The 6 best drafts in Detroit Tigers history

Brandon Inge smiles during a press conference. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Brandon Inge smiles during a press conference. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /
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Number 2 Best Detroit Tigers Draft – 1975

Detroit Tigers
Lou Whitaker in 1984.(Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Scouting director Bill Lajoie made two outstanding picks in his debut draft of 1974, and then he outdid himself the following year. To this point we have largely ignored the old January phase of the MLB draft, which lasted from 1966 to 1986, because January picks rarely signed, and those who did almost never produced. But in January of 1975 the Tigers used the fourth overall pick to land Tom Brookens, who produced 11.6 career WAR (not included in the total above) as a glove-first third baseman.

Lajoie didn’t find that kind of immediate success in the June portion of the draft though, with number three overall pick Les Filkins and second-round pitcher John Murphy both topping out in Triple-A, and third rounder Bob Grandas going unsigned.

But the Tigers hit on their fourth-rounder Jason Thompson, a first baseman from Cal State Northridge who showed power and patience. Thompson played just 79 games in the minors before arriving in Detroit in April of 1976, and in his first four seasons he made two All-Star teams and batted .259/.346/.441 while averaging 26 home runs and 93 RBIs per 162 games. But Thompson clashed with new manager Sparky Anderson, and the Tigers traded him to the Angels in 1980 for Al Cowens. A right-handed hitting outfielder, Cowens finished second in the 1977 MVP voting after a terrific season with the Royals. But he was mostly an average player before and after, and his time with the Tigers is best remembered for an ugly brawl against the White Sox.

Detroit’s fourth-round pick was great, but their fifth rounder was divine. Lou Whitaker, a young high-school infielder from Virginia, went to the Tigers with the 99th overall pick in the draft, and he spent the next 20 years as part of the best double-play combo in baseball history. Sweet Lou may not have been great at any one thing, but he was very good at everything. He took home the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1978, won four Silver Slugger awards, three Gold Gloves, and made the All-Star team every season from 1983 to 1987.

Whitaker’s career WAR of 75.1 is the fifth highest ever for a second baseman — more than Hall-of-Famers Frankie Frisch, Ryne Sandberg, and Roberto Alomar, among others. He is one of the best players in MLB history, and one heck of a draft pick, and it remains a travesty that he isn’t enshrined in Cooperstown.