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Tigers focus Draft on power bats, relief arms

MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- The Tigers have held to a consistent philosophy entering the MLB Draft ever since Dave Dombrowski and Al Avila took over in 2002: You can never have enough pitching. A look at the Tigers' 40 selections this year shows that guide still holds.

At the same time, a look through Detroit's farm system and around baseball in general showed another trend emerging: The Tigers need some offensive firepower. That came through as well.

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DETROIT -- The Tigers have held to a consistent philosophy entering the MLB Draft ever since Dave Dombrowski and Al Avila took over in 2002: You can never have enough pitching. A look at the Tigers' 40 selections this year shows that guide still holds.

At the same time, a look through Detroit's farm system and around baseball in general showed another trend emerging: The Tigers need some offensive firepower. That came through as well.

View Full Game Coverage

Their second-round pick, Reynaldo Rivera, is described by his college coach as "a freak" and an opposing coach as "a monster of a human" at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds. The Tigers' highest pick spent on a high school catcher since 1989, fifth-rounder Sam McMillan, was as much about the bat as the catching ability.

:: 2017 MLB Draft coverage ::

The Tigers went on a third-day run of corner position players with offensive upside in Kent State left fielder Dylan Rosa (18th round), State College of Florida third baseman Ryan Karstetter (19th round), Southern Mississippi first baseman Dylan Burdeaux (20th round), Nevada third baseman Jordan Pearce (21st round) and Ole Miss third baseman Colby Bortles (22nd round) -- all 6-foot-2 or taller and 200-plus pounds.

"You're just trying to get as much impact as you can," said scouting director Scott Pleis. "I mean, I'm not making any comparison to anybody here, but look at [Aaron] Judge, just the sensation he's been and just what he's done. And I'm not comparing him to any of our guys, but you're trying to get whatever impact you can at any time in the Draft that you can, and it's very difficult to get."

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Bortles is "a tight end in a third baseman's body," according to his college coach, Ole Miss' Mike Bianco, and was a College Home Run Derby participant last year. Rosa hit 26 home runs over the last two seasons, including a team-high 14 for Kent State in his junior campaign this spring, and was described by Perfect Game national supervisor Brian Sakowski as having "silly bat speed and silly pop." Karstetter was a former top 100 high school prospect who began his career at the University of Virginia before heading to junior college. Burdeaux was the Conference USA Player of the Year with "some RH pop," according to Sakowski.

That doesn't mean the Tigers are destined to crowd the Home Run Derby; third-day picks face tough odds to make it to the big leagues. But the more bats a team takes, the better the odds of a breakout player emerging.

Tigers snap up 3B brother of NFL star Bortles

On the pitching side, the Tigers had a trend toward relief arms as the Draft wore on. Detroit has done that in years past with mixed results, but several second- and third-day picks not only profiled as relievers, they worked in that role in college.

Rice right-hander Dane Myers (sixth round) was a two-way player for the Owls who shifted from starter to closer in the spring. Notre Dame's Brad Bass, a starter for the Irish, boasts a 6-foot-6, 253-pound frame and the arm to go with it, but the seventh-round pick could profile in the bullpen long term. Pepperdine's Max Green (eighth round), Stephen F. Austin's Will Vest (12th round), Penn's Billy Lescher (17th round) and Florida State's Drew Carlton (32nd round) -- the latter a Lakeland, Fla., native -- were exclusively relievers this year.

"It wasn't the greatest Draft as far as overall talent, but we got where we were just seeing that these were the best arms," Pleis said. "These were the best arms that we liked that we saw."

California Baptist right-hander Garett King was a starter, but the Nebraska transfer has the upside to fit in a variety of roles. With a mid-90s fastball and solid breaking ball, various publications forecasted him to go well earlier than the 11th-round pick the Tigers invested in him.

The Tigers' trends took them away from past preferences in middle infielders, college seniors and organizational relatives. Vest, Burdeaux and Bortles were the only seniors Detroit drafted in the first 25 rounds. The Tigers spent their final picks on high school players who were all but certain to go to college, hoping that early interest would pay off like it did with top pick Alex Faedo -- a 40th-round selection three years ago.

"You draft 40 rounds; you don't sign 40 rounds," assistant general manager David Chadd said. "You sign probably anywhere from 25 to 30, and the rest go to school. We took some kids later, which we always do. It's because at the lower level, all our rosters are filled, and we want to establish a relationship with that player, let them go to college, exactly what we did with Faedo three years ago."

To that end, the three local high school players the Tigers drafted late -- right-hander Jeff Criswell (35th round), lefty Jesse Heikkinen (36th) and center fielder Steven Mann (38th) -- are all expected to opt for college.

"We took A.J. Puk out of high school and last year he went off the board before we picked," Chadd said. "You establish relationships with the players and families. You also continue your friendships with your college coaches as well. That, in turn, pays dividends when they have other players coming out of that program that are top picks."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

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