Yesterday we looked at some of the worst drafts in Detroit Tigers history.
But today marks the beginning of the Year of the Tiger, so let’s focus on some good Detroit Tigers history. The previous article was inspired in part by the troubling outlook for Detroit’s 2017 draft haul, but things are looking much better lately.
The 2018 draft gave the Tigers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, whose combined 4.3 WAR is already better than 23 other Detroit Tigers drafts. There may not be many more players coming from that class — Kody Clemens has been added to the 40-man roster and Eric De La Rosa, Garrett Hill, and Chavez Fernander all have a shot to reach the majors — but Mize and Skubal alone could push 2018 into a top ten draft in franchise history.
The 2019 class boasts MCB’s top prospect, Riley Greene, as well as Ryan Kreidler, Beau Brieske, Andre Lipcius, and Zack Hess. And though the 2020 class was just six players, four of them — Spencer Torkelson, Dillon Dingler, Gage Workman, and Colt Keith — are generally considered top-12 prospects in Detroit’s system.
And as you’ll soon notice, good drafts tend to be followed by good seasons.
In yesterday’s piece we questioned what makes for a truly bad draft, but today’s piece is more straightforward. We’ll be looking at the top six Detroit Tigers draft classes as measured by Baseball Reference WAR. That said, we want to give an honorable mention to the 2011 class, which ranks ninth in Tigers history in terms of WAR, but sent a franchise record 11 players to the big leagues, including Cameron Maybin and Matt Joyce.
Now, on to the list!
Number 6 Best Detroit Tigers Draft – 1974
We mentioned the draft failings of Detroit’s head of scouting Ed Katalinas yesterday, and they look particularly bad when compared to the work of his legendary successor Bill Lajoie. Lajoie served as Detroit’s scouting director from 1974 to 1978, a run that produced four of the top seven draft classes in Tigers history.
Getting your top pick right is usually key to the overall success of the class, and Lajoie nailed it in his first draft, selecting a California high-school infielder named Lance Parrish. Parrish began his pro career as a third baseman and outfielder, but he moved behind the plate in 1975 and reached the majors two years later. He would go on to make eight All-Star teams, win six Silver Sluggers, and earn three Gold Glove awards, and he is tied for fifth all-time in home runs by a catcher.
As if drafting a franchise catcher wasn’t enough, Lajoie also used his 10th-round pick on Massachusetts prep pitcher Mark Fidrych. Fidrych’s career was far too short, but to this day his 1976 season is remembered as one of baseball’s greatest performances. The 21-year-old Fidrych went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA and a stunning 24 complete games. By Baseball Reference WAR, it was easily the best rookie season by a pitcher in the Integration Era.
Why stop there? Detroit’s 19th-rounder was left-handed pitcher Bob Sykes, who finished his career with -0.1 WAR. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Sykes was a roughly league-average pitcher for the Tigers, producing 1.8 WAR from 1977-1978, but he fell apart after being traded to to St. Louis before the 1979 season. In return, the Cardinals sent Detroit Aurelio López, who became a huge part of the team’s bullpen for the next seven seasons.