The most recent time the Tigers had a first-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft, Jacob Turner was their selection. That was four years ago, when Detroit was still among the kings of aggressive drafting and spending to get better talent than their draft slot would usually suggest.
They forfeited their past three first-round picks as compensation for Type A free-agent signings, from Jose Valverde to Victor Martinez to Prince Fielder. It reached the point that their top selection in last year's Draft didn't come until the 91st overall pick, near the end of the second round. The Tigers haven't even picked on the first day of the Draft in two years, essentially watching the heart of the event as bystanders while top talent went off the board.
Finally, they're back in business. However, the spending caps that went into effect last year have made this a very different first round than the Tigers remember.
As spending rules have changed, so has strategy. The Tigers' motive, however, has not.
"We're going to take the best player," vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd said last week. "It's not going to be a matter of finances or draft pool [for signing bonuses]. We'll take the best guy and then we'll worry about how the pool comes in after that."
The 2013 First-Year Player Draft will take place Thursday through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 73 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. Rounds 3-10 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m., 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.
Not only do the Tigers finally have a first-day pick again, they'll make three selections on Thursday. In addition to the first-round pick at No. 20 overall, they have the competitive balance lottery pick at 39th overall acquired from the Marlins in the Anibal Sanchez/Omar Infante trade, and their second-round pick at 58th overall.
The picks give the Tigers a chance to replenish a farm system that has some top prospects, but which has lost depth in trades over the past couple years. The downside is that this Draft is not being touted as a particularly great one.
Chadd sees it a little differently, but doesn't argue the sentiment.
"I'm pretty optimistic when it comes to the Draft," Chadd said, "but I would have to agree. I'd say it's a little bit down, especially in the first round. I think there's some depth to the Draft."
Chadd sees enough depth, and enough uncertainty beyond the top few picks, that he thinks the Tigers could again take advantage of a higher-ranked talent falling down the board to one of their first-round picks.
"It's just one of those years," Chadd said. "It's not that bad. There's a lot of good players in this Draft, and there's a lot of players who will have good Major League careers."
Here's a glance at what the Tigers have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
The Tigers have always approached the Draft looking for the best player available in early rounds, and the new rules won't change that now that they're in the first round. The big league club is built to win now, but has enough young talent that they can let a prospect develop.
Though Chadd sees a little more depth in hitters than pitchers this year, he also sees some power pitching available, the kind of talent that has always drawn the Tigers' interest.
Detroit has leaned towards college players in recent years, partly because of Draft position. With more picks under the current rules, though, they have the financial flexibility to try to draft aggressively on a high school player who's leaning towards playing college ball.
As far as their first-day picks, though, the Tigers' key strategy is flexibility. They pounced three years ago when Nick Castellanos fell, drafted aggressively on Drew Smyly in the next round and went from there. This could be that kind of Draft.
"We're looking for impact at 20. That's what we're trying to do," Chadd said. "So are 29 other clubs. This year's a little different than in other years in that I really have no idea what's going to happen in front of us. We really won't know what we're going to be doing until right before we pick."
Most of the mock drafts have tied the Tigers to college pitching with the 20th overall pick. Early on, it was strong-armed University of Florida right-hander Jonathon Crawford. The latest mock draft from MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo projected Detroit to select Oral Roberts right-hander Alex Gonzalez, who has reportedly been rising up draft charts. Gonzaga lefty Marco Gonzales also has been rumored.
Still, the Tigers' best-player-available approach leaves open the chance they could snag a higher-rated position player if he falls. Notre Dame slugger Eric Jagielo popped up in Baseball America's mock draft.
"I just think after the first few guys are taken off the board, it's really unpredictable where guys go," Chadd said.
Under the 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' signing bonus pool of $6,467,400 ranks 17th out of 30 Major League teams. Their first-round pick carries a pool value of $2,001,700, while the 39th overall selection brings $1,433,4000. That could give them room to entice a player taken in the ensuing rounds to sign who might otherwise be inclined to wait. However, Chadd says the Tigers are going into the Draft treating each pick and its salary spot independently.
Pitching has always been a commodity for the Tigers to stockpile under president/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowski, but between recent trades and a dearth of high draft picks, Detroit isn't as deep in starting prospects as usual. Though the Tigers' big league rotation is set for the foreseeable future, starters have been their best trade chips over the years.
The one trend of the Tigers' Draft under Dombrowski has been that power arms win out over all other pitchers. Detroit's recent success with Smyly goes against the trend a bit, but it doesn't change their Draft philosophy.
• Recent Draft History •
Castellanos was already considered a potential steal when the Tigers drafted him with the 44th overall pick in the 2010 Draft. Three years later, he's a key cog in the lineup at Triple-A Toledo at age 21. He's learning quickly, recovering from a slow start to go 12-for-27 over a seven-game stretch in late May. If he keeps progressing, he could find his way to the big leagues by the end of summer.
The Tigers grabbed Smyly with their second-round pick in 2010 and have watched him beat expectations pretty much ever since, from cracking the Tigers rotation out of Spring Training last year to becoming a vital cog in the bullpen this season. The 23-year-old left-hander still projects as a starter; all he needs is a rotation spot to open up.
In The Show
The Tigers' aggressiveness in free agency and the trade markets means they don't have an abundance of homegrown picks on the roster. The ones they have, though, have made an impact. Justin Verlander ranks among the best No. 2 picks in recent history, while Rick Porcello shows signs of blossoming into the front-line starter he was projected to be back in 2007. Catcher Alex Avila and outfielder Andy Dirks were both mid-round Draft picks in '08, going in the fifth and eighth rounds respectively.
Tigers' recent top picks
2012: Jake Thompson, RHP (2nd round), Class A West Michigan
2011: James McCann, C (2nd round), Double-A Erie
2010: Castellanos, OF (supplemental round), Triple-A Toledo
2009: Turner, RHP, Traded to Marlins
2008: Ryan Perry, RHP, Washington Nationals system