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Detroit Tigers: What Can Detroit Learn From Teams Drafting in The Top 10

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 19: Detroit Tigers Assistant General Manager Al Avila watches the game between the Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park on August 19, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. The Orioles defeated the Tigers 7-5. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 19: Detroit Tigers Assistant General Manager Al Avila watches the game between the Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park on August 19, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. The Orioles defeated the Tigers 7-5. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /
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The Detroit Tigers have had top 10 picks in 2016, 2018, 2019, and 2020. Are they repeating any type of proven formula? Let’s find out.

The MLB Draft provides renewed optimism every year. Like with the Detroit Lions, Detroit Tigers fans have begun celebrating the draft like it’s another holiday. But with the Tigers into year four of their rebuild, one would expect results. After all, they have had a top-10 pick for three years in a row, and seem likely to have another next year. How common is this, and have the other teams with that many top-10 picks found success?

To judge success, I’ll take a look at two criteria:

  1. Have they made the postseason?
  2. How much bWAR has each draft pick produced?

To make the list, teams had to have top-10 draft picks in four consecutive years, and I only went back to the 2012 draft, because that is when the draft slotting system began. The Houston Astros technically count for this list, but I left them out, what with the cheating and all. So let’s see who Detroit might count among its peer group.

Colorado Rockies

Consecutive top-10 picks:  Five

Postseason appearances: 2 (2017,2018)

The picks:

  • 2012: David Dahl OF (10th overall, Oak Mountain High School, Alabama)  bWAR: 2.0 
  • 2013: Jon Gray P (3rd overall, University of Oklahoma) bWAR: 10.1 
  • 2014: Kyle Freeland P (8th overall, University of Evansville) bWAR: 10.6
  • 2015: Brendan Rogers SS (3rd overall, Lake Mary High School) bWAR: -0.6
  • 2016: Riley Pint P (4th overall, St. Thomas Aquinas, Kansas) bWAR: N/A ( still in the minors)

Between two general managers in Dan O’Dowd, who oversaw the 2012-14 drafts and current Senior VP/General Manager Jeff Bridich, who was the GM during the 2015 and 2016 drafts, the Rockies have a pair of post-season appearance in 2016

Both Freeland and Gray were part of those post-season squads and have given Colorado fans a combined 20.7 bWAR. David Dahl made the All-Star squad in 2019. Current roster players from other rounds include second baseman Ryan McMahon (2013, 2nd round), outfielder Sam Hillard (2015, 15th round), and outfielder Garrett Hampson (2016, 3rd round)

Cincinnati Reds

Consecutive top-10 picks: Four

Postseason appearances: 0

The picks:

  • 2016: Nick Senzel OF (2nd overall, University of Tennessee) bWAR: 0.2
  • 2017: Hunter Greene P (2nd overall, Notre Dame, Sherman Oaks, California) bWAR: N/A ( still in the minors)
  • 2018: Jonathan India 3B (5th overall, University of Florida) bWAR: N/A ( still in the minors)
  • 2019: Nike Lodolo P (7th overall, TCU) bWAR: N/A ( still in the minors)

The Reds are contenders this season, thanks to some trades and free-agent investments to upgrade their offense. Looking at how they got here, the draft has not yielded ideal results yet, but with young talents like Hunter Greene and Tyler Stephenson on the way the future is looking brighter. The Reds have taken a step back in terms of farm system rankings (24th), but that’s the price to pay to take a step up at the big-league level. Senzel is the only one of these draft picks to reach the majors so far. President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams oversaw these four drafts.

Minnesota Twins

Consecutive top-10 picks: Four

Postseason appearances: 2 (2017, 2019)

The picks:

2012: Byron Buxton OF (2nd overall, Appling County, GA) bWAR: 9.8
2013: Kohl Stewart P (3rd overall, University of Oklahoma) bWAR: 0.4 (now with Baltimore)
2014: Nick Gordon SS (5th overall, Olympia High School) bWAR: N/A
2015: Tyler Jay P (6th overall, University of Illinois) bWAR: N/A (now with Cincinnati) 

All of these picks were under the previous general manager, Terry Ryan., and they aren’t terribly encouraging. Buxton has incredible talent, but can’t stay healthy, while Stewart, Gordon, and Jay never really developed. Most of Minnesota’s current success goes to general manager Thad Levine, who took over in late 2016 after 11 seasons with the Rangers.

Conclusions

Of these three teams, only the Rockies really found success with their top-10 picks, with two pitchers who helped form the foundation of a solid rotation. What this illustrates is that trades, international signings, and draft picks made after the first round are also huge factors when it comes to building a contender.

If Detroit can turn Casey Mize, Riley Greene, and Spencer Torkelson into players who can help in the next two years, then the value will show. But they can’t afford to miss on any of them, because the margin of error is thin, and they have yet to show the ability to develop talent in the later rounds, though Tarik Skubal might be a move in the right direction.

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