Detroit Tigers MLB Draft: Is Jack Leiter a big hack for the fences?

Vanderbilt pitcher Tyler Brown and catcher CJ Rodriguez, left, congratulate freshman pitcher Jack Leiter (22) after he strike out all three South Alabama batters during the first inning at Hawkins Field Feb. 18, 2020.Nas Vandy Baseball Home Opener 019
Vanderbilt pitcher Tyler Brown and catcher CJ Rodriguez, left, congratulate freshman pitcher Jack Leiter (22) after he strike out all three South Alabama batters during the first inning at Hawkins Field Feb. 18, 2020.Nas Vandy Baseball Home Opener 019 /

The MLB Draft is looming and MCB is celebrating  “Draft Month” with several weeks of coverage. The Detroit Tigers once again have a prime spot early in Day 1 adding to the intrigue.

Simple questions don’t always have simple answers as much as we’d prefer them. A possibly meaningless throwaway line in a mock draft released this week did spur this question: Are the Tigers looking at this upcoming third overall draft choice as a chance at a big hack at a home run selection or looking to add a piece to the puzzle who fits a competitive timeline?

MLB Pipeline put out a mock draft by the highly informed Jonathan Mayo this week. Mayo and his Pipeline counterpart Jim Callis have earned the trust in this space particularly of having really good sources and conveying trusted pertinent information regarding the MLB Draft.

Mayo has Detroit selecting Vanderbilt righty Jack Leiter with the third overall pick. Certainly, it’s a very possible and perhaps even likely choice. Leiter has bounced around near the top of the draft for months all over the Top 4 spots. The Tigers for their part have an affinity for SEC players in general and for Vandy players in particular. Leiter or teammate Kumar Rocker seems like Al Avila’s draft picks. (Note: our mock draft at MCB also had Leiter landing in Motown)

In the blurb about the Tigers pick, Mayo takes note the Tigers like the elite prep shortstops but he’s “leaning toward the Tigers picking someone who might help sooner.” Leiter in this case. This after Mayo having Pittsburgh and Texas take California high school SS Marcelo Mayer and Louisville Cardinals catcher Henry Davis respectively. Mayo has Detroit passing on prep shortstops Jordan Lawlar and Brady House for Leiter.

So…is Mayo’s line about “someone who might help sooner” just a random space-filling personal view of his? Or is it a thought he put out there due to whispers he’s gleaning from industry sources, perhaps even from inside the Woodward Avenue offices in Detroit? Hard to say but this space leans toward it having a whiff of industry speculation.

As observers of the Tigers…do we want Al Avila drafting to fit some timeline of a perceived competitive window or should he be drafting purely on getting the most talent from such a high draft position, timeline-be-damned?

Certainly, it’s possible the Tigers view someone like Jack Leiter as both. Leiter has shown incredible talent at Vanderbilt and, in some ways, he’s tracked the path taken by Casey Mize to being a top selection. If Detroit believes it, hopefully, that’s the story they’ll put out.

It would be disappointing from this view if the word from the Detroit front office winds up being the choice was made mainly to bolster the current MLB product quickly. Short-term thinking like that seems to rely on dozens of moving parts coming together and not a contender where this pick is only one puzzle piece and not a game-changing generational talent. It also hints at the desperation of the front office feeling they need to win for employment self-preservation purposes.

This space is purely interested in taking big hacks aggressively looking to get the players with the highest payoff in talent to add to the organization.

Drafting a player you view even modestly less talented because he might surface in MLB a bit quicker to bolster the big league club’s fortunes is a nice thought…but that’s what free agency should be used for. There are too many moving parts to think adding a draft pick to the mix will polish off a contending roster. If other players fall short in development and a contending team fails to develop you’re stuck with a draft pick you viewed as important for that fictitious contender and not the guy you viewed as potentially a better player.

If the Tigers view Brady House or Jordan Lawlar as a first division starting infielder and possibly an elite all-star level player in 5-years, the hope here is they’d be the choice if Leiter is viewed as a mid-rotation starter on a good club.

If the Tigers view Leiter as clearly having the highest ceiling and maybe even Cy Young potential down the line…like they certainly must have viewed Mize…then it’s a different story. That is not the same as saying “Leiter can get to the majors fast and help us vie for a wildcard a little sooner to end the losing misery”.

You can’t count on drafting Hall of Famers. We all know this. But if I’m drafting in the Top 3, my goal is to find one. If your goal is that high, even if you come up short and get a Hall of Really Good player that’s a chip to eventually put a team over the top. A true difference-maker who is more than a puzzle piece.

Did Mayo mean any of this with his one-line take? I don’t know. But hopefully, the Tigers are taking the view they need to uncover a generational talent and not trying to fill a hole on a contender when you don’t even have the true guts of a contender built yet.