The Detroit Tigers have a pitcher heavy system. MiLB.com ranks their pitching prospects as the eleventh best in baseball. That isn’t stopping Jeff Ellis, of 247 Sports, from projecting that the Tigers will draft LHP Matt Liberatore with the first pick of the 2018 draft.
1. Detroit Tigers Matt Liberatore, LHP, Mountain Ridge (AZ)
I had mentioned in my Big Board that the gap between Liberatore and Hankins was not that big to me. The injury to Hankins opened the door for Liberatore, who burst through it like the Kool-Aid man with his first start of the year. One also has to look at the history of the draft and see that no prep right-hander has ever gone first. It is going to take a truly special arm for that to happen. While I think Hankins is the second best player in this draft, the slightest concern about injury with a pitcher is going to move them up out of the top spot. Liberatore is not a consolation prize, though, but rather a legitimate potential front of the rotation left-hander, with a pretty high floor for a prep arm.
SB Nation’s Minor League Ball had this profile on the lefty out of Arizona:
The 6’5” lefty pitcher is a throw back of sorts as he is not going to light up the radar gun, but he can pitch well beyond his years. He can still touch 95-96 MPH but typically sits in the 91-94 MPH range with his fastball. Coming from a loose three quarter slot means he gets good run on the fastball and can really locate it.
There is some concern about his upside, because he isn’t the type of pitcher that sits in the upper-90s (although touching it is not out of the question) and does not have a power breaking pitch, he doesn’t project like your typical, front of the rotation arm. Instead he is a rare high floor high school arm that has the potential to be a quick mover.
Liberatore is a more polished pitcher than current Detroit Tigers Matt Manning. Manning was selected ninth overall by the Tigers in the 2016 MLB draft. Reports are that Liberatore’s ceiling is at the number two spot in a starting rotation. While he’s more polished, it’s certainly reasonable to think that the Tigers wouldn’t be aggressive in getting him up to the big club. He could spend a couple seasons in the minors, even getting to AAA Toledo by year two. Allowing him to log a full season with the Mudhens could be enough to catapult him to the number two spot full time after that.
It’s worth noting that of the top six picks projected by Ellis only one isn’t a pitcher. Nick Madrigal, out of Oregon State, is projected to go at number five to the White Sox. The only knock against Madrigal is that he’s small. His height is listed at 5’8″ and isn’t bulky. The Tigers, however, are weak on positional players and they could surprise everyone and take Madrigal. If Madrigal doesn’t work out they could trade him later on down the road. Bats are generally a lower risk that pitching arms out of the draft.