Eye of the Tigers on sixth pick
But organization will be on its toes for later rounds as well
This year, the hard act David Chadd has to follow is his own.
In his first year as Tigers scouting director, Chadd followed predecessor Greg Smith's 2004 selection of Justin Verlander by snatching the second-ranked high school player and one of the best pure athletes in the draft when Cameron Maybin fell to Detroit with the 10th overall selection.
He took a chance on a college closer named Kevin Whelan in the fourth round, then plucked slugging first baseman Jeff Larish in the next round just before his three-homer game in the College World Series.
Then, in the 16th round, the Tigers took a chance on a talented infielder named Michael Hollimon, whose college success at Oral Roberts didn't reflect the potential he carried out of high school. All of them had an immediate impact in the Minor Leagues in their first seasons.
"Certainly, I was glad to see them all go out and do well," Chadd said. "But baseball is a game of ups and downs. I'd be naive to say they're going to go out and do the same this year."
Detroit's disappointing 2005 season gives them a better draft pick this time around, but whether they can get as good of a player at the top is up to debate. Chadd might have a harder time choosing with the sixth overall selection in this year's draft than he did at No. 10 last June.
"We have no idea what's going on in front of us," Chadd said. "Without really knowing what's going to happen [with the first five picks], we can't really assume anything at this point."
The Tigers are in the process of narrowing their potential draft list down to about a half-dozen players. Practically, though, their choice is expected to boil down to the best high school pitcher in the draft versus arguably the best pure athlete available. With that, the next question is whether perfection is enough.
Texas prep lefty Clayton Kershaw established himself as a potential selection when he struck out all 15 batters he faced in a five-inning perfect game two weeks ago in a regional playoff game. Several scouts were in attendance for it, including the Tigers. How much his follow-up effort, two runs over 6 1/3 innings, affects that remains to be seen.
Should the Tigers decide against Kershaw, they need only travel from Dallas downstate to Austin to find their other potential pick. University of Texas center fielder Drew Stubbs' athletic ability has been compared to that of Maybin, and his development would likely push Maybin's future from center field into one of the corner spots. The question with Stubbs has been how well he can hit and whether his propensity to strikeout this season would continue in the pros.
Chadd knows the guys that are linked to his pick, even if he won't give up his short list. The unpredictability factor involves the possibility someone else might fall out of the top five.
"I think we have to scout the guys that might go ahead of us," he said, "and continue to scout the guys that we like. It's tough right now being able to say 'This is our guy.'"
Whichever way the Tigers go with their first pick, the success or failure of the draft will moreso be determined by their selections that follow. Just as Chadd used the rest of his draft to take guys he felt had the chance to produce regardless of position, he isn't going into this draft looking to fill specific needs.
"We certainly will not draft off a need," he said. "We just don't do that. Our position is 'Let's get the best player available.' You try to create some balance. That said, you never want to overlook the best player."
Here's a look at Detroit's last three first-round picks, the most recent under Chadd, and the previous two under Smith:
Cameron Maybin, OF, 2005, pick No. 10: The comparisons linking Maybin to Ken Griffey Jr. last summer seemed more realistic than expected as soon as he took the field for Class A West Michigan this spring. He batted .330 with seven doubles, four triples, a home run, 19 RBIs and six steals in just over a month of action for the Whitecaps before a finger injury put him on the disabled list. He's expected to return to action within the next couple of weeks.
Justin Verlander, RHP, 2004, pick No. 2: The Tigers' reward for their 119-loss season of 2003 has had a major impact in their return to contention this year, making him by most accounts the best AL Rookie of the Year candidate not named Jonathan Papelbon. He enters his start Thursday night against the Yankees with wins in his last four starts, including eight scoreless innings April 17 to outpitch Minnesota's Johan Santana and his first complete-game shutout five days later at Kansas City.
Kyle Sleeth, RHP, 2003, pick No. 3: Sleeth had a decent opening to his pro career between Class A Lakeland and Double-A Erie two years ago before Tommy John surgery derailed his 2005 season. He's still working his way back from the operation and is expected to take the mound again later this summer.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.