Tigers go heavy on pitching on Draft Day 2

July 12th, 2021

The Tigers gave their pitching depth a massive boost on Day 1 of this year’s MLB Draft Sunday evening, selecting top high school hurler Jackson Jobe third overall and using their Competitive Balance pick on University of Texas righty Ty Madden. It was a reminder of the belief that teams cannot have too much pitching.

After a brief break for a high school infielder in Round 2, the pitching trend continued Monday with six hurlers selected out of nine second-day picks. All were college arms, generally big-framed. It wasn’t part of any grand plan, according to scouting director Scott Pleis.

Pleis compared this year’s Draft to last year’s abbreviated Draft, when the Tigers used all six of their picks on position players. Once they used some early picks on players that they had high on their board, the pitching fell into line.

"It wasn’t a philosophy to do that," Pleis said. "We wanted to get some arms, but it just kind of worked out that way this year."

The types of pitchers Detroit ended up drafting, especially in the college ranks, might have been slightly influenced from first-year Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter, who joined Detroit after coaching at the University of Michigan. He spoke at the organization’s scouting meetings as spring began and gave ideas on the qualities he liked in college pitching.

Here’s a rundown of the Tigers’ Day 2 selections.

Round 2, 39th overall: Izaac Pacheco, SS, Friendswood HS (Texas)

Notable skill: The Tigers had been linked to high school shortstop Brady House with their top pick before drafting Jobe, so maybe it’s fitting that they used their top pick of Day 2 on Pacheco, whose body frame and skill set had drawn some comparisons to House. Both are left-handed hitters with power. Pacheco is a bigger slugger who worked on making more consistent contact this spring. The Tigers plan to play him at shortstop to begin his pro career, but his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame could eventually lead him to third base, where his soft hands and arm strength should play well defensively.

Fun fact: Pacheco is the first high school infielder the Tigers have drafted within the top 40 overall picks since Scott Moore went to Detroit with the eighth overall selection in 2002. Detroit drafted Nick Castellanos with its top pick in 2010, but he was the 44th overall selection that year.

Quotable: "I worked, I sacrificed a lot coming into the spring, and I really had to learn my swing," Pacheco said. "Over the summer, I had some swing-and-miss concepts and it kind of led me to some strikeouts. Over the spring, I cut down my strikeouts. I learned my swing. I tried to keep it as simple as possible and learned what I needed to do to cut down on strikeouts, whether it’s learning what pitches I can hit, staying off that high pitch a lot of guys are swinging at these days. Just learning my swing itself and what I can do at the plate, it’s helped me a lot so far."

Round 3, 74th overall: Dylan Smith, RHP, University of Alabama

Notable skill: The Tigers have long loved SEC pitchers (Casey Mize and Spencer Turnbull among them), and Smith was one of the better ones this season with a breakout spring that included 113 strikeouts (eighth-most in the conference) over 98 1/3 innings. He throws a mid-80s slider and an upper-70s curveball to complement a fastball that sits in the low 90s and tops out at 95 mph. Smith has a big frame for his 6-foot-2 height.

Fun fact: Smith is the first Crimson Tide player drafted by the Tigers since Turnbull went in the second round in 2014.

Quotable: "Dylan Smith is a good athlete, still upside, a lot of room to fill in with the body," Pleis said. "[His] delivery works great for a starter. Good breaking ball; spins it well. So I think there’s some big upside there, and we were lucky to get him there, I think."

Round 4, 104th overall: Tyler Mattison, RHP, Bryant University (R.I.)

Notable skill: For a smaller-school pitcher, Mattison is a big guy (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) with a big arm. His fastball reached 96 mph at last month’s first MLB Draft Combine; he was one of just three pitchers to throw that hard there. He posted a 95:14 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 80 1/3 innings in his senior season for the Bulldogs on his way to NEC Pitcher of the Year honors.

Fun fact: Only one current MLB player hails from Bryant University, but Cleveland reliever James Karinchak is a hard thrower, too.

Quotable: "He’s big, he’s strong," Pleis said. "He throws strikes. He’s got velocity. He’s got a breaking ball. He’s got a good changeup. He’s definitely a starter, and just the whole package I thought was good."

