Detroit Tigers: Revisiting the 2011 MLB draft

Detroit Tigers catcher James McCann bunts the ball. Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Tigers catcher James McCann bunts the ball. Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2021 MLB Draft is fewer than three weeks away, and with 3 of the top 40 picks and the second largest bonus pool of any team, it may represent the last great chance for the Detroit Tigers to add impact amateur talent during their current rebuild.

We’ve done profiles on the most likely Detroit Tigers selections with the 3rd pick this year, including Jackson Jobe, Jack Leiter, and Marcelo Mayer. And look for some profiles on potential second rounders in the coming days.

On a more macro level, this year’s draft comes in the final year of the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and there’s a chance it will be the last to use the needlessly complicated bonus pool and slotting systems. It could also be the final draft where most picks aren’t tradable.

But today we’re going to travel back ten years to revisit the 2011 MLB Draft, the last of the free-for-all drafts before the current bonus pool system was implemented. A decade is a nice round number for doing a retrospective, but 2011 also happens to be one of the most interesting and impactful drafts ever.

The 2011 MLB Draft

Drafts are always a bit of a crap-shoot, and the success or failure of individual players depends on a host of factors beyond pure skill level. But it’s not hard to tell when a draft class is special, and it didn’t take long for evaluators to realize 2011 was a potentially generational draft.

Ten years later those evaluations have proven correct. In terms of total first-round WAR, the 2011 draft ranks 6th all time, and by the end of the season it will rank 3rd. There have been just a handful of drafts where each of the first 10 picks made the majors. The first 29 players from the 2011 draft made the big leagues.

The 2011 first round has so far produced 21 All-Star appearances, 8 Silver Slugger awards, 7 Gold Gloves, 3 ERA titles, 2 Rookies of the Year, and 2 Cy Young winners. And the talent in 2011 went well beyond the first round, with players like Nick Ahmed (2nd round), Mike Clevinger (4th), Mookie Betts (5th), Marcus Semien (6th), and Kyle Hendricks (8th) all having terrific careers so far.

Detroit Tigers from the 2011 MLB Draft

The Detroit Tigers would have picked 19th overall in 2011, but they lost their first-round pick when they signed Victor Martinez. Teams were still free to spend as much money as they wanted, so many thought the Tigers would just shell out big money to get first-round talent later in the draft, as they had done in the past with Rick Porcello and Nick Castellanos, among others.

Things didn’t happen that way, but, as it turned out, the Detroit Tigers eventually ended up with plenty of players from the 2011 draft anyway:

Detroit Tigers Draft Picks in 2011

Now let’s look at the Detroit Tigers’ actual picks from the 2011 draft. We’ll highlight each pick from the first ten rounds, and even though it’s admittedly unfair, we’ll look at who else the team could have taken. We’ll also look at two more players who made the big leagues.

James McCann – There’s no doubt James McCann was a disappointment for the Tigers. He produced 2.3 WAR in Detroit over four full seasons, and he was non-tendered after a particularly bad 2018 season. But he has been successful elsewhere, making the 2019 All-Star game, and has been one of the best 2nd rounders from the draft. Only Nick Ahmed (12.0 WAR) has been better.

Aaron Westlake – Drafting a first baseman is always risky, because they have to hit a ton to be valuable. Westlake had a terrific season as a 4th-year Junior at Vanderbilt, batting .344/.463/.640 with 18 home runs, but he never hit much in pro ball and retired after the 2014 season. There wasn’t much talent taken in the 3rd round, but Tony Cingrani (2.4 WAR) went 7 picks after Westlake.

Jason King – Jason King was an aggressive switch-hitter with an interesting mix of power and speed at Kansas State (one of David Chadd’s old stopping grounds), but a knee injury sapped his athleticism, and he struggled in pro ball, never playing after 2013. Noe Ramirez went a few picks later, but otherwise the Tigers didn’t miss out on much by taking King.

