Detroit Tigers: Finding Justin Verlander Was Like Christmas

It’s no secret that Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander is one of the best ever to play the game, and hearing a table full of experts talk about him cements the fact.

Former Detroit Tiger ace Jack Morris described finding someone like JV: “It’s Christmas.”

A collection of MLB “lifers” discussed the some of the best players they have ever seen and Verlander was one of them. Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Manny Ramirez were also in the discussion.

The group of lifers included Morris, along with former managers and scouts Steve Phillips, Jim Duquette, Jack Zduriencik, and writer Joe Posnanski. They shared their experiences seeing these unbelievable young players before they hit it big.

The Scout Who Found Him

Zduriencik shares how a scout known as “The Fat Scout” (John Poloni) in Moneyball. He gave JV a rating of “75” – which in the world of scouting is worthy of a future Hall of Famer. When Zduriencik went to see him for the first time, Verlander had a rough time playing on a diamond that only recently was covered in the remnants of a rough winter. But, he returned, and so did scouts from many other teams.

Later in Verlander’s last season at Old Dominion, Zduriencik finally got to see what all the fuss was about. His reaction seeing JV throw up to 99 MPH with a collection of dirty pitches was of pure disappointment. Zduriencik, being with the Milwaukee Brewers at the time, knew he had no chance getting him.

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Fortunately and unfortunately, fate was in the hands of the Detroit Tigers. After the abysmal 2003 season when the team lost 119 games, winning only 43, they got a top pick. And, fortunately, Verlander was available after the San Diego Padres chose Matt Bush first. The rest is history.

Memorable 2004 Draft

The 2004 draft was certainly one for the records. The first round drafts included Verlander, along with Billy Butler, Steven Drew, Gio Gonzalez Huston Street, and Trevor Plouffe. The second round Yovani Gallardo, Hunter Pence, and Dustin Pedroia. Of those picks, only two have WAR numbers sitting above 50: Pedroia and Verlander. This was quite a class.

As Tigers fans, we have been fortunate to be able to watch Justin Verlander spend his entire career in the organization. It is clear that the “Fat Scout” knew what he was talking about. JV made his debut with the Tigers pitching in two games in 2005. His rookie season was 2006 and remember – the amazing Verlander did win the Rookie of the Year.

Is He a Future HOF Candidate?

Since then, the future Hall of Fame pitcher (yes, I’m going there) won the Cy Young and the MVP in 2011. He finished second in the Cy Young race in 2012 and 2016. He also was in the AL MVP vote in five seasons. It seems as though it is too easy to remember the past couple of years when Verlander was injured and recovering from an injury. Then, in 2016, the JV that scouts believed was a future Hall of Fame pitcher reappeared.

All signs show that he will continue on his path to the Hall of Fame. He is compared to 33-year-old pitchers like Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Jim Bunning. Of current pitchers, he is similar to Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke. These comparisons have to make Verlander proud, but they also have to make the other pitchers proud, too.

Fortunately, the Tigers front office did not ship Verlander off to the highest bidder. It is rare for any players today to stay with one organization for their entire careers. Justin Verlander, if he remains a Tiger for his entire career, could become as legendary as Al Kaline. His potential, lifetime value to the franchise exceeds the value of his contract. Hopefully, the Tigers front office recognizes his greatness, like the Fat Scout and the rest of those baseball lifers who saw it he was just an undergrad at Old Dominion.

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