These are the candidates to go No. 1 in the Draft

April 30th, 2018

If hadn't homered in the bottom of the ninth to win a seemingly meaningless game on the final day of last season, the Giants would own the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 Draft.

Instead, the Tigers will make the first selection on June 4. That's an important distinction in an unusual year in which only one player has separated himself from the pack with barely a month to go before the Draft.

By this point in 2017, MacKenzie Gore, Hunter Greene, Royce Lewis, Brendan McKay and Kyle Wright had established themselves on the upper tier of Draft prospects -- and they ultimately were the first five players chosen. This year, Casey Mize stands out from the field.

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The Auburn right-hander might have the most unhittable pitch in the Draft with his diving mid-80s splitter, and he also has two more plus offerings in a running 92-97 mph fastball and a mid-80s slider. Mize leads NCAA Division I in K/BB ratio for the second straight season, improving from 12.1 in 2017 to 14.9 this spring. His health was a concern after he was shut down twice last year, first with a tired arm and then with a flexor strain in his forearm, but he has had no issues through 11 starts in '18.

"I think the consensus is that everyone thinks it's Mize at 1-1," Tigers vice president and assistant general manager David Chadd said. "He has performed statistically and done it for three years. Some years there's a lot of separation in the Draft, but this year there's not that much."

Detroit had the No. 1 overall selection just once in the previous 53 Drafts. The Tigers signed Matt Anderson for $2,505,000 in 1997, and he posted a 5.19 ERA with 26 saves in 257 big league appearances. The club obviously is hoping to do better the second time around.

General manager Al Avila was the Marlins' scouting director and Chadd was one of their crosscheckers when they popped with the first choice in the 2000 Draft. There also was little consensus that year and Gonzalez was considered a signability pick by many clubs and a mid-first-round talent by most -- yet he went on to make five All-Star Games and win three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers.

While Mize is the front-runner, Chadd said Detroit will monitor several options up until Draft day.

"We have some ideas who the top five or six guys [will be]," Chadd said. "It's kind of cleared itself up a little bit. Still, a lot can happen in the next four or five weeks, so we'll continue to watch all of them."

If the Tigers wind up going in a different direction than Mize, Waukesha (Wis.) West High outfielder Jarred Kelenic has been mentioned most with the No. 1 overall selection. One of the best high school hitters available, Kelenic also has solid all-around tools and has drawn comparisons to J.D. Drew and a more athletic Mark Kotsay.

Avila and Chadd were on hand Thursday to watch Florida right-hander Brady Singer match up against Mize. Singer, who entered the year as MLB Pipeline's top-rated Draft prospect, pounds the strike zone with a lively low-90s fastball, a bat-missing slider and a solid changeup. Some teams don't like Singer's lower arm slot and wanted him to take a step forward this year, but he's posting the best numbers of his stellar three-year career and beat Mize while allowing one run with eight strikeouts over seven innings.

"Singer's stuff isn't super sexy, but he can really pitch," a scouting director with an American League club said. "He has a good fastball, he changes speeds and he's savvy. I think he gets to the big leagues pretty quick. How many guys have put together that body of work in the Southeastern Conference for three years?"

The other college pitcher in the mix is South Florida left-hander Shane McClanahan, who can battle his control at times but also can reach 100 mph with his fastball. The lone high school arm is Mountain Ridge High (Glendale, Ariz.) lefty Matthew Liberatore, who's extremely advanced for an 18-year-old and has the potential for four solid or better pitches. No prep right-hander ever has gone No. 1 overall, and none appears under consideration by Detroit.

The best college position player is Oregon State second baseman Nick Madrigal, who missed nearly two months with a broken left wrist that won't affect his stock. He offers the best combination of hitting and speed available, not to mention a stellar track record of performance. While Madrigal might have the highest floor of anyone in the 2018 Draft crop, he's also a 5-foot-7 second baseman who doesn't have the power of a or and doesn't fit the profile of a typical No. 1 overall pick.

Georgia Tech catcher Joey Bart, Wichita State third baseman Alec Bohm and South Alabama center fielder Travis Swaggerty are three more college bat candidates. Far and away the best backstop in the Draft, Bart has plus raw power and arm strength. Bohm also has big raw pop and controls the strike zone better than most collegiate players, though many scouts believe he's destined for first base. Swaggerty is a legitimate center fielder with an intriguing combination of power and speed.

While money plays as big a factor as ever in the Draft because of bonus-pool restrictions, Chadd said the Tigers' decision will focus on talent.

"You can't outsmart yourself and try to save money to sprinkle throughout the Draft and not get the best guy," Chadd said. "In our minds, we're going to take the best guy available based on what's right statistically, analytically and scouting. However the money falls, the money falls. In my mind, if you pick 1-1, you better get the best player."