The 12 best draft picks by the Detroit Tigers

Fans of the Detroit Tigers know these guys, but not all of them were top prospects as amateurs.

1. Lou Whitaker, 3rd pick in 5th round of 1975 draft

If you had bumped into Lou Whitaker in 1975 when he reported to rookie ball for the Tigers, you’d have thought he was a bat boy. He weighed about 150 pounds, had a size 28 waist, and he didn’t look like he could swing his way out of a paper bag. Yet, the Tigers made the pigeon-toed little infielder their 5th round pick in the 1975 June amateur draft. He had been a third baseman in high school, but three years later he was starting at second base for the Tigers and was named Rookie of the Year. Six years after that he was leadoff man for the world champions. Eleven years after that, Whitaker was winding down a 19-year career spent in the middle of the infield as a star.

2. Alan Trammell, 2nd pick in 2nd round of 1976 draft

I rate Trammell slightly behind Sweet Lou because Tram was taken in a higher round by the Tigers. Trammell looked the part of prospect: he was a great athlete and he fit the mold of shortstops in the mid-1970s. But he matured physically and was a power-hitting middle infielder for twenty years for Detroit. In 1987 he had one of the best seasons ever by a shortstop but was robbed of an MVP when the voters stupidly gave the award to George Bell.

3. Jack Morris, 2nd pick in 5th round of 1976 draft

A few rounds after taking Trammell out of high school in San Diego, Detroit selected Morris, a tall hard-throwing righthander from Minnesota. Morris moved quickly through the Detroit system, earning his first stint in Detroit in 1977 when he replaced an injured Mark Fidrych. By 1979 he was the most effective pitcher on the team and he eventually started 11 straight opening day games and won nearly 200 games as a Tiger.

4. Justin Verlander, 2nd pick in 1st round of 2004 draft

The highest first-round pick on this list, Verlander is still adding to his credentials as one of the game’s best pitchers. He’s more than delivered on the promise of being a first round choice, having led the Tigers to the postseason five times, winning a Cy Young and an MVP award. If he sticks in Detroit, the tall Virginian will probably own every pitching record in the book for the Tigers. The amateur draft started in 1965, and baseball history is filled with first round picks who failed to pan out. It’s not a guarantee that a first rounder will deliver, but JV has.

5. Lance Parrish, 16th pick in 1st round of 1974 draft

Parrish nearly chose football (he was a very good linebacker), but when general manager Jim Campbell offered him a bonus, he opted for baseball. It was a wise choice. Even though he was muscle-bound, which many thought would hamper his flexibility and shorten his career, Parrish played 19 seasons in the big leagues, ten with Detroit. He was the cleanup man and a strong leader of the 1984 team. Finding a starting catcher in the draft, especially a future All-Star, is tough, but Detroit won the lottery when they grabbed Parrish and had him in place to succeed Bill Freehan behind the plate.

6. Kirk Gibson, 12th pick in 1st round of 1978 draft

Gibby could have been a tight end in the NFL, he was drafted by the Cardinals and offered a lot of money. He also could have been selected earlier by other teams in the baseball draft, but he made it clear that he wanted to play for the Tigers or he’d choose football. He had a slow start, as it took him a while to harness his tremendous athletic ability and utilize it on the diamond, but once he did he was one of the most exciting players in baseball. In all the years of the amateur draft, Gibson has been the most hyped selection by the Tigers. In 1980 during spring training he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated before he’d even had one full season in the big leagues.

7. Mark Fidrych, 16th pick in 10th round of 1974 draft

If you think he was wiry and goofy looking as a rookie, you should have seen Fidrych when he was 19 years old and drafted by the Tigers late in the ’74 draft. The righthander from Massachusetts was fresh from high school and not really on anyone’s radar as a baseball player. But scout Joe Cusick, working the northeast for the Tigers, noticed Mark’s knee-fastball and recommended him. The hometown Red Sox also had a scout who liked him, but the Tigers took a chance first. It paid off two short years later when “The Bird” had one of the best and most thrilling rookie seasons in baseball history. The only thing that keeps Fidrych from being higher on this list is his short career.

8. Travis Fryman, 30th pick in 1987 supplemental draft

The Tigers received an a pick in the supplemental draft in ’87 because of the loss of free agent catcher Lance Parrish. They made it count, plucking the 18-year old Fryman out of Gonzalez Tate High School in Pensacola, Florida. Starting in 1990 he spent eight years in the infield for Detroit, even supplanting the oft-injured Alan Trammell for a short spell at shortstop. Fryman was a four-time All-Star for the Tigers.

9. Bobby Higginson, 16th pick in 12th round of 1992 draft

There’s no telling how long Higginson might have been on the draft board if the Tigers hadn’t picked him in the 12th round. The outfielder was not a top prospect after four years at Temple University in Philadelphia. But he proved the scouts wrong, playing ten full years for the Tigers, hitting 25+ homers four times. He was also a fine outfielder with a strong, accurate arm, probably the best defensive right fielder the team had since Al Kaline.

10. Dan Petry, 2nd pick in 4th round of 1976 draft

The third player on this list from the ’76 draft, Petry went on to become a key contributor to the Tigers championship run in ’84 and for five seasons he was one of the better starters in the game. As a fourth rounder he was a heck of a bargain.

11. Jason Thompson, 3rd pick in 4th round of 1975 draft

The Tigers just kept making great picks in the 1970s, largely due to the influence of scouting director Bill Lajoie, a sharp judge of talent. After a very good career at Cal State, Thompson was coveted by a few teams, but Detroit nabbed him and he went on to be an All-Star first baseman. Many years later Detroit drafted Robert Fick out of the same university.

12. Cameron Maybin & Andrew Miller, 1st round picks in 2005 and 2006 drafts

Sure, neither of these players did much for the Tigers: combined they appeared in about 200 games for Detroit. But each man proved critical in the biggest trade in franchise history. Center fielder Maybin and pitcher Miller were the key players dealt to the Marlins after the 2007 season in exchange for Miguel Cabrera. I don’t have to tell you how great Cabrera has been in Detroit — one day he’ll wear a Tiger cap on a plaque in Cooperstown. Without the potential superstardom of Miller and Maybin, two first round picks made by Tiger president Dave Dombrowski in back-to-back years, Miggy doesn’t come to Motown. For that, they both belong on this list.