Tigers sign Porcello, two other picks
Club signs first-round selection to four-year Major League deal
CLEVELAND -- As the days whittled down for teams to sign their picks from the First-Year Player Draft, Tigers vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd summed up his club's stance succinctly last week.
"We took these players," he said, "to sign them."
It took a lot, and it sent ripples through the rest of the baseball, but they are signed.
The Tigers' four-year, $7 million Major League contract for Seton Hall [N.J.] Prep right-hander Rick Porcello was still generating talk around clubs on Wednesday while the club formally introduced its newest pitching prospect. Yet while the merits and effectiveness of Major League Baseball's unwritten slotting system continue to be debated, the talent that the Tigers just added to their farm system is more tangible.
"Our goal," Chadd said Wednesday, "is to put talent into the system. I think the reflection of these signings is that we're trying to put that kind of talent into the system."
Detroit put at least three players' worth of talent into its system with deals finalized this week. In addition to Porcello's big-league contract, the Tigers finalized agreements with high school lefty Casey Crosby and infielder Cale Iorg, taken in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively. Detroit also announced the signing of 26th-round pick Matt Hoffman, a left-hander out of Owasso High School in Oklahoma.
Porcello, Crosby and Iorg were projected to be taken higher than they actually were, but fell due in no small part to signability concerns. All three signed for money that well exceeded MLB's recommendations for their pick.
Wednesday's conference call to introduce Porcello became the Tigers' way to make their point when the topic arose. While they understand the slotting system, they explained, they also believe in the idea of different cases for different players.
"We have a very good scouting staff," president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "There are many individual cases. When we talk about recommended slots, we adhere to that, but there are cases we think are special talents and circumstances where you make a decision that you think is best for our organization. I think our first responsibility is to try to put a winning product on the field."
They've done that for the past few years thanks in part to the talent they've assembled through the Draft. Justin Verlander was the second overall pick in the 2004 Draft; his negotiations lasted well into the fall and broke off at one point before his father helped reach a deal. Cameron Maybin was another difficult signing as the 10th overall pick the following year; he's now Detroit's top prospect. Andrew Miller went from the College World Series to the big leagues in little more than two months.
"We're in a spot where if we're going to be successful, we have to have a lot of good people at various levels in our organization," Dombrowski said. "You have to have quality talent within your organization. For us, if we're going to win, we have identified the Draft as a place where I think we have a lot of good people making recommendations for us. We can't compete in the Orient in some situations. There are some situations where we can't compete in Latin America. Even though we have been successful on the free agent market, there are some teams we can't compete with."
The First-Year Player Draft has become their answer.
"That's the way we believe in a great deal," Dombrowski said. "And [owner Mike Ilitch] believes in that."
Porcello's agent, Scott Boras, obviously believes in it.
"The scrutiny that's applied by anyone in baseball can never really be truly judged [by any standards] other than the production," Boras said. "We all want the game to be better. We all want the game to be advanced. And when you're making investments in players, quality players, then all of a sudden the game gets better."
Now that Porcello's Major League deal is official, the Tigers have the job of turning him into a big-league player. That's not an area where the Tigers have had a lot of success with first-round high school pitchers in recent history, but as they point out, Porcello is not a typical high school pitcher.
He has earned comparisons to Josh Beckett from his agent and Verlander from some in his new organization. Both were in the big leagues two seasons after their Draft day -- Beckett out of high school, Verlander out of college. Time will tell if Porcello can pull off that kind of jump through the farm system. But for now, nobody is counting it out.
"A lot of times with high school players, you're looking at five or six years down the road," Dombrowski said when asked about a timetable. "I don't think that's the case here."
Because Porcello hasn't pitched but a couple bullpen sessions this summer, the more immediate goal is to get him ready to pitch off of a mound for the Florida instructional league this fall. Porcello has been working out with a personal trainer, resting his arm for the most part since the end of the high school season.
That's relatively common. Verlander and former first-rounder Kyle Sleeth -- who, ironically, was taken off the 40-man roster to make room for Porcello -- did the same thing.
"We never want to rush anybody to the big leagues," Chadd said, "but I think it's well known that Rick is a special talent. Obviously his work ethic is going to be key to his progression, but how quickly he progresses, in my opinion, is going to be determined by Rick himself.
"Does he have special talent? Absolutely. But there are things he'll need to learn."
Crosby, a lanky southpaw out of Kaneland High School in Illinois, has pitched this summer and might be ready sooner. Chadd said he could end up pitching in the Gulf Coast League by season's end.
Iorg, the son of former Toronto Blue Jays infielder Garth Iorg, falls under the category of unique circumstances better than anyone. He, too, had signability concerns, but he also spent the last two years away from baseball on a Mormon mission in Portugal before a workout session helped convince the Tigers he was worth an investment. He hit .280 with 11 doubles, five home runs, 38 RBIs and 15 stolen bases as a freshman shortstop at Alabama in 2005, but had transferred to Arizona State to play this coming season if he didn't sign.
"It was a long summer," Chadd signed. "We evaluated all three players over the summer. Again, it came down to the final hour."
The last of the signings means the highest-selected player Detroit didn't sign was 10th-rounder Dominic De La Osa, who is expected to return to Vanderbilt.
Now that they're signed, they can evaluate their progress in terms of games.
"It's definitely nice to know now what I'm going to be doing in my future," said Porcello, who has been watching Tigers games regularly since Draft day trying to watch their pitchers. "It's a little bit of a relief because now, I'm not going to be wondering what I'll be doing."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.