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 1 Best Detroit Tigers Draft – 1976

Detroit Tigers
Jack Morris and Alan Trammell pose during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Not only was Detroit’s 1976 draft the best in franchise history, it might legitimately be the greatest draft haul in sports history. If we bring in the January draft again, the Tigers landed five All-Stars and three future Hall of Famers in a single year.

They used the top overall pick that January on outfielder Steve Kemp from the University of Southern California. Kemp dominated in the minors later that year, and for the next five seasons he carried a 128 wRC+ and produced 16.0 WAR for the Tigers (again, not counted in the total above). Then in 1982 the Tigers traded Kemp straight up for Chet Lemon, who proceeded to have six above-average seasons in Detroit.

And Kemp was just the appetizer. Detroit had the 2nd overall pick that year and used it on Indiana high-school lefty Pat Underwood. That didn’t quite work out, but Underwood did post a positive WAR over 113 MLB games. The Tigers’ second rounder was a prep shortstop out of San Diego by the name of Alan Trammell, who produced 70.7 career WAR over the course of his Hall-of-Fame career, and racked up six All-Star bids, four Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, the 1984 World Series MVP award, and the 1987 AL MVP (in our hearts, at least).

Third-round catcher Scott Johnson never made it out of A-Ball, but Detroit came back in the fourth round with Dan Petry, who was a huge part of the 1984 World Series squad, made the 1985 All-Star team, and produced 17.1 career WAR on his way to 125 big-league wins.

That’s a strong win total, but it was less than half of Detroit’s next pick, Jack Morris. Morris’ 254 wins, 2,478 strikeouts, and career 3.90 ERA stirred much Hall-of-Fame debate, but he was one of the most consistent and durable pitchers of the 1980s, and he was a huge part of three World Series winners. His 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series is one of the great pitching performances in postseason history.

That’s one heck of a draft, but let’s add their seventh-round pick, a little-known shortstop named Ozzie Smith. The Tigers couldn’t quite meet Smith’s asking price, and he returned to school for another year. He was drafted in the fourth round the following year and went on to produce 76.9 WAR, make 15 All-Star games, win 13 Gold Gloves, and even manage a Silver Slugger award in 1987, when he hit .303 with 40 doubles and 0 home runs.

Fans probably won’t ever see a draft this good again.

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