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6/6/2014 11:37 P.M. ET

Tigers go for 'pen arm in 9th round with Laxer

Though Detroit has some decisions to make whether some early-round pitching selections fit best as starters or relievers, ninth-rounder Josh Laxer won't have that conflict. After struggling for first two seasons as a starting pitcher at the University of Mississippi, he found his calling as a closer. His fastball, which hits the mid-90s, might not ticket him for the ninth inning, but it plays well in short, high-energy bursts.

Laxer allowed five earned runs on 27 hits over 30 2/3 innings this spring, walking nine and striking out 37. His five saves led an Ole Miss team that used a closer-by-committee system.

Laxer complements his fastball with a breaking ball, giving him a two-pitch arsenal. It's not enough to start, but it can work out of the bullpen. He'll have a chance at more work this weekend, when the Rebels take part in the NCAA Super Regionals against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Laxer will try to follow in the footsteps of Corey Knebel, who went from University of Texas closer to the Tigers' bullpen within a year. Laxer's ascension isn't expected to be nearly that fast, and it could take time for him to hone the command to work in a late-inning role in pro ball. Still, the tools for a reliever are there.

The Draft concludes on Saturday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 1 p.m. ET.

Tigers catch Gamecocks' Greiner in Round 3

The Tigers have had the kind of success with SEC receivers that would make an NFL general manager happy. In Detroit's case, though, catchers from the Southeastern Conference have helped turn what was an organizational wasteland behind the plate years ago into a position of depth, one South Carolina's Grayson Greiner and UCLA's Shane Zeile could help greatly after Detroit took him with their third- and fifth-round picks of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft on Friday.

Whether it was their plan or not, the two additions could provide some depth to a system that has thinned out a bit with recent promotions and relied on some Minor League free agents for mid-level depth this year.

"Like I've always said, we never draft by need, we draft by best talent on the board. Grayson Greiner and Zeile were two of the best guys on the board at the time," Tigers vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd said. "And obviously, when you can add catching to the organization, add some depth, it's something that's a positive. So it fit into what we were doing just fine."

Greiner and Zeile not only come from opposite coasts, but opposite backgrounds. Zeile's uncle, Todd, broke into the Majors as a catcher to begin a 16-year Major League career, though the bulk of those seasons featured him as a corner infielder. Shane Zeile, by contrast, came to UCLA as a highly regarded infielder, and worked out as a high schooler with Tigers shortstop and fellow Valencia High School graduate Danny Worth.

"I took ground balls and hit with him in the offseason," Worth recalled.

Not until this spring did Shane Zeile settle in behind the plate.

"We saw him early in the season, in the spring, and stayed on him," Tigers scouting director Scott Pleis said. "Our area guys did a great job of identifying him as a prospect behind the plate. … He's still got upside there as a college guy, because he hasn't caught his entire life. There's definitely some upside there."

Greiner, too, has athletic greatness in his genes, but not on the diamond. His father, Mark Greiner, played basketball at South Carolina under Hall of Fame coach Frank McGuire in the 1970s. His grandfather, Bill Killoy, was a placekicker for South Carolina's football team in the late 1940s.

"Never thought I'd see the day where I'm a Tiger," Greiner tweeted Friday afternoon, playing on the association with South Carolina's in-state rival Clemson. "So blessed to have so many friends and family to watch my dream come true."

Greiner not only fell in love with baseball, but with catching, his lifelong position. His large frame -- either 6-foot-5 or 6-6, depending on the scouting report -- wouldn't get in the way.

He's at the tall end for a catcher -- Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters are listed at the same height -- but Greiner is considered a defense-first backstop. At a position that organizations have been known to move players away from in order to avoid wear and tear, the Tigers drafted Greiner to stick behind the plate, where his strong, accurate arm and .995 fielding percentage helped him earn SEC All-Defensive honors.

"Yeah, he's large, but he's mobile," Chadd said. "He moves well. He was Team USA's primary catcher last summer, so he's handled pitchers of Major League caliber. So we know he can catch, we know he can throw, and I like his offensive abilities, too. Outstanding makeup, and we think he's got the leadership qualities to catch, and catch at the highest level."

Greiner has the body frame for a right-handed power bat, and he hit grand slams in two late-inning comeback rallies for the Gamecocks, but how his hitting evolves will prove secondary to his work behind the plate. He hit .311 (66-for-212) in his junior season, with 13 doubles, eight homers, 50 RBIs, a .389 on-base percentage and .486 slugging.

"I'd probably classify him more as a gap-type hitter," Chadd said. "He does have some power, but I think he's more of a contact guy. There's some strength in his swing, but again, I think if you want to talk about the strengths in his game, I think it's going to be the catch-and-throw ability, and you'll have some offensive production with it as well."

Greiner ranked 96th on MLB.com's list of Top 200 Draft prospects. In a Draft that boasted some talented young catchers whose futures might lie at different positions, Greiner was one of the higher-ranked true catchers.

The Draft concludes on Saturday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 1 p.m. ET.

