Tigers scouting director Scott Pleis would love to say he planned out the MLB Draft this way, to grab a handful of impact college hitters, starting off with No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson, and then walk off with an advanced high school hitter. But he can’t.
“I think the way it kind of rolled out, the hitters that we liked got to us,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to be a little lucky. And they're good hitters.”
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That’s perfectly fine. After a 114-loss season last year, Detroit deserved a stroke of good fortune in its rebuild.
The Tigers had scouted Ohio State catcher Dillon Dingler as much or more than any team going into the Draft, but Pleis couldn’t say he expected the Buckeye backstop to fall out of the first round. Nor could he say he expected LSU outfielder Daniel Cabrera to still be around for their competitive balance pick at the end of the round, even though they had a mountain of scouting reports for him.
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When Thursday began, general manager Al Avila told WXYT’s Jamie and Stoney morning show that they were deciding between a hitter and pitcher to begin Round 2. They not only went with the hitter in Dingler, they got another one later with Cabrera. And it went on from there.
“They could’ve easily gone before us, for sure,” Pleis said.
Suddenly, a Tigers system that was pitching-heavy going into the Draft has more balance to it now. It’s actually the second consecutive Draft that the Tigers went with hitters for each of their first six picks, but the depth of this year’s Draft field was stronger.
“I think in a short Draft, we got impact,” Pleis said. “We got some really good players today, I believe.”
Here is a roundup of Detroit's picks on Day 2:
2nd round, 38th overall: Dillon Dingler, C, Ohio State
The Tigers benefited from Dingler moving down Draft boards. He was a projected first-round pick, ranked 24th on MLB Pipeline’s list, before dropping Wednesday.
“It's a first-world problem,” Dingler said on a video conference with reporters. “It's one pick apart. Five years down the road, nobody's really going to remember.”
Dingler becomes the Tigers’ highest-drafted catcher since Detroit selected then-Arkansas Razorback James McCann in the second round in 2011. At 38th overall, Dingler is the earliest the Tigers have drafted a catcher since they took Eric Munson with the third overall pick in 1999.
Dingler, however, might be a better athlete. He spent a good chunk of his freshman season at Ohio State in center field and moves well for his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame. He ran the 60-yard dash in under 6.6 seconds during the Buckeyes’ scout day last fall.
“When you see an athlete on the field, it's usually a good thing,” Pleis said. “In his case, an athlete behind the plate is huge. We talk about shortstops, center fielders being great athletes, which they are. Your feet and your hands have to be tremendous to be a good catcher.”
One throw from behind the plate shows the skills that made him a coveted backstop. MLB Pipeline compares him to Oakland A’s youngster Sean Murphy, who also starred in college in Ohio at Wright State. Dingler also provides leadership, having captained the Buckeyes the past two seasons.
Since his season ended early due to the coronavirus pandemic, Dingler said he has been working on his pitch framing.
“There are so many new metrics, so many new techniques that are being taught, so much video that’s available that guys are teaching, that I do feel like I'm a student,” he said. “I do feel like I’m a kid again, learning these new techniques. I know in the past two months, I’ve been dabbling with different setups, different framing techniques, just trying to gain an advantage.”
What sent Dingler up Draft boards was his improvement in his offensive game. After batting .244 as a freshman, he batted .291 with three homers and 19 RBIs as a sophomore, reaching base safely in 32 consecutive games. He was off to a stronger start this spring, homering five times and hitting 10-for-21 in his last five games.
“I've made tremendous strides from my freshman year,” Dingler said. “One of my main focuses was being on time and trying to replicate the same swing over and over again.”
The Tigers could greatly benefit from that offense. They have no shortage of strong defensive catchers in their system, from Grayson Greiner in the big leagues to Jake Rogers on the way and Cooper Johnson drafted last year. But Detroit hasn’t had a standout offensive catcher since Alex Avila was an All-Star in 2011.
Competitive Balance Round B, 62nd overall: Daniel Cabrera, OF, LSU
Avila was an assistant coach under Paul Mainieri at St. Thomas University in Florida more than 30 years ago, a relationship Avila has maintained over the years to find undervalued talent at Mainieri’s current program at LSU. Cabrera fits that profile perfectly.
Equipped with a smooth left-handed swing, Cabrera has the ability to hit for average and power and can use all fields. He was a preseason all-American who hit .345 with two home runs before his season ended. Primarily a left fielder at LSU, he has the arm strength to handle right field as well, according to scouts. He ranked 38th on MLB Pipeline’s Draft list.
“We have a lot of history with his bat, and it’s a quality bat,” Pleis said. “He’s going to be an everyday left fielder, a power bat, uses the field. He’s not a runner, but he runs good enough, but a really quality player with a history of hitting. He’s going to be a good player.”
3rd round, 73rd overall: Trei Cruz, SS, Rice
Cruz has baseball in his blood, the son of former Major League outfielder Jose Cruz Jr., and the grandson of former Astros All-Star Jose Cruz. But Trei also has his own unique game as a switch-hitting middle infielder with a strong bat for contact. His .328 average ranked second on the Owls when their season ended, while he ranked among the Conference USA leaders in walks. He’s projected to fit in the pros at second base, where the Tigers have another son of a former Major Leaguer in their system: Kody Clemens.
4th round, 102nd overall: Gage Workman, 3B, Arizona State
There’s a reason why Torkelson was a first baseman at Arizona State and not at third. That reason was Workman, who is ranked 73rd on MLB Pipeline’s Draft list. He’s more athletic than his 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame would suggest, enough to play shortstop in the Cape Cod League last summer. While he has some pop in his switch-hitting bat, including a two-homer game against Fresno State in the Sun Devils’ final game this spring, his defensive skills and athleticism are viewed as his strengths.
“He's a young guy first,” Pleis said of the 20-year-old, “and he's got a huge upside, huge power, switch-hitter, a good athlete, can run, can throw, really does a really good job at third base. And I think he's growing into being a good hitter. He does strike out a little bit too much at times, but I think there's a huge upside with him, and the power potential is tremendous.”
5th round, 132nd overall: Colt Keith, 3B, Biloxi HS (Miss.)
The Tigers have taken chances trying to draft and sign high school standouts around this range in past years, the difference being that it’s the last round in this Draft. Keith was Mississippi’s Gatorade High School Player of the Year in 2019 and ranked 87th on MLB Pipeline’s Draft list. His left-handed swing projects to develop power as he matures. He was also regarded as a pitching prospect in high school with a fastball in the low to mid 90s. Ironically, he’s committed to Arizona State, but Pleis said the Tigers expect to sign him.
“We got a high-ceiling third baseman that we’re excited to get, a left-handed hitter,” Pleis said.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.