Brandon Loy – Loy was a glove-first shortstop at Texas who made decent contact but had zero power. He was mostly known for bunting. True to form, he batted just .228 with two home runs over four minor-league seasons. Five picks after the Detroit Tigers took Loy, the Boston Red Sox selected a shortstop named Mookie Betts. Ouch.

Tyler Collins – Collins couldn’t hack it at Baylor, but he hit like crazy at Howard Junior College in Texas, and he did eventually hit his way to the big leagues. He spent parts of four seasons with the Tigers, but he’s best remembered for giving his home fans an unfortunate one-finger salute, and he hasn’t played pro ball since 2018. The Blue Jays took Anthony DeSclafini (8.7 WAR) two picks after Collins, and the White Sox selected Marcus Semien (25.1 WAR) four picks after Collins.

Brian Flynn – A big lefty from Wichita State (another former home of David Chadd), Flynn showed promise in pro ball and was one third of the package Detroit sent to Miami to land Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante in 2012. He made his big-league debut in 2013, and has pitched in 102 MLB games, most recently with the Royals in 2019. Ken Giles (7.7 WAR) was the best 7th rounder picked after Flynn.

Jason Krizan – A senior signed for just $50K, Krizan was a solid organizational soldier for the Detroit Tigers for parts of eight seasons. He’s currently playing Triple-A ball in the San Francisco Giants organization. The Texas Rangers took Kyle Hendricks (21.5 WAR) seven picks after Krizan.

Chad Wright – Wright was a solid college player for Kentucky, but proved to be a tweener in pro ball who lacked the speed to play center and the power to play a corner. His pro career ended after the 2014 season. The Red Sox took Travis Shaw (9.0 WAR) five picks after Wright.

Curt Casali – Another Vanderbilt product, Casali was a senior sign who drew praise for his approach and receiving. There were early whispers he might be better than 2nd-round pick McCann, and that was true up until the last few seasons. Casali was the best 10th-round pick in 2011, but the Tigers traded him for Kyle Lobstein before the 2013 season. He’s currently the backup catcher for the San Francisco Giants.

Chad Smith – An accomplished reliever at USC, Chad Smith worked his way through the Detroit system and made 10 forgettable appearances for the Tigers in 2014. He pitched twice for the Oakland A’s in 2015, and was done in pro ball after 2016.

Guido Knudson – One of two Guidos to ever reach the majors, Knudson made four appearances for the Detroit Tigers in 2015, but he gave up 10 runs in just 5 innings. He saw some time in the Pittsburgh and Seattle systems afterward, but was done with pro ball by 2016.

Detroit Tigers 2011 Draft: Odds, Ends, and Nepotism Picks

Detroit’s 2011 draft haul ended up being pretty poor overall. Their 11th-rounder Dean Green was a career .306 hitter in the minors but lacked the power and defensive ability to reach the majors. The club split $650K between high schoolers Tyler Gibson (15th round) and Brett Harrison (18th round), but neither made it out of A ball.

For a while it looked like their 29th rounder Montreal Robertson would be a great scouting find. He came from a tiny Mississippi community college, but his big arm got him very close to the majors. At one point the Tigers even added him to their 40-man roster. But he suffered a freak shoulder injury while lifting weights in 2016, and he never pitched again.

It’s not unusual to see teams draft relatives of franchise icons or current employees, but the Detroit Tigers took the practice to the extreme in 2011. They selected:

  • Colin Kaline (grandson of Al Kaline) in the 26th round
  • Nick Avila (Al Avila’s nephew) in the 37th round
  • Blaise Salter (Bill Freehan’s grandson) in the 38th round
  • Tucker Chadd (David Chadd’s son) in the 42nd round
  • Andrew Allen (Rod Allen’s son) in the 45th round
  • Brett Impemba (Mario Impemba’s son) in the 49th round

Sometimes you have to keep it in the family.

Next. Spencer Torkelson might be the number 1 prospect in baseball. dark