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Middle infielder Domingo Leyba making an impression at Class A West Michigan

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

You could hear hearts cracking at Comstock Park last month when a kid infielder with as much personal goodness as baseball skill was suddenly uprooted and shipped to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Willy Adames made every coach and teammate with whom he played during his brief months at Single A West Michigan ache when he departed, even if it was in a trade for star pitcher David Price. He was that talented, that likeable.

But there is consolation at Fifth Third Field — and elsewhere in the Tigers system. It has to do with Adames’ double-play mate, Domingo Leyba. He, too, is 18 years old. And he, also, has a chance to impress at second base where his defense and switch-hitting flair have made him one of the system’s more intriguing young prospects.

Leyba, who last summer led the Dominican Summer League with a .348 average, had four hits and a walk against Great Lakes on Friday night and was named Baseball America’s Minor League Hitting Prospect of the Day.

Leyba, who is 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, is batting .302 since moving last month from Single A Connecticut to West Michigan. Entering Sunday’s rematch with Great Lakes, Leyba’s average for his last 10 games was .324.

“Put it like this,” said Bruce Fields, the Tigers’ roving minor-league batting instructor, “during (autumn Instructional League) last year, Leyba and Adames were playing together and both were impressive.

“Leyba plays the heck out of second base. He’s a nice little line-drive hitter and he hits the ball all over from both sides because he switch-hits. He started off in Connecticut, did a nice job there for an 18-year-old (.264 in 37 games) and pretty much has picked up where he left off.”

While the numbers are not dizzying, relative to his age and to the level of pitching he sees at West Michigan, Leyba could play his way onto a list of players who have made middle infield perhaps the strongest position link in the Tigers’ farm chain.

“Friday night, he made it look easy,” said Nelson Santovenia, the Whitecaps hitting coach. “Four quality at-bats, four hits, including a double, plus a walk. Counting (Saturday) I’ve seen him play in 14 games, maybe 50 at-bats, and I love what I see.

“He’s a real raw guy, but with a lot of energy. He’s aggressive, he’s got quick hands. Right now, he’s more of a line-drive hitter, with gap power. He’ll get stronger — and better.”

Leyba was signed two years ago out of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He batted .348 in 57 games in last year’s Summer League with five home runs, eight triples, 15 doubles, and a 1.023 OPS, in part thanks to 34 walks and a .446 on-base percentage.

The walks haven’t followed him to Connecticut (eight) or to West Michigan (two). But neither Fields nor Santovenia is worried about strike-judgment that, as a teenager, is about as advanced as his power.

“He’s chased a couple of bad breaking balls with two strikes, but he isn’t bad,” said Santovenia, who, like Fields, finds Leyba’s left-side hitting stronger at this stage than he is from the right side.

Defensively, Leyba’s reviews are solid.

“He has range, to both sides, especially to the glove side,” Fields said. “He can go in the hole at second and make some very nice plays. You can see the kid’s fearless. He plays hard and he loves to play. He wants to be good.”

Santovenia agrees.

“Good range and turns a nice double play,” said Santovenia, mentioning that Whitecaps manager Andrew Graham started Leyba at shortstop during Saturday’s game against Great Lakes.

How prospects as young as Leyba stack up against Midwest League pitching and competition is, said Fields, a decent measure of talent that can be significantly above-average.

“What it tells me is the Tigers were right in their decision-making about his placement and him belonging at this level,” Fields said of Leyba’s teenage transition at West Michigan. “It’s a good league, with some good arms in that league. When you have a young kid who performs at that level, it tells you a club is signing the right guys and living up to expectation. You just know that you made a good call.”