Later today Major League Baseball’s version of Let’s Make A Deal will get underway. The annual Amateur Draft will begin with selections from Round #1. The Detroit Tigers won’t be picking any players in the first round – they forfeited their pick when they signed free agent Price Fielder – but tomorrow they’ll start in round #2 and have selections for 38 rounds after that.
Let’s Make A Deal is appropriate because the procedures of the MLB Draft are quite different than those of the other major professional sports, especially basketball and football. Often, high draft picks hold out for signing bonuses or are not signed at all, allowing them to enter college (if they are a high schooler) or return to college and be eligible for the draft next June. As well, baseball draft picks are much riskier propositions – often less than half of the players taken in the first round play more than just a handful of games (if any) at the big league level. And unlike football and basketball, where college and high school players often have an impact immediately in the season after they are drafted, amateur draft picks in baseball are assigned to the minor leagues, where they may toil for 3-5 years honing their skills to be a major league player. The success rate is less than 5% of all drafted players ever make it to The Show. For example, of the 50 players the Tigers chose in the 2003 Draft, only seven have played in the major leagues for a total of 115 games. None of them (Dusty Ryan, Dustin Richardson, Virgil Vasquez – anyone remember them?) are active in the majors.
Detroit brass hasn’t said so, but in 2012, the Tigers should target position players as opposed to pitchers. The Tigers minor league system has many young pitching prospects: Jacob Turner, Andrew Oliver, and Adam Wilk at the head of that list. But the ranks of promising position players are thin. For proof you need to look no further than the fact that so far in 2012, Detroit has turned to career minor league retreads Brad Eldred and Quintin Berry for help. The best position player in the system is Nick Castellanos, and he’s only at high Class-A Lakeland.
With his first five picks last year, GM Dave Dombrowski picked a catcher (James McCann in round #2), first baseman, third baseman, shortstop, and outfielder. Given the crapshoot that is the MLB Draft, more position players should be targeted this year. The Tigers could use middle infielders and corner outfielders especially. Given the expanses of Comerica Park, players with speed should be drafted, as well. In recent years the team has taken fast players. Speed is one of the few physical attributes that rarely if ever goes into a slump, and it can’t be taught.
Because of their first round pick going to the Brewers for Fielder, the Tigers won’t pick until Tuesday, but the draft can be followed live at MLB.com.