Verlander-Gibson debate typifies Tigers' Drafts
Detroit set up postseason success in multiple eras with savvy picks
The Tigers have produced 50 Major Leaguers out of their First-Year Player Draft picks over the past 10 years. Long before that, they produced the heart of their World Series-winning team in 1984 out of their Drafts from the mid-1970s.
In both eras, they produced many of their best Draft picks ever. They also produced some fascinating debates over which picks were better.
Does Justin Verlander rank as the Tigers' best first-round pick, or does Kirk Gibson still deserve that honor? Does Lance Parrish's value as a catcher vault him past both? Does former second-round pick Alan Trammell outrank them all?
The 2014 Draft will take place on June 5-7, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday, June 5, at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on June 6.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
As the Tigers prepare for the 23rd overall pick and beyond, here's one writer's look at the team's top Draft picks by round over the years:
Round 1: Justin Verlander, 2004
This is a very interesting debate, and actually a very close call between Verlander, Gibson and Parrish. If the decision comes down to championships, then Gibson and Parrish have a case as two of the anchors on the 1984 team, not to mention Gibson's heroics with the Dodgers four years later. If overall performance is the criteria, Verlander has a slight edge in Wins Above Replacement (40.7) over Gibson (39.3) and Parrish (38.3), and he'll be adding quite a bit more to that total.
Verlander doesn't have the World Series trophy, at least not yet, but he matches Gibson on MVP awards, and he has a Cy Young Award and a pitching Triple Crown to go with it. Parrish has the most All-Star Game selections of the three with eight. With more seasons to come, however, Verlander has the chance to make the case as a Hall of Famer.
Round 2: Alan Trammell, 1976
The Tigers haven't had a whole lot of good fortune in the second round. They had it with Trammell, a high school shortstop from San Diego who will go down as one of the greatest Tigers of all time, and an athlete who helped change the standards for his position. Only Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Al Kaline played longer in a Tigers uniform, and nobody in Detroit played the shortstop position better. Even without the 1987 American League MVP award Trammell arguably deserved over George Bell, he was a World Series MVP, a six-time All-Star, a four-time Gold Glove winner, and half of the longest-running double-play duo in the modern game. Only one other Tigers second-round pick reached double-digits in career Wins Above Replacement. That was Brandon Inge.
Round 3: Curtis Granderson, 2002
The Tigers actually drafted a future 20-game winner in the third round, but Andy Messersmith never signed with them, instead playing another year of college ball at California before the Angels drafted him in the first round. Granderson, however, was a great pick in his own right, a second-team All-American out of relatively unknown Illinois-Chicago whom the Tigers projected as an athletic outfielder. He ended up becoming a major piece of the Tigers' 2006 turnaround, an all-around performer the next year, a leadoff catalyst and an eventual All-Star.
Round 4: Dan Petry, 1976
Jason Thompson, the Tigers' fourth-round pick a year earlier, went on to hit 208 home runs, 98 of them in Detroit. Petry, meanwhile, joined the rotation at age 20, slotted in behind Jack Morris and won 87 games over a six-year stretch from 1980-85, including 10 shutouts, a 19-win season in 1983 and an All-Star selection in 1985. He was as critical to the Tigers then as Max Scherzer is now.
Round 5: Lou Whitaker, 1975
This debate might rival the one for the best first-round pick. So might the players involved. Morris, picked in 1976, became the winningest pitcher of the 1980s and a postseason hero, falling just shy of the Hall of Fame. Whitaker, meanwhile, became one of the greatest two-way second basemen of his generation, spending 19 years alongside Trammell while hitting 244 home runs and earning five consecutive All-Star selections. His career 74.9 Wins Above Replacement rank seventh all-time at second base, ahead of Hall of Fame contemporaries Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar.
As close as the debate might rage between Whitaker and Morris, the longevity factor in Detroit becomes a tiebreaker. Whitaker's entire career came in a Tigers uniform. He was also a higher risk-reward pick as a high school position player.
Round 6: Brian Moehler, 1993
Just 11 Tigers sixth-round picks made it to the Majors, including Tyler Collins this season. Of those, only Moehler enjoyed a lengthy big league career. He was the Tigers' Opening Day starter in 1999, hitting double digits in wins for four consecutive seasons before surgery derailed his career in 2001. He came back for a second stretch in the bigs from 2005-10 with the Marlins and Astros.
