The Tigers are staking their future on the highly regarded prospects they’ve drafted and developed over the past five years. If the club manages to pull off a turnaround, it wouldn’t mark the first time Detroit has taken the Draft pipeline to success. Here’s a look at the top five homegrown Draft picks in Tigers history:
1) Alan Trammell, second round, 1976
Key facts: Six-time All-Star, four Gold Glove Awards, one of three Tigers to spend 20 years with club, inducted into Hall of Fame in 2018
Take your pick for which half of the greatest double-play combination in modern history deserves the top honor on this list. Whitaker owns the higher career WAR, but Trammell had the higher peak WAR and more seasons above 6.0 WAR. But it’s all nitpicking, because neither was a first-round Draft pick and both had Hall of Fame careers, even though only one is in Cooperstown for now. Trammell was a scrawny baseball and basketball standout in Southern California who rose from a second-round Draft pick out of high school to the Majors a year later at age 19. From there, he slowly but steadily blossomed into an understated star and the heart of the great Tigers teams of the 1980s. He should’ve won American League MVP Award honors in '87, but he finally got his due respect with induction into the Hall of Fame in 2018.
2) Lou Whitaker, fifth round, 1975
Key fact: 1,527 career double plays turned ranks fourth all-time among Major League second basemen
Whitaker’s 75.1 bWAR is the fourth-highest in Tigers history, the highest on the team by a Tigers Draft pick and 80th-highest in Major League history. All but nine players above him are in the Hall of Fame. Sweet Lou won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1978, was an All-Star every year from '83-87 and was one of the greatest power-hitting second basemen of his era. Not bad for a fifth-round Draft pick out of high school in '75 who was scouted by Wayne Blackburn as a junior.
3) Justin Verlander, first round (second overall), 2004
Key facts: Second in Tigers history in strikeouts, second in career bWAR for Detroit pitchers
Verlander was a stellar case of how sometimes karma seems to work out. The Tigers set an AL record with 119 losses in 2003 but only had the second overall Draft pick the next summer because the order still alternated between leagues back then. The Padres, who lost 98 games in '03 but picked first overall, selected high school infielder Matt Bush. Detroit snared the hard-throwing Verlander out of Old Dominion University, signed him to a Major League contract after his father revived negotiations at the last minute and never looked back. Verlander tossed two no-hitters for Detroit, won the Rookie of the Year Award in '06, won the AL Cy Young/MVP Award double for the pitching Triple Crown in '11 and pitched in two World Series.
4) Jack Morris, fifth round, 1976
Key facts: Four-time All-Star in Detroit, three finishes in top 5 of Cy Young Award voting, inducted into Hall of Fame in 2018
If you’re sensing a pattern, yes, the Tigers had tremendous Drafts in the mid-1970s. Morris was a fifth-round Draft pick out of BYU in 1976, three rounds after Detroit drafted Trammell. Morris made his MLB debut at Tiger Stadium the next summer, pitched mainly in relief the next year, went 17-7 in '79 and went on to become the winningest pitcher of the 1980s, a three-time World Series champion (once with the Tigers) and the ace of Detroit’s great teams of the decade.
5) Lance Parrish, first round (16th overall), 1974
Key fact: One of four catchers in history with three or more Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards
Parrish was a slugging third baseman who turned down a football scholarship at UCLA to play baseball when the Tigers selected him with the 16th overall pick of the 1974 MLB Draft. After spending his first pro season as a third baseman and outfielder in rookie ball, Parrish moved behind the plate and became a franchise cornerstone, following in Bill Freehan’s footsteps at catcher. He earned six All-Star selections and three Gold Glove Awards over a decade in Detroit, and his 33 home runs and 98 RBIs led the '84 World Series champions that season.
Honorable mention: Kirk Gibson, first round (12th overall), 1978
Key facts: 1984 AL Championship Series MVP Award, two-homer game in Game 5 of '84 World Series
Gibson was a first-round Draft pick, but he was also one of the riskiest selections of the group -- a hometown hero and a two-sport All-American at Michigan State who could have turned pro in football and enjoyed a fine career. The Tigers selected him with the 12th overall pick in 1978, signed him to a six-year contract and gave him permission to return to MSU and play football that fall. He took a while to find top form on the diamond, but he found it in time to become a key figure on the '84 World Series champions, posting a team-best .879 OPS while providing the memorable moment of the Fall Classic -- a two-homer performance in the clinching Game 5.