What Does The First Day Of The 2021 MLB Draft Mean For Future Of Detroit Tigers?

The Major League Baseball Amateur Draft isn’t as sexy as the drafts in the NFL and NBA. A large part of that is the fact that baseball players take a long time to incubate: it can often take up to five years for some prospects to work their way through the minor leagues to the majors. There are no instant impact players in the MLB Draft. 

Still, the MLB Draft is important, because it’s the primary way teams stock their farm systems with young players. On Sunday, as the ceremonial first half of the season was drawing to a close, MLB gathered in Denver to gold the first round of the draft. 

The Tigers Opt For Pitching In 2021 MLB Draft

The Tigers, thanks to their dismal record last season, picked third. Their selection has drawn a lot of attention, but most of it for the wrong reason.

With the third overall pick, Detroit selected right-handed high school pitcher Jackson Jobe from Oklahoma City, where he played for Heritage Hall High. 

Draft watchers ranked Jobe as one of the best high school pitchers in the country, based on his excellent slider and great mechanics. Some experts think Jobe can climb through the minor leagues quickly. Detroit’s selection is defensible based on Jobe’s talent, but the checkered history of high school pitchers coming out of the draft has to also be considered.

Here’s a list of every high school pitcher the Tigers have selected in the first round (or first-round compensation picks) since 2000:  

MLB Draft Pick Name Games With Detroit WAR For Detroit
2016 #9 Matt Manning 5+ -0.1
2015 #22 Beau Burrows 5 -0.1
2009 #9 Jacob Turner 7 -1.0
2007 #27 Rick Porcello 184 10.6
2007 #60 Brandon Hamilton 0 0
2000 #8 Matt Wheatland 0 0

Manning is in the rotation this season as a rookie, and he’s shown promise. I’d expect him to have a long career in the big leagues, but whether he will be an ace or just rotation filler has yet to be determined. He’s clearly learning at the big league level, which means Manning will look terrible at times the next few seasons.

Of the six high school pitchers the Tigers picked early in the draft over the last two decades, only Rick Porcello grew to be a valuable member of their rotation. Turner and Wheatland, like Jobe, were heralded teenage arms, but both were huge disappointments.

Here’s the thing: when it comes to young arms, college pitchers are more likely to become big league stars than high schoolers. That makes sense, because college pitchers have two or three, or sometimes four years to mature, get stronger, and learn how to pitch.

Here’s another problem with high school pitchers: they take a long time to get to the major leagues. The last time a high school pitcher was taken by any team with one of the top three picks in the draft was 2017 when the Reds selected Hunter Greene and the Padres took Mackenzie Gore. Both of those pitchers just got to Triple-A this season. They’re still one step from the majors (and probably one or two years away from making an impact).

Those fans who are griping about the Tigers picking a high school pitcher with the #3 pick, they have history on their side.

Other Notes About The Tigers’ MLB Draft Picks

  • The Tigers had a second first-round pick due to what is called the Competitive Balance Draft. Because the Tigers have lost so often the last few years, and also ranked in the bottom third in revenue, the team received a pick sandwiched between rounds one and two, slotted at #32.
  • With the #32 pick, the Tigers selected Ty Madden, a right-handed pitcher from the University of Texas. Most draft experts rated Madden as a top ten talent in the draft, but for some reason he dropped all the way to #32. Madden nearly pitched the Longhorns to the finals of the College World Series, and his fastball currently tops out at 99 miles per hour. He’s a strong, polished arm, and some draft analysts had him as the third best college pitcher in the draft. Critics can snipe at the Jobe pick, but Madden may turn out to be a real steal for the Tigers.

When Will The Players In This Draft Help The Tigers?

We’ll have to see how the subsequent rounds go, but so far the Tigers have stuck to their organizational plan of building with pitching. As outlined above, don’t expect Jobe to be on the mound in Detroit for at least three, and probably four or more years. But Madden will turn 22 during spring training next year, and assuming he gets some pro experience this summer and fall, he will get his first full professional season in 2024. With his maturity and live arm, it’s not unreasonable to think he could be in the Tiger rotation in three years, maybe even at the end of the 2023 season for a taste. 

About the Author

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He enjoys writing, running, and lemon bars. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters and usually has an orange cream soda nearby.