The Detroit Tigers entered their first Major League Baseball Amateur draft under the Al Avila regime. Picking ninth overall was no small task for Avila who selected the right-handed prep pitcher Matt Manning.
The MLB draft has been the same story for Detroit Tigers fans in past years. Fans would see top level prospects go off the board because the Tigers would not select until after the first round. This is not such a bad thing when you realize this is a by-product of both winning and signing high profile free agents. Nonetheless, the Tigers finally had a top spot in the draft with Al Avila at the helm.
When the ninth overall selection came around there was a run on pitchers going. With Al Avila in as GM, the Tigers took a slightly different approach selecting 6’6″ right-handed pitcher Matt Manning.
Manning is a native of Sacremento, California who recently graduated from Sheldon High School. His height is no accident as he is the son of former NBA center Rich Manning. Matt’s basketball past profiles him as a great athlete which can be seen as an asset on the mound. His high school basketball career caused a delay to the start of his senior baseball season but once Manning took the mound he did not skip a beat.
While the Tigers did not select a college arm, they did select a power arm once again. Manning’s top pitch is his fastball which sits around 96-97 mph. He also features a power curveball and a changeup that does not see much action. His delivery is mechanically sound, even though its a bit rough. Manning hides the ball well and utilizes his big frame, getting all the way down the mound causing his consistently high velocity.
Manning’s stuff seems electric. There is no shortage of talent in California and he has done well on a national stage. Manning was a preseason Perfect Game All-American and rated as MLB.com’s 11th best player available.
Though it is difficult to pin point an MLB comparison for Manning, his stuff reminds me of Detroit rookie Michael Fulmer. Fulmer was a two-pitch pitcher when he came to Detroit and really did not have a feel for his changeup. Since getting called up to the majors, Fulmer’s changeup has developed immensely and has become his preferred setup pitch. If the Tigers can develop Manning’s changeup in the same way, he will definitely profile as a starter. If his changeup never becomes a reliable pitch, Manning may find a home in the back end of the Tigers bullpen one day.
There are concerns regarding Manning’s sign-ability. Manning is committed to play baseball at Loyola Marymount. While that is a small school, experts say Manning still has hoop dreams and it will take some serious cash to get him to give up basketball. The Detroit Tigers have the sixth lowest bonus pool sitting at $5.4 million. The slot value for the ninth overall pick this season has been set at $3.5 million. If the rumors are true, the Tigers could be hand cuffed with a budget for their remaining picks.
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The Tigers elected to pass on prep pitcher lefty Jason Groome. Before the draft, Groome was projected as one of the top three players and was nearly a lock to go first overall. Concerns about work ethic and attitude caused Groome’s draft stock to plummet in the days leading up to the draft. Groome was ultimately selected twelfth overall by Dave Dombroski and the Boston Red Sox.
The Tigers do not pick again until the fourth round. Their ninth pick was protected because it is in the top ten. Their second round pick will go to the Washington Nationals due to the off season signing of Jordan Zimmerman. The Tigers third round pick will go to the San Diego Padres as compensation for signing Justin Upton. This should save the Tigers some money but could hurt their farm system in the long run.
The true test will be what Al Avila is able to do in the later rounds. While many top draft picks have been viewed as busts in the past, more often than not top ten overall picks develop into major league talent. If Avila can find sleepers in this draft and turn them into big league talent he will give Tigers fans some assurance he is the right man for the job. In the mean time, the Tigers are making strides in improving their farm club.