Round 4: Tigers return to Vandy for Ravenelle

Vanderbilt University has contributed quite a bit to the Tigers' farm system lately, producing prospects from Triple-A Toledo left-hander Drew VerHagen to Double-A Erie first baseman Aaron Westlake to Class A hurler Kevin Ziomek to now-Rays catching prospect Curt Casali. Adam Ravenelle didn't have quite the collegiate career of that group, thanks in no small part to surgery, but his talent wooed the Tigers to take a shot on him with their fourth-round pick.

The right-hander had elbow problems that led to ulnar transposition surgery in 2012, greatly limiting his work his first two college seasons. He came back this spring and took well to the bullpen, though not as a closer, with a mid-90s sinking fastball, a promising breaking ball and the makings of good efficiency. Ravenelle allowed just five earned runs on 17 hits over 34 1/3 innings with 32 strikeouts this season, though he has been hampered by 14 walks. Just four of his hits allowed have gone for extra bases, all doubles.

"Rav has come a long way since he stepped on campus," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said in a statement on Ravenelle's online player page. "He has always had very good athleticism and a clean, strong arm. He is now putting all of it together and becoming very skilled. There is a tremendous amount of consistency in his life ... his disposition, his investment level, his academics and now his performance."

The performance vaulted Ravenelle to the 152nd spot on MLB.com's Top 200 Draft prospects list.

The Tigers could face a similar decision with Ravenelle that they will with second-rounder Spencer Turnbull this Draft, and did with Corey Knebel last year. Though Ravenelle has found his success in a relief role, he has the stuff to potentially try a shift to starting pitching.

"Ravenelle we took as a starter," Tigers vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd said. "He has a delivery and arm action to allow him to start. For whatever reason, he's always been in the 'pen at Vanderbilt. We think he can start."

The Draft concludes on Saturday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 1 p.m. ET.

Tigers draft Zeile, nephew of former big leaguer

The Tigers' fifth-round pick in the 2014 Draft has familiar name to baseball fans.

Todd Zeile started out as a catcher before transitioning into the infield for the bulk of his 16-year Major League career. His nephew Shane -- who Detroit selected with 160th overall pick on Friday -- took the opposite path at UCLA, shuffling around the infield for his first couple years before settling in behind the plate this spring as a junior. The resulting season sent his prospect standing upward, up to 184th on MLB.com's Top 200 list.

Though he had a torn labrum last fall, it happened in his non-throwing shoulder. His throwing arm was fine, and he made a quick transition to catching this season, much like Alex Avila did at Alabama his junior season.

"We saw him early in the season, in the spring, and stayed on him," Tigers scouting director Scott Pleis said. "Our area guys did a great job of identifying him as a prospect behind the plate. … He's still got upside there as a college guy, because he hasn't caught his entire life. There's definitely some upside there."

More importantly, Zeile broke out at the plate, batting .324 with nine doubles, three triples, two homers, 28 RBIs and 21 walks. He threw out better than 40 percent (18-of-43) of would-be basestealers, tied for the best mark in the Pac-12 Conference.

"He was up and down a little bit with the bat," Pleis said, "but ended up pretty strong. We just did a good job with area guys staying on him and scouting him this spring."

His 2014 season was good enough to land Zeile with Tigers third-round pick Grayson Greiner on the semifinalists list for college baseball's Johnny Bench Award for best catcher. Zeile has the athleticism to make scouts believe he can stick behind the plate. The right-handed hitter expected to hit more for line drives than home runs, but the Tigers will gladly take that from a catcher.

The Draft concludes on Saturday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 1 p.m. ET.

Sixth-round pick Kivett could fit in multiple spots

Ross Kivett -- taken in the sixth round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft by the Tigers on Friday -- won Big 12 Player of the Year honors as a second baseman in 2013, but he opted not to sign with his hometown Cleveland Indians last summer so that he could make one more run at a College World Series. His Kansas State Wildcats fell well short this spring in a disappointing season, but Kivett jumped from a 10th-rounder to a sixth, and he still was drafted in the Midwest.

Kivett was a preseason All-American at second base, but shifted to center field during the season, as well as getting some starts at designated hitter. He batted .333 (70-for-210) with 13 doubles, four homers, 33 RBIs, 35 walks and 21 stolen bases. The versatility could carry over to the pros if the Tigers look for some utility in their positional ranks; Detroit listed him as a center fielder upon his selection.

He's an athletic player with more of a quick bat than a power bat, producing line drives in the gaps. Though the batting average took a drop, the speed and the talent remained.

"He was a second baseman, he played center field this year, he played shortstop," Tigers vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd said. "He's just a kid, if you look at historical statistics, he's been pretty phenomenal. He's always hit wherever he's been. He's a basestealer. He's a baseball player. Not that he has a lot of plusses; he doesn't. He's got a lot of averages across the board, but he's a very good player."

Kivett ranked 359th on Baseball America's Top 500 Draft prospects list.

The Draft concludes on Saturday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 1 p.m. ET.

