By Joe Underhill
The temptation when covering a draft is to immediately give out grades on picks. This makes a lot of sense in the NFL and NBA Drafts, where early draft picks are often expected to immediately contribute to a team’s fortunes. The MLB Draft is different; since the MLB Draft began in 1965, only 25 players have gone from being drafted to appearing in an MLB game in the same year. The MLB Draft is about development and requires patience.
Rather than giving the Detroit Tigers a grade for their selections in the 2021 MLB Draft, I want to look at what the Draft tells us about what the front office sees and what to expect from the Tigers’ top picks.
It either shocked or confirmed fears for many Tigers fans when the Tigers tabbed Jackson Jobe as the third overall selection in the Draft while all three of the top prep shortstops were still on the board. In Jobe, the Tigers are getting the consensus top prep arm in the Draft and, based on potential, possibly the best arm in the entire Draft. While the Tigers are in the process of graduating a top tier of arms to the big leagues in Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning, the lower rungs of the system do not have a lot of names that look like potential top of the rotation candidates.
Still, premium bats are rare in Detroit’s system and desperately needed. The Tigers’ front office, led by Al Avila, seems to be prioritizing the best available talent (an approach I cannot really argue with even though I wanted the prep shortstop). In Jobe, the Tigers are getting a potential top-of-the-rotation arm who could be ready to contribute at the big league level sometime late in 2023. Jobe shows a double-plus slider along with a plus fastball, plus changeup and above-average curveball. He shows good to above-average command, which should allow him to use his arsenal effectively.
With the Competitive Balance pick, 32nd overall, the Tigers tabbed Texas right-hander Ty Madden. According to Baseball America, Madden was the third-best college pitcher in the Draft and fourth-best pitcher overall, behind Jobe, No. 2 overall pick Jack Leiter and No. 10 overall pick Kumar Rocker. Madden appears to fit the mold as an advanced pitcher who slots into the middle of a rotation and eats innings.
Madden currently shows an above-average fastball and slider combination. His future as a rotational mainstay is tied to a changeup and curveball that flash average to slightly above average. His command is above average, and if he continues his development, he could be ready to contribute in some role early in 2023.
The Tigers added a bat in the third round, selecting high school shortstop Izaac Pacheco at 39th overall. Pacheco projects to move to third base in his professional career as he is filled out at 6-foot-3, 210 lbs. He shows the ability to be a plus defender at third with a plus arm, soft hands, and clean actions in the infield. Pacheco's calling card at the plate in his professional career will likely be his plus power. There are questions about his overall hitting skills, and he has a tendency at times to become too pull-happy.
The keys for Pacheco making it to the Show will be tied to his ability to continue to understand his strike zone and put pitches on the outer third of the plate in play (preferably the other way). Defensively, he will need to show he can either handle third or move to a corner outfield spot. Pacheco does not have great speed, so if he must move off of third, he will become more reliant on his bat to be impactful. As a lefty masher with good athleticism, Pacheco has the tools to become an impact bat.
Overall, the Tigers leaned into pitching in the 2021 MLB Draft, using eight of their first ten picks on pitchers. At the top of the Draft, the Tigers are hoping they have added to their pitching depth, which will allow them to prolong their competitive window once the rebuild is finally over.
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