 games while fanning 115 batters in 103 innings. Ardoin doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he has excellent command. Like Finigan, Ardoin went to West Michigan and worked out the bullpen after having a heavy workload at school. He did a nice job, going 5-1 with a 2.84 ERA. In 44 1/3 innings, he allowed 33 hits, walked 16 and fanned 47. He should return to the rotation at West Michigan next year.
After the 10th round, the Tigers focused on four areas: Finding late-round bargains, seniors to help fill out the roster at Oneonta, signability players to go after should their performance warrant it, and draft-and-follow selections for 2006. We'll take a look at the late-round bargains in part two.