The Tigers have done wonders with their Draft positions since David Chadd joined the front office seven years ago. Consider that they turned a 2010 Draft without a first-round pick into a potential Rookie of the Year candidate in Drew Smyly, their top offensive prospect in Nick Castellanos and a piece of the Doug Fister trade in Chance Ruffin. Before that, they turned a late first-round pick in 2007 into Rick Porcello, and a fifth-round pick into soon-to-be Tigers starter Casey Crosby.
They've done more with less in part because they've been aggressive signing players who fell down the list out of signability concerns. Now that the Draft has a firm salary structure, even they admit they're in a different position.
"We've been aggressive, drafting guys that were tough signs, and we were able to sign them," Chadd said. "I just think those days are over."
In that sense, it's a whole different Draft for Chadd and scouting director Scott Pleis. And in this one, drafting later adds to that difference.
The fact that their top pick will be one of their latest in the Draft order in team history doesn't make it any easier.
Only the Angels will wait longer to make their top selection than the Tigers, who pick 91st, and only the Angels have fewer picks in the first 10 rounds (eight) than does Detroit (nine). Correspondingly, the Tigers have the second-smallest budget to sign their picks within those first 10 rounds at just over $2 million. The Twins, by contrast, have about six times that amount in their budget.
Live coverage of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following@MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.<
There's a saving grace for the Tigers. If there was ever a Draft to not have a whole lot of picks, it's this one, rated as one of the thinnest in talent in several years. Ironically, this would've been the year when Jacob Turner and Daniel Fields would've been eligible for the Draft had they gone to college and not signed with Detroit out of high school.
Other high school talent took the same route. The result is a Draft somewhat thin in college talent, and potentially better on upside picks out of the prep ranks. The catch to the latter, though, is that high school players drafted get the same decision that kids like Turner and Fields had three years ago. The new budgets, though, make it tougher to offer big money for those players to sign.
Whereas signability was once a strength for the Tigers, it's now a caution, and it's present in every facet of the Tigers' scouting and prep work going into this year's Draft.
"I think at the end of the day, the most important thing is going to be signability," Chadd said.
It'll become a huge consideration as they prepare for their first pick next Tuesday, which is actually the second day of the Draft. They'll watch the first round and sandwich picks from their Draft room, re-sort their Draft board, then try to better determine who will be within reach. Even then, they'll have to wait for more teams to select until their pick comes up at the end of the second round.
It's going to be different for Chadd, but he's ready for it.
"It's a completely different challenge," Chadd agreed, "but I think it's going to be kind of exciting, too."
Here's a glance at what the Tigers have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
The Tigers lost their first-round pick to Milwaukee when they signed Prince Fielder, and they didn't earn any compensation picks for their own free agents. However, that doesn't lessen their need to fortify their farm system, particularly with pitching, as their current crop graduates to the upper levels.
Don't mistake the Tigers' situation as a change in their basic philosophy. First and foremost, Chadd said, they're going to go for the best player available, regardless of position. With none of the first 90 picks, though, they won't have a read on who that might be until at least the middle of the second round.
Said Chadd, "We're realistic on where we're picking, and we're realistic on who we think will be gone."
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100-percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100-percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
The Tigers don't let need overrule talent in their Draft room, but there's also an acknowledgement that they're more likely to lean towards pitching in their first day of drafting, after going so heavily on position players last year. They could find upside in a high school arm or two, but don't be surprised if they also look towards the college ranks, where players have fewer options and could prove more open to signing.
The Tigers went heavy on hitters last year, selecting position players with 10 of their top 11 picks. They also selected college players with their first 13 picks. Their first signability risk was 16th-rounder Tyler Gibson, and they signed him away from Georgia Tech. They could go the college route again, though not as heavily. They will most likely not be weighted so much towards position players.
Recent Draft History Rising fast
It's no longer just a hot start for Nick Castellanos at Class A Advanced Lakeland. He continues to lead all Minor League hitters in batting average, while making a push to get an early promotion to Double-A Erie at age 20. Detroit doesn't need help at third base anytime soon, but he could move up their long-term plans.
Tigers' recent top picks
Class A+ Lakeland (Tigers)
Class A+ Lakeland (Tigers)
Triple-A Toledo (Tigers)
Batting average and doubles power have always been there for Double-A Erie first baseman Jordan Lennerton, a 33rd-round pick in 2008. With 10 home runs by Memorial Day, however, he's way ahead of his usual pace. He isn't taking over first base in Detroit anytime soon over the next nine years, but he has been a nice find for the Tigers scouting staff.
In The Show
The Tigers went against their recent trend of hard-throwing high school pitchers when they drafted Smyly out of the University of Arkansas with their second-round pick two years ago. They liked his polish and composure, and they felt he could rise up the farm system quickly. But even they didn't envision him cracking their rotation to begin 2012. He has the chance to become the Tigers' first homegrown lefty to fit long-term in Detroit since Mickey Lolich in the 1960s.