Detroit Tigers: Grading Each Al Avila Draft Since Taking Over as GM
By Jacob Boes
Since taking over as GM in late-2015, Al Avila has had four MLB drafts to help bolster a hurting system
Going through a rebuild is an absolute grueling process. GM Al Avila has had a change in power and a subsequent shift in the club’s priorities; and thus, was cornered into some difficult decisions like trading one of the team’s best pitchers in the club’s history as well as sacrificing some professional wins in exchange for some high draft selections.
The necessity of those decisions, as well as the returns, can certainly be argued. But there is also a silver lining to losing. One of the keys to the ‘trust the process’ model made famous in the NBA is the acquisition of high draft picks, which, when paired with veteran talent at the right time, will produce a contender and ultimately a championship.
The MLB draft is a bit unique in that not only does losing the most guarantee the first pick, but the advantage goes even beyond the first round. Because of the MLB’s bonus pooling system, signing a high first-round pick under the value for the slot can free up some dollars in the second round for a player demanding a high bonus by threatening to either return to school or go to college.
Detroit and Avila have had these luxuries; securing the 9th, 18th, 1st, and 5th draft picks since taking the helm, with another 1st overall pick on the way. So how have the Tigers fared? Of course, we have the ability to see how these picks have panned out in hindsight, and we all know how hard it can be to hit on draft picks in any round, so I will do my best to deliver grades within reason. For example, a 16th round pick is not expected to produce much, so I will not deduct Avila for not finding a talent a different organization found in the 20th round that same year.
Let us look at each year and apply the standard grading scale; with an A being that the organization could not have reasonably done better, and an F being the organization could not have reasonably done worse.
This was one of the stranger drafts of the Avila era. The club’s first-round pick was protected because it was a top-10 draft pick, but the team would give up both their second and third-round picks with the signings of Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton, who had both rejected qualifying offers from their former respective clubs.
The ninth overall pick would go to Matt Manning, an out-of-character high-risk, high-reward high school pitcher with lots of athleticism and little mileage. The only players that might be arguably better prospects at this point that were selected after Manning are Alex Kirilloff, ranked under Manning by MLB Pipeline, and Carter Kieboom, currently ranked three spots ahead of Manning.
Fourth-rounder Kyle Funkhouser was seen as a steal by many in the industry mainly for the fact that he was a compensatory first-round pick by the Dodgers the year prior, but failed to sign and would return the Louisville. The Tigers have recently committed to Funkhouser as a relief pitcher and is likely to begin the season at Toledo.
Another oddity regarding this draft is the team’s affection for relief pitchers. The fifth and sixth rounds were both spent on relievers; with choices, Mark Ecker and Bryan Garcia getting selected. Although his ceiling is limited, the Tigers also did a nice job with hometown guy John Schreiber, who they found in the 15th round and will serve as a bullpen option for Detroit in 2020.
The selection of Manning automatically gives them a boost, but outside of Manning, there is not much potential left to be found outside of a couple of bullpen arms and certainly no impact position players. Grade: C+
The 2017 draft allowed the Tigers to go back to their roots a bit; selecting Alex Faedo with the 18th overall pick this season. Detroit is well-known for its infatuation toward big, SEC starting pitchers and he certainly fits the bill. Faedo has performed reasonably well through his minor league career thus far and projects as a guy who could either snatch a back-end starter role or pitch our of the bullpen with his sweeping slider.
There are a couple of players which have performed well that were selected after Faedo. DL Hall, Nate Pearson, and Griffin Canning are a trio of pitchers who were selected shortly after Faedo and are off to pleasant pro starts.
The second-round pick of this draft was particularly disappointing, as the Tigers would select Reynaldo Rivera; a big corner outfielder and first baseman who many thought would be a pick more in the fourth or fifth round. Unfortunately, Corbin Martin would go just a pick earlier to the Houston Astros and made his debut last season at 23 years old. While Detroit would not miss out on any big talent by selecting Rivera so early, they hardly gave themselves a chance, to begin with.
Some notable late picks: Max Green has shown some nice promise as a relief arm drafted in the 8th round and Cole Peterson has been invaluable as an organizational player who is well-known for excellent defense. Detroit has also shown a recent appreciation for bloodlines–and they would continue that with drafting Colby Bortles, brother of NFL quarterback Blake Bortles, in the 22nd round.
Faedo has met expectations for the most part as a late first-round pick, but the misses and reaches afterward are hard to ignore. Grade: D+
This is perhaps the nicest year that the Tigers would have since Avila took over as GM. Casey Mize’s profile fits the same profile as Faedo, but in reality, Mize was the consensus first overall selection by every major publication with MLB draft coverage in 2018 despite being another SEC power arm. It is easy to sweep over this pick because they really did what everyone assumed they would, but credit to them for not trying to outsmart everyone and simply taking the best player available to them.
Juxtaposed to 2017, I was actually impressed by the Tigers’ second-round selection as well. Parker Meadows, brother of Austin, has the bloodlines and the projection that teams can dream of despite his lack of performance thus far in the minor leagues. Speaking of bloodlines, they also snatched power lefty Kody Clemens, son of Rogers, in the third round.
Tarik Skubal deserves a paragraph of his own. Maybe Detroit got lucky here, but credit the club for finding great value in the ninth round of the draft. Skubal has shot up through the system and has entered MLB’s Top 100 list, checking in at #46. Not bad.
Meadows has not been what many had hoped and Clemens does not appear to have the starter profile many hoped he would have coming out of Texas, but this was a nice overall effort by the Tigers. Grade: B+
The Tigers heard the rumbles about the talent within the system being top-heavy and one-sided with pitching and made a conscious effort to inject some position player talent into the system in 2019. 8 of the first 10 picks in the draft would be position players, including their first five picks in the draft.
Riley Greene is the jewel at fifth overall; a prep outfielder well-regarded for his advanced hitting approach and overall baseball makeup. Greene has done well thus far in his pro career; reaching Low-A West Michigan as an 18-year-old and hitting lefties as well as playing superb defense.
Second rounder Nick Quintana was thought to be a nice on-base player with some good power coming out of Arizona but has underwhelmed in his young pro career. Bryant Packard was a nice find in the fifth round as a player who has an advanced hitting approach and can lay off pitches outside of the zone, but there are some questions about his position as he moves up the system.
Truthfully, I wish the Tigers would have taken a more balanced approach to the draft in 2019. They made position players a clear and obvious priority, but that also lets me know they were not always trying to find the best possible player. Ironically, the two pitchers they drafted in the first 10 rounds both have relief profiles, so they would not draft a starter until round 15! Hard to argue there would not be a starting pitcher that would have been a better option than some of their position players they selected. Grade: C
Detroit and Al Avila have made some changes to their approach even over the last couple of years. Changing from hard-throwing relief profiles over to some position player talent. However, there is still much room for improvement–particularly with finding value outside of the first round.