Round 7: Ozzie Smith, 1976
Yes, the Tigers drafted Ozzie Smith the same year they drafted Alan Trammell. Smith went five rounds later out of Cal Poly, and reportedly couldn't agree to terms with Detroit on a signing bonus. A year later, the Padres selected him in the fourth round, and the rest is history. The Tigers never had to hear about a shortstop void while Smith became a star in St. Louis, but his Tigers history became a bit of irony when he became a first-ballot Hall of Famer in the same year that Trammell struggled to get votes.
Round 8: Andy Dirks, 2008
The Tigers took a shot on the former Wichita State outfielder on the heels of a hot collegiate season. Dirks ended up hitting his way to the big leagues and playing a role on the American League champions two years ago. He was expected to play a platoon role with Rajai Davis in left field this season before back surgery sidelined him midway through Spring Training. Honorable mention goes to Don Kelly, drafted in 2001 as a lanky shortstop out of tiny Point Park University in Pittsburgh. He ended up playing every position but shortstop as a Tiger.
Round 9: Phil Mankowski, 1970
This is where the Tigers' draft success starts to thin out a bit. Mankowski was a part-time third baseman from 1977-79, platooning for a stretch with Aurelio Rodriguez, before being traded to the Mets for Richie Hebner. A few years later, he had a role in Robert Redford's cinematic great, "The Natural." Also drafted in the ninth round was former Tigers utility player Jim Walewander.
Round 10: Mark Fidrych, 1974
Though other 10th-rounders went on to have longer careers, such as Frank Catalanotto, none had the kind of year that made Fidrych a rookie sensation in 1976. Two years after the Tigers scouted and signed him out of Worcester Academy in Massachusetts, Fidrych made the big leagues as a reliever, threw a complete-game two-hitter against Cleveland in his first Major League start, won 19 games as a rookie and became a star. A rotator cuff injury cut his career short, but his single-season impact might be unmatched. Catalanotto was a 1992 pick who got his start with the Tigers before being traded for Juan Gonzalez after the 1999 season.
Round 11: Joel Zumaya, 2002
Zumaya was throwing in the low 90s when the Tigers drafted him out of high school in San Diego, but scouts figured he had more velocity in him. Nobody counted on the right-hander filling out and throwing 100 mph a few years later. His rookie year in 2006 might have made him the best single-season sensation in Detroit since Fidrych, as he hit as high as 103 mph on AL radar guns. He seemed destined to become one of baseball's great closers when injuries slowly derailed his career. A year after drafting Zumaya, the Tigers drafted Brian Rogers, who was traded for Sean Casey in a key deadline deal in 2006.
Round 12: Bobby Higginson, 1992
Just two Tigers 12th-round picks have ever made a significant impact in the Major Leagues. One was Higginson, a brash, confident Philly kid who became one of the faces of the late 1990s teams and a four-time AL outfield assist leader. He batted .300 with 30 homers, 44 doubles and 102 RBIs in 2000, the first season of then-spacious Comerica Park. The other was Matt Joyce, a 2005 pick out of Florida Southern College who became one of the few bright spots of the 2008 team before being traded to Tampa Bay for Edwin Jackson.
Round 13: Charlie Puleo, 1973
The unlucky 13th round is littered with players who didn't sign. Puleo was one of them, opting for a college career at Seton Hall before becoming a serviceable starter with the Mets and Reds in the early 1980s. Another was Anthony Reyes, who chose USC over the Tigers in 2002 but got his chance to pitch at Comerica Park when he started and won Game 1 of the 2006 World Series for the Cardinals.
Round 14: Keith Foulke, 1993
Nope, Foulke didn't sign with Detroit out of high school, either. The Giants drafted him a year later out of junior college, and he became a Tigers nemesis as the White Sox closer from 2000-02 before throwing the final pitch that ended the Red Sox's World Series drought in 2004. Casper Wells, a key part in the Doug Fister trade in 2011, was a 14th-round pick in 2005. The Tigers took a chance on a Michigan prep star named Brad Van Pelt in 1969, but he chose football at Michigan State instead, sending him on his way to a 14-year NFL career.
Round 15: Daryle Ward, 1994
Ward was a junior college slugger when the Tigers drafted him, and he was a prospect two years later, when Detroit traded him with Brad Ausmus, C.J. Nitkowski and Jose Lima to Houston for Todd Jones, Doug Brocail, Brian Hunter and Orlando Miller. Ward was a power-hitting outfielder in Houston from 2000-02. The Tigers took a shot on Mark Appel with their 15th-round pick in 2009, but he opted for Stanford, where he pitched his way into the top overall pick four years later.