DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers executed a nearly perfect game plan in this year’s MLB draft, stocking up on high-end hitters to try to add some offense to a farm system loaded with pitching potential.
Nobody will truly know whether the draft was a success for at least a couple of years, but it sure feels like the Detroit Tigers came away with one of the best classes.
If Detroit can sign all six draftees, it will add six promising bats to a minor league system that was once sorely lacking in everyday players.
The highlights have always been Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal and Alex Faedo. That still might be the case, but now there’s a growing crop of hitters to keep an eye on, too.
Quick draft links:
- First round: Arizona State 1B Spencer Torkelson
- Second round: Ohio State C Dillon Dingler
- Competitive Balance Round B: LSU OF Daniel Cabrera
- Third round: Rice SS Trei Cruz
- Fourth round: Arizona State 3B Gage Workman
- Fifth round: High school 3B Colt Keith
Drafted: No. 1 overall in the first round
Having the No. 1 overall selection certainly helps when putting together a draft class, and the Tigers owned the top pick for the second time in three years.
In 2018, the team selected Mize, who has risen into the league’s top 10 prospects as one of the top two pitchers in the minor leagues. This time, Al Avila had another easy choice.
By the time the Tigers officially went on the clock Wednesday, everyone knew the pick would be Torkelson. The powerful first baseman out of Arizona State put together an incredible college career, slashing .337/.463/.729 with 53 home runs and 33 doubles in 129 games.
To put Torkelson’s numbers in perspective, he had 628 plate appearances throughout his college career. There were 51 MLB players who had more at-bats in 2019, meaning Torkelson already shows the power to hit 30-plus home runs in a season.
But the most impressive part of Torkelson’s profile is something the Tigers were looking for in all their draftees this season: elite plate discipline.
The minor league system is sorely lacking players who can get on base at a high rate. Many of the team’s top prospects -- Daz Cameron, Jake Rogers and Nick Quintana, to name a few -- have a lot of swing and miss in their games.
Outside of top hitting prospect Riley Greene and infielder Isaac Paredes, who nearly walked as often as he struck out last year, there isn’t a lot of great discipline in the organization.
Well, until now.
Torkelson fits that bill perfectly. He drew 110 walks compared to 104 strikeouts in his college career, including a dazzling 31 walks and 15 strikeouts in 17 games last season. Sure, some of those free passes are a result of pitchers avoiding his mammoth power, but Torkelson is just 20 years old and already showing an advanced knowledge of the strike zone. That’s a sign of a potentially special player.
Drafted: No. 38 overall in the second round
The Tigers couldn’t get a value with the No. 1 overall pick because a prospect can’t be ranked higher than No. 1. Instead, Avila spent all of Thursday evening snagging values at every turn.
That started with Ohio State catcher Dillon Dingler, who was ranked the No. 24 player in the class and largely expected to go in the first round.
While Dingler’s first-round ranking had a lot to do with his above-average defense and elite throwing arm behind the dish, his offense steadily improved each season at Ohio State.
After posting an ugly .701 OPS as a freshman, Dingler raised that to .816 in 2019 before posting a 1.164 OPS in the shortened 2020 season.
The one constant throughout that offensive development was -- you guessed it -- plate discipline.
Even as he struggled to put the ball in play with much authority as a freshman, Dingler drew 21 walks and struck out just 29 times in 204 plate appearances. His on-base percentage was a solid .332 despite a .244 batting average.
The following season, Dingler cranked that OBP up to .392 thanks to 27 walks and 23 strikeouts in 201 plate appearances.
He only got 58 plate appearances in 2020, but was sporting a healthy .404 OBP with just seven strikeouts.
Avila likely wasn’t counting on Dingler being available at this point in the draft, and when he fell to No. 38, it was a no-brainer, and the Tigers didn’t overthink it.
Drafted: No. 62 overall in Competitive Balance Round B
When the second night of the draft began, many wanted the Tigers to take Cabrera -- the No. 38 overall prospect -- with their second-round pick.
They went with Dingler instead, but Cabrera fell all the way to No. 62 in the competitive balance round.
The Tigers scooped him up, making him the third top-40 prospect of the class.
With Torkelson, Dingler and Cabrera, the Tigers got the No. 1, No. 13 and No. 21 everyday players available, according to MLB Pipeline. For a team desperate to add young hitters, that’s about as well as a draft can go.
Cabrera was an outfielder for LSU and possesses an exciting combination of power and on-base potential.
He racked up 22 home runs and 33 doubles in 586 plate appearances in the SEC, slashing .305/.392/.518 in his career.
