Tigers select Florida righty Crawford with 20th pick
Detroit rounds out Day 1 with Texas closer Knebel, Vanderbilt lefty Ziomek
DETROIT -- The Tigers' return to the first round of the First-Year Player Draft took them back to a familiar theme: They went for power pitching.
With the 20th overall selection Thursday night, the Tigers selected University of Florida right-hander Jonathon Crawford, sticking with the organizational belief that a team can never have enough pitching. In Crawford's case, the Tigers are hoping they have their latest pitching prospect to follow in the footsteps of Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly and since-traded Jacob Turner.
The Tigers followed with the 39th pick by selecting University of Texas closer Corey Knebel, a hard-throwing right-hander with the chance to move quickly through the farm system. Detroit then rounded out Day 1 by tapping Vanderbilt University's squad for left-hander Kevin Ziomek with the 58th pick.
Crawford ranked 17th on MLB.com's list of top 100 Draft prospects, and was among the more highly followed college pitchers all spring after throwing a no-hitter for the Gators in the NCAA Tournament last year. With a mid-90s fastball, a solid two-seamer and a late-breaking slider, the 21-year-old has a power pitcher's foundation.
"He has a power arm with a plus slider," Tigers vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd said in a release Thursday evening, "and we're thrilled to have the opportunity to add him to our organization."
Chadd was among those who scouted the Tigers' top first-round options, including Florida at the SEC Tournament.
The key for Crawford to become the Tigers' next pitching prospect is expected to be his ability to change speeds and round out his arsenal. Crawford was working on that this year with his changeup.
"I definitely feel I can get outs with it when I need to," Crawford said in a Friday morning conference call.
Crawford had mixed results this spring in his junior season at Florida, going 3-6 with a 3.84 ERA in 15 starts. He led the Gators with 86 2/3 innings, 37 walks and 69 strikeouts. He tossed 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts against Austin Peay in the NCAA Regional last week before ending up with a no-decision. He still earned a spot on the regional All-Tourney Team.
"I guess it was a pretty big challenge," Crawford said of the expectations. "I don't think I dealt with it as well as I could have."
The season, plus the rise of other college arms, took its toll on Crawford's Draft prospects after once being considered a potential top 10 pick. The talent, however, is still there, and it still drew the Tigers' attention.
Just as important for the Tigers was Crawford's work last summer with Team USA, where he went 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA in six outings. Four of those appearances came against Cuba, including most of the roster that the country took into the World Baseball Classic this spring.
"That's what attracted us to Jonathan Crawford," Chadd said in a conference call Friday morning. "When you put the whole body of work, that helped us make our decision easier."
Crawford's sophomore year was his breakout season, when he produced a 6-2 record with a 3.13 ERA, including a 2.56 ERA in Southeastern Conference play. He also made the SEC Academic Honor Roll.
In the NCAA Regionals, Crawford had his shining moment, tossing a no-hitter against Bethune-Cookman. He faced one batter over the minimum as he helped the Gators on their way to the College World Series for the second consecutive year.
For a kid who didn't make the roster as a freshman on a Florida team that reached the championship round of the College World Series, it was a major step forward.
"He's grown up a lot," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan told The Gainesville Sun earlier this year. "He's very competitive. He lets his game do his talking. …
"He's been through a lot of adversity here. He's self-made. He's earned everything he's gotten. I'm very proud of what he's been able to accomplish for us."
Knebel, who was ranked 47th on MLB.com's Draft list, follows a long line of Longhorn closers to go in the Draft. The Tigers have their own recent history with Texas relievers, having selected Chance Ruffin three years ago and Austin Wood a year earlier.
The Tigers wrapped up their opening night by going back to familiar territory with their second-round selection Ziomek.
Ziomek is the sixth Commodore drafted by the Tigers in the past three years, but he might have the best path to Detroit. MLB.com ranked him 33rd on its prospect list going in, coming off a 10-2 record and 2.05 ERA in 15 regular-season starts. He struck out 106 batters over 105 1/3 innings while holding opponents to a .190 batting average.
His fastball sits in the lower 90s, topping out around 94 according to Chadd, but his offspeed pitch and breaking ball give him a repertoire to get hitters out. He made an impression last year with a strong summer in the Cape Cod League, striking out 36 batters over 28 1/3 innings in five starts.
"We're extremely excited about Kevin's ability," Chadd said.
Like Crawford, Ziomek has the chance to boost the Tigers' pitching depth soon, helping replenish a farm system that has lost prospects the last couple years in trades to help the big league club.
All three, Chadd said, project as starting pitchers. Once they sign, Chadd said they could all begin their pro careers in the rotation at short-season Class A Connecticut of the New York-Penn League.
"We feel great about our three selections," Chadd said. "Being college pitchers, being a little more advanced, we feel good about it. Did we set up the board to go that way? No."
Day 2 of the Draft continued with Rounds 3-10, streamed live on MLB.com on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m. ET. And Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Saturday, starting at 1 p.m.
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. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.