Number 3 Best Detroit Tigers Draft – 2004
Like the 1985 Smoltz draft, the 2004 draft class essentially reflects the work of one Hall-of-Fame pitcher. But this time the Tigers held onto their star hurler, and, with apologies to Hal Newhouser and Mickey Lolich, Justin Verlander went on to become the best pitcher in Detroit Tigers history.
Verlander wasn’t necessarily a sure thing. He had the best pure stuff in the draft class, but Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew were bigger names, and a troika of Rice University hurlers — Phil Humber, Jeff Niemann, and Wade Townsend — all had superior college numbers that year. The Tigers took Verlander anyway, and though negotiations got a bit contentious, they eventually signed him to a deal in October. The rest is history.
He plowed through the minor leagues in 2005, and won Rookie of the Year honors as he helped pitch the Tigers to the World Series in 2006. He was Detroit’s ace for the better part of the next 11 seasons, making six All-Star squads, winning both the Cy Young and MVP awards in 2011, throwing two no-hitters, and helping the Tigers back to the World Series in 2012. He got even stronger after his 2017 trade to Houston, and he stands as one of the most dominant pitchers of his era.
Three other 2004 draft picks eventually made the majors for the Tigers, but Jeff Frazier (3rd round) played in just nine games, and Brent Dlugach (6th round) saw only five. Their eighth-round pick Luke French pitched in 31 big-league games, and he was solid enough for the 2009 Tigers to be the key part of their ill-fated deadline trade for Jarrod Washburn.