Tigers stack infield ranks with Pankake

Tigers third-round Draft pick Grayson Greiner's roommate at South Carolina is about to be his teammate in the pros as well.

"Well, they just couldn't keep us apart," Joey Pankake tweeted after the Tigers drafted him in the seventh round of the First-Year Player Draft Friday.

Unlike Greiner, however, Pankake is a player without a set position. The Tigers listed him as a third baseman -- his role with the Gamecocks this season after spending his first two years at shortstop -- upon selecting him with a seventh-round pick on Friday, but scouting reports considered the outfield as his potential destination.

"He's been kind of a star in the SEC since his freshman year," Tigers vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd said. "He played shortstop his first two years. This year, he moved to third. He can play second. There's even a possibility he can catch."

It's the bat that's the bigger draw than the position with Pankake, who ranked 124th on MLB.com's Top 200 Draft prospects list. He batted .303 (67-for-221) this season with 11 doubles, five home runs and 31 RBIs. The home run total dropped from 11 in his sophomore season, but his plate discipline improved, with 30 walks to 21 strikeouts. MLB.com ranked him at 50 for hitting and power on the 20-80 scouting scale.

"From an offensive perspective, I don't see him being plus-plus power," Chadd said. "But I see him more as a gap-to-gap type hitter and a really good baseball player."

Pankake actually made the SEC All-Defensive team at the hot corner, though he also made 10 errors. His strong arm affords him some patience to stick in the infield, though it could also play as a defensive strength in a corner outfield spot.

"He's a very versatile player, a very, very good defensive player," Chadd said.

Pankake could have some room to grow in the Tigers' organization at third. The team is set in Detroit with young Nick Castellanos, but doesn't boast a ton of two-way talent in the ranks below.

The Draft concludes on Saturday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 1 p.m. ET.

Lewicki rebound worth Round 8 chance

Artie Lewicki lost his 2013 season to Tommy John surgery, but bounced back with a vengeance for the University of Virginia. The Tigers, who had shown a willingness to consider pitchers with surgically repaired elbows with higher-round picks, were willing to take a chance with him in the eighth round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft after they happened to watch him in a midweek game late in the season.

The Cavaliers had no shortage of Draft prospects this spring. Their closer, Nick Howard, was frequently scouted by Tigers officials down the stretch. Lewicki was further down the prospect list, but his performance put him on Detroit's radar.

"He definitely opened our eyes late," Chadd said. "He has coming off an oblique [injury] and hadn't pitched much. And we just happened to catch him in a midweek start as he was coming off the oblique late in the year.

"He was 92-95 [mph] for seven [innings], with a plus breaking ball, very easy, fluid delivery on the mound. It was a surprise, really, for us to see a pitcher of that caliber late."

That's as hard or harder than Lewicki threw pre-surgery, and it's arguably more impressive than the results, including a 6-1 record, 1.72 ERA and a .163 batting average allowed, holding opponents to 30 hits over 52 1/3 innings with 10 walks and 46 strikeouts.

His 6-foot-3 frame suggests he should be able to maintain his velocity once he starts out in the pro ranks. The Tigers see him as a starter in their system.

"I was always determined during surgery," Lewicki told the Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Va., last month. "It's a long road. It's easy to get down on yourself, but it's good to be in an atmosphere like this and have your players and coaches around, and they can just keep you motivated to get back. Two years ago, I was really determined to get back to where I am now. I'm glad everything's working out."

After opening the season as a midweek starter, Lewicki serves as a second starter on a Virginia team that will host Maryland this weekend in the NCAA Super Regionals.

The Draft concludes on Saturday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 1 p.m. ET.

Tigers end arm-heavy stretch with hard-throwing Voelker

Hard throwers are pretty much the norm in Tigers Drafts. Usually, however, they come with big body frames. When 5-foot-10 Paul Voelker was available in the 10th round with a solid mid-90s fastball, however, Detroit officials felt he was worth a shot to close out the second day of the First-Year Player Draft on Friday.

Voelker went from a reliever at Dallas Baptist last year into a starting role this spring, posting a 9-4 record and 3.48 ERA in 17 games, while striking out 79 batters over 93 innings. His 42 walks, nine wild pitches and nine hit batters suggest some wildness, but he was able to pitch deep into games for a converted reliever.

The initial plan, according to Tigers vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd, is for Voelker to begin his pro career as a starter. However, Chadd is more open than most about moving him into relief.

"I think Voelker might have the best chance of going to the bullpen [out of the starters Detroit has drafted so far], because everything he has plays up a lot out of the 'pen," Chadd said.

Voelker's fastball reportedly tops out at 97 mph, while usually sitting in the mid-90s. He also throws a slower slider and a hard changeup, enough to at least consider him for a potential starting role.

Voelker's big impression came last summer, when he ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the Northwoods League, according to Baseball America. He went into this Draft ranked as the 300th best prospect overall on Baseball America's Top 500.

The Draft concludes on Saturday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 1 p.m. ET.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.