DETROIT — The Detroit Tigers broke their usual pattern of drafting big power pitchers in the first round Thursday night, selecting speedy Elk Grove (Calif.) High center fielder Derek Hill, who on Friday morning indicated he very much wanted to sign with Detroit rather than play at the University of Oregon.
In the second round of the draft, however, the Tigers returned to form and nabbed University of Alabama right-hander Spencer Turnbull, nicknamed "Red Bull." Turnbull, 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, earned his nickname in Tuscaloosa for his intensity, thick upper body and red hair.
"He has a strong body and a power arm," Tigers vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd said. "He pitches off his fastball … He’s a tough kid."
Turnbull’s fastball tops out at 98 mph, but he regularly hits 92-94 mph. He needs to develop better command of his fastball and to refine his slider and changeup to become a finished product, though.
Chadd likened him to Tommy Hunter, who was a first-round pick of the Texas Rangers out of Alabama in 2007. Hunter began his career as a starter with the Rangers, then converted to relief and is now closing for the Baltimore Orioles.
"We see Spencer Turnbull as a starter," said Chadd, who added that Turnbull could pitch in the minors this year, but only as a reliever because of the high number of innings he’s pitched at this point.
Turnbull was undrafted as a senior at Madison (Miss.) Central High, but developed nicely in the high-powered Crimson Tide program. His earned-run average improved from 5.60 as a freshman to 3.75 as a sophomore and 2.22 this year. He had a 5-7 record, struck out 61 and allowed 61 hits in 93 1/3 innings as a junior.
"He had a .192 batting average (against) in college baseball, which is unheard of," Chadd said.
Turnbull tweeted at @SpencerTurnbull: "Just wanted to say thank you to the Detroit Tigers for believing in me! I can’t wait to get to work! #RollTigers"
Just wanted to say thank you to the Detroit Tigers for believing in me! I can't wait to get to work! #RollTigers
Hill batted .500 without a homer as a senior, but had 11 doubles and seven triples with 30 RBI and 26 runs in 29 games. He’s been clocked at 6.44 seconds in the 60-yard dash and stole 18 bases.
Chadd termed him "an electric player" who brings "great energy" onto the field.
First-round picks seldom end up honoring college scholarships because signing-bonus millions are too enticing.
"I’m going to have to talk it over with my parents and adviser," Hill said. "But I’m definitely feeling really strong about signing and taking it to the next level."
The Tigers worked out Hill, 18, in Detroit recently, and Chadd compared his defensive skills to those of current center fielder Austin Jackson and right fielder Torii Hunter, who has won nine Gold Glove awards and was once the game’s premier center fielder.
"I always wore his number," Hill said of Hunter. "He’s been my idol since I was six."
In additon to trying to play like Hunter, Hill said he attempts to "answer questions" like the personable Tiger, too.
Hill was also strongly influenced by his father, Orsino Hill — who played minor-league baseball and currently scouts amateur talent for the Los Angeles Dodgers — and cousin Darryl Strawberry, an eight-time All-Star outfielder.
We see Spencer Turnbull as a starter.
"(Darryl’s) been more of an adviser to me," Hill said. "He gives me great advice. He was an amazing talent."
Hill said his father helped him develop by sharing his experiences as a pro player and scout.
"We value makeup as a tool, especially in a high-school player," Chadd said. "You have to be mentally tough because it is a game of failure."
Chadd stressed that Hill’s intangibles in that area caught his attention.
Hill (6-2, 190 pounds) can hit for average and has exceptional speed. He’s an elite defender who gets great jumps on balls and has a strong arm. So power is all he lacks in becoming a five-tool player.
Still, Comerica Park is ideal for his talents.
"I have gap-to-gap power and not that much power," Hill said. "But I don’t have to worry about that there."
Chadd added, "It’s tough to see power in a high-school player, but he has the frame for it and will add power."
Chadd said he doesn’t expect Hill to become a 25-homer hitter but "showed raw power," even in spacious Comerica during his workout.
"He’s an 80 runner," said Chadd, using the highest number on the scout rating system. "In the tool set, he brings everything but power, but that will come."