Mud Hens infielders Eugenio Suarez, left, and Hernan Perez head to the dugout between innings Tuesday during a game in Toledo. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Toledo — Exactly when the Tigers make their next move to dress up a position in need of a makeover is not the question.
It’s a matter of who that next shortstop, probably a platoon option, might be.
The Tigers are evaluating, which is why front-office chief Dave Dombrowski and former manager Jim Leyland (now a Dombrowski adviser) were on hand at Toledo this week to scout not only the shortstop options (Eugenio Suarez and Hernan Perez) but undoubtedly some potential bullpen additions (Chad Smith and Pat McCoy, among others).
As for alternatives at shortstop, Suarez has the bat. He had another hit Wednesday in Toledo’s 7-0 loss to Durham at Fifth Third Field. Suarez, 22, is hitting .393 in seven games in Toledo, which followed his .284 effort (and robust .850 OPS) in 42 games at Double A Erie.
He had a home run and a double in Tuesday’s Mud Hens victory and would seem a tempting option for a Tigers team that has been screaming for a solid, everyday answer at short since Jose Iglesias was knocked from the roster in March with stress fractures in his lower legs.
Suarez is 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds and bats right-handed. He is a more comfortable shortstop who can play other infield positions, which makes him a neat complement to Perez, 23, the Mud Hens second baseman who has spent time with the Tigers in the past three seasons and is more suited to playing second.
Perez is 6-1 and 185, and also bats right-handed. He was hitting .243 after Wednesday’s game with a soft .592 OPS, mostly due to only one home run and nine doubles in 50 games, which isn’t going to help that OPS when his on-base average is an equally unremarkable .291.
And so the call should be easy. Even Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said following Monday’s game “the other guy’s got some life in that bat,” by which he meant Suarez.
But it isn’t as easy as comparing offensive numbers when teams consider promoting a young shortstop from Triple A, as the Tigers appear to be doing now that the Andrew Romine-Danny Worth platoon pairing has been less than inspiring.
“Up there,” Parrish said, speaking of Detroit, “there are certain plays you want made all the time.
“The other guy (Suarez) might make the better play, but big-league guys want to make that routine play every day. The other one (Perez) tends to be more consistent.”
The Tigers also would prefer Suarez play regularly rather than, say, platoon with the left-handed-hitting Romine. Daily at-bats, as well as exposure to ground balls and relays, is the best means for turning a prospect shortstop into a player who can help regularly in Detroit.
And that reality, coupled with a big league team’s dependency on steady defense at shortstop, is another reason the Tigers might leave Suarez in Toledo for the bulk of this season.
Kevin Bradshaw, roving minor league infield instructor for the Tigers, was at Monday’s game, a 4-3 loss to Durham, during which Suarez handled his tasks minus any issues. But, perhaps tellingly, the best play made by a Mud Hens infielder was a deft stop by Perez on a one-hop rocket that knocked out a potentially big inning for the Bulls.
Suarez made seven errors in his 42-game rehearsal at Erie and has made a pair of miscues in his first seven games at Toledo.
“I’ve seen video of his errors,” Bradshaw said, “and it seems as if it’s routine plays. Routine plays to his right. We’ve got to figure out what’s happening there — what might be going on with his footwork.”
Suarez, like Perez, is from Venezuela, a country that represents the most consistent of all sources for Tigers organizational talent. He was signed in 2008, a year after Detroit had landed Perez’s signature.
Suarez made 26 errors in 111 games at Erie in 2013, all while making the occasional play that would end up on some late-night sports show’s highlights video.
But, again, it is consistency. And when Perez is regarded by Parrish as having an “above average arm” from shortstop, the Tigers front office is left to ponder which of the two players might help most as a team attempts to put more muscle into a position seriously weakened when Iglesias was lost.
Suarez is clearly ahead of Perez, offensively. But any comparison should note that Perez has at least played in the big leagues while Suarez hasn’t tasted the reality of pitches at Comerica Park and at other stops where baseball’s best staffs can often dissect a kid hitter.
Any evaluation also must acknowledge that Suarez is by no means helpless at short.
“Definitely, from an overall fundamental standpoint, he’s been better with his throwing,” Bradshaw said, referring to Suarez’s improvement over past seasons. “He’s quicker and more accurate. His range is good and getting better.
“It’s a matter of understanding position, which for him is key. He’s got to learn from pitch to pitch to concentrate.”
With the Romine-Worth tandem leaving a team searching for a net gain on offense and defense, the Tigers are plainly considering their stock at Toledo, especially with July’s trade deadline — and some necessary decisions on existing personnel — approaching.