Round 5, 135th overall: Tanner Kohlhepp, RHP, University of Notre Dame

Notable skill: Though Kohlhepp’s fastball reportedly reaches 99 mph, it’s usually more around the mid-90s with sink that induces weak contact, complemented by a tight slider and a changeup. He struck out 65 batters over 61 1/3 innings as a redshirt sophomore at Notre Dame, but opponents batted just .195 against him, third lowest among ACC pitchers. Kohlhepp pitched more in relief in his lone season with the Irish, but he has the arsenal to start.

Fun fact: Kohlhepp was the top-ranked high school shortstop in his home state of Wisconsin by Perfect Game. He spent his freshman season at Tennessee before transferring to Iowa Western Junior College, then to Notre Dame.

Quotable: "I’ve seen him throw out of the bullpen, but he’s going to be a starter," Pleis said. "He can throw strikes, but he’s got really good stuff. He’s a little funky the way he does it, but it adds deception to the hitter, so his stuff will play up."

Round 6, 165th overall: Austin Murr, OF, North Carolina State

Notable skill: Murr was a Rawlings Gold Glove Award-winner at first base, but the Tigers identified him as an outfielder for the Draft. He played left field out of necessity in the Wolfpack’s final game at the College World Series last month, with the roster depleted by COVID-19 protocols. Murr is more of an athletic contact hitter than a slugger, batting .319 with seven homers, 16 doubles and three triples.

Fun fact: Murr’s father managed a drive-in movie theater while Austin was growing up, and would sometimes drive straight to the ballpark after a late-night shift to watch his son play the next day.

Quotable: "We were really comfortable with his bat," Pleis said. "We’ve seen him play the outfield and first base and do some things. He’ll probably do both, with the way we do it now. [Tigers manager] A.J. [Hinch] likes versatility, which I think is great, so we’re more apt to use guys in different places and see how they react and see what they can do."

Round 7, 195th overall: Brant Hurter, LHP, Georgia Tech

Notable skill: Hurter is a big (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) lefty, but his pitching strength is more command than power. He throws a fastball that approaches the mid 90s for ground balls and sets up a sharp slider. He missed his junior season in 2020 due to Tommy John surgery and returned to Georgia Tech this spring for his senior year.

Quotable: "I think he got a little tired at the end, understandably so," Pleis said. "We like the slider. I think there’s some upside there, and I think the farther he gets away [from surgery], I think the better stuff we’ll see and the more consistent stuff we’ll see throughout the year."

Round 8, 225th overall: Jordan Marks, RHP, University of South Carolina Upstate

Notable skill: Marks’ fastball has steadily ticked up from an average of 87 mph in 2019 to 90 mph last year to 92 mph this spring, reaching as high as 98 mph this season. He not only throws four- and two-seam fastballs, but he can locate both to change eye level on hitters. The junior set school records with 10 wins and 101 strikeouts over 95 2/3 innings this season while winning Big South Conference Pitcher of the Year honors.

Fun fact: South Carolina Upstate has produced one Major Leaguer, Braves right-hander Chad Sobotka. While Sobotka was a fourth-round Draft pick in 2014, Marks is the next-highest-drafted SC Upstate player.

Round 9, 255th overall: Garrett Burhenn, RHP, Ohio State University

Notable skill: Burhenn was the ace of the Buckeyes' staff this season, eating innings with a mix of four- and two-seam fastballs, a changeup, a slider and a curve. He doesn’t overpower hitters but commands the strike zone.

Fun fact: Burhenn pitched for two seasons to former Ohio State catcher Dillon Dingler, now the Tigers’ fourth-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline.

Quotable: "We’ll talk to players even a couple of years out. We’ll grab one of the guys and say, 'Hey, how about this guy?'" Pleis said, about Dingler and Burhenn. "It’s usually a little bit about the ability and it’s more, 'Hey, is he a good kid?' Just a double-check."

Round 10, 285th overall: Austin Schultz, SS, University of Kentucky

Notable skill: Schultz can run, rating as high as 70 on a scouting grade according to MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis. He stole 22 bases in 24 attempts this year in his junior season at UK, good for second in the SEC, while posting a .329 average and a .401 on-base percentage. He has enough speed to play second base or center field in pro ball.

Fun fact: Schultz started at six positions during his college career. He has the speed to play second base, but the Tigers listed him as an outfielder.

Quotable: "When you come from the Midwest, you kinda have to do anything you can to get seen," Schultz, a native of Adams, Neb., told the Kentucky Kernel, UK’s student newspaper, in March about he played American Legion baseball to get noticed by schools.