Cabrera struck out 54 times his sophomore year while only drawing 24 walks, but the Tigers are hoping that was an outlier, as his overall plate discipline was excellent. He drew 34 walks compared to 36 strikeouts as a freshman and had 14 walks and 12 strikeouts this year before the pandemic.
Drafted: No. 73 overall in the third round
The Tigers only had one reach this year, according to the experts, and it came with the first selection in the third round.
Detroit drafted Trei Cruz, the No. 126 overall prospect, at No. 73 overall.
Even though he might not have been projected as a third-round pick, Cruz fits the prototype the Tigers were targeting this draft.
Cruz was a high on-base player throughout his career at Rice, posting a .405 career OBP with 93 walks in 132 games.
The issue was strikeouts. Cruz whiffed 128 times in college -- a high number for Conference USA competition.
But the Tigers liked what they saw from Cruz during the shortened 2020 season after he eliminated a high leg kick from his swing. In 16 games, Cruz drew 18 walks while striking out 17 times.
The strikeouts were still a bit high, but the Tigers decided to take their chances on a player who could get on base at a high clip.
Drafted: No. 102 overall in the fourth round
The Tigers went back to shopping for value in the fourth round, taking the No. 73 overall prospect outside the top 100 picks.
Gage Workman was Torkelson’s teammate at Arizona State and played across the diamond at third base. While Torkelson was announced as a third baseman when the Tigers selected him, Workman figures to have a better chance to stick at the position.
Workman is the one college player selected by the Tigers who didn’t know great plate discipline throughout his career. He drew just 48 walks while striking out 138 times in three seasons at Arizona State.
But his power tool is considered among the best in the draft, grading 55 on a 20-80 scale. Only six prospects ranked higher than Workman have a power grade above 55.
While he slashed a solid .298/.372/.496 in college, Workman still has some developing to do. He won’t turn 21 until October, so the Tigers are hoping to tap into that raw power over the next couple of years.
Workman hit 14 home runs, 12 triples and 25 doubles in 525 plate appearances at Arizona State. He’s a project, but a player with his potential is a strong selection with the No. 102 pick.
Drafted: No. 132 overall in the fifth round
After taking college players with each of the first five picks, Avila made his lone high school selection atop the fifth round, selecting Colt Keith, from Biloxi, Mississippi.
Keith, an Arizona State commit, could end up being the third player the Tigers pluck from the Sun Devils if he signs a contract.
While he was listed as both a third baseman and a right-handed pitcher, Keith was announced as a third baseman when the Tigers drafted him. He’s listed as the No. 87 overall prospect in the draft, but the Tigers got him nearly 50 picks later.
The high school numbers are absolutely eye-popping. Keith slashed .448/.568/.822 in his career, including two seasons with an OPS north of 1.500, according to stats from MaxPreps.com.
As a sophomore, Keith hit .510 with seven home runs, three triples and 15 doubles in 29 games. He drew 10 walks and struck out just 11 times.
His junior season was by far the most impressive. He slashed .527/.659/1.032 -- a 1.692 OPS -- with eight home runs, five triples and 12 doubles. Perhaps most impressively, he drew 38 walks and struck out just eight times in 132 plate appearances that year.
He was named Gatorade’s Mississippi high school player of the year for the 2019 campaign.
Keith’s senior season was a step back as he hit just one double and no home runs in 41 plate appearances, but he drew 13 walks, struck out just three times and posted a .537 OBP, so the Tigers likely aren’t too worried. A sample size of 41 plate appearances isn’t even two weeks for an everyday player at the big league level.
It doesn’t appear the Tigers plan to use him as a pitcher, but Keith was also dominant on the high school mound, posting a 2.59 ERA while striking out 121 batters in 67.2 innings. He allowed 21 walks and 57 hits and, for what it’s worth, never lost a game. Batters hit just .217 against Keith.
No matter what the rankings say, it’s impossible to know how this draft will actually play out on the field.
But there isn’t a more sure player in the class than Torkelson, and the Tigers were able to get two additional safe bets in Dingler and Cabrera.
For a team that needed to add hitting depth in the minor leagues to add six bats of this quality in a five-round draft is a slam dunk. Five of those players were out of college, which means they should be a few good years from knocking on the door of the MLB level.
Considering Mize, Manning, Skubal and Faedo should be part of the Tigers’ rotation by then, Avila’s strategy is a good one.
Offense still isn’t the strength of the Tigers’ organization, but the system looks a whole lot better with Torkelson, Dingler, Cabrera and the rest of this group joining Greene, Paredes, Bryant Packard, Kody Clemens and Parker Meadows.
Three years ago the Tigers had one of the worst farm systems in all of baseball. They went into this year’s draft widely ranked among the league’s top 10 farm systems, and it’s clear it only got better.