Tigers get first up-close looks at farm’s fresh faces
That nearly month-long baseball seminar known as Instructional League broke up Saturday at the Tigers’ complex in Lakeland, Fla., where farm-fresh players the Tigers got in July and August deals showed their skills and, at times, sore spots.
The Tigers got 10 players in four trades for Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila.
Jeimer Candelario, one of the hot shots the Tigers grabbed from the Cubs in the Wilson-Avila trade, played with the Tigers through September and was excused from TigerTown’s camp, which is a concentrated teaching session reserved for 60 of the club’s best prospects.
Another blue-chipper from the Cubs trade, shortstop Isaac Paredes, was freed to be with his wife in Mexico as she prepared to give birth.
Grayson Long, the first half of the Tigers’ return in August’s swap involving Justin Upton, had worked sufficient innings during the regular season and headed home once Double-A Erie finished business.
Seven others were on hand: Daz Cameron, Franklin Perez, Jake Rogers, Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, Jose King and Elvin Rodriguez, who was the player to be named later in the Angels trade involving Upton.
Dave Littlefield, the Tigers vice president for player development, took notes during the four-week camp, as did the team’s minor-league staff. Tigers general manager Al Avila and the Tigers’ front office likewise were in Lakeland during much of the camp’s final two weeks that followed the regular season’s wrap-up.
Littlefield’s thoughts on some of the players brought aboard to partially restock what had been more of a sand-and-rocks Tigers farm landscape:
■ Cameron, 20, center field: He was a first-round pick (37th overall) in 2015 and was one of the three showpiece prospects the Tigers got from the Astros in the Verlander deal.
Cameron is 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, bats right-handed, and had a huge second half at Single-A Quad Cities when he hit .332, with eight home runs, a .406 on-base percentage, and .552 slugging mark, for a two-month OPS of .958.
“One of the more exciting guys we have, position-wise,” said Littlefield, who needn’t have mentioned that the Tigers have a notoriously small warehouse there.
“He really performed well during camp.
“Maybe it was the fact we got him late and could see him for a longer stretch. But he’s got some pop with that bat. He can run, he’s aggressive, smart, with a strong body — just a lot of things to like there.”
Cameron, of course, carries big-league DNA. His dad, Mike, played 17 big-league seasons, from 1995-2011.
“He’s serious about his craft, works hard, and appears to be an achiever,” Littlefield said. “He showed off his bat very well during Instructional League — both manipulating the barrel to the ball and showing some pop.”
■ Lugo, 22, second base: Lugo is perhaps next in line to the second-base throne after Ian Kinsler departs. He should find his way to Detroit next season.
“A real interesting guy,” Littlefield said of a right-handed swinger who is 6-0, 190. “When he squares it up, he’s just one of those guys where the ball comes off the bat a little more rapidly than others.
“One of the things noticed when we got him is that he had kind of a lower set-up with his hands. In general, some of our hitting people and scouts thought an adjustment to get him a little higher and on time more would help. He’s done a nice job and shown an even more-promising bat.”
Defensively, there are no issues.
“He has a real good arm,” said Littlefield, “and has handled second base well.”
■ Rogers, 22, catcher: Rogers was supposed to have been playing this month in the Arizona Fall League. But roster quotas have, at least temporarily, kept him from the AFL.
The Tigers instead got an extended peek at Rogers in Lakeland and saw even more closely why scouts insisted he be part of the Verlander parcel.
“Confident, aggressive player,” Littlefield said of a third-round pick by the Astros, from Tulane, in 2016. “Good body, above-average arm. Works well with pitchers, a smart guy —and he can drive the ball. He takes a real aggressive hack.
“He’s just got that look of a ballplayer.”
■ Alcantara, 21, shortstop: Alcantara was among the freight shipped to Detroit in July’s trade of Martinez.
Along with Lugo, Alcantara has a challenge common to Latin players, who haven’t always been exposed to strength-and-conditioning equipment or to regimens more common with United States athletes.
He is only 5-9, 168, and is sticking for a few weeks at Tigertown in a bid to add muscle and work more protein into his diet.
“He’s energetic and athletic, a live-body shortstop,” said Littlefield, mentioning Alan Trammell, the Tigers star from yesteryear who works as a special assistant to Al Avila, was particularly impressed with Alcantara’s defense.
“We’ve just got to get him stronger,” Littlefield said. “He had a real good winter last year with Licey, which is one of the top teams in the Dominican Winter League, “and we’re pretty excited about seeing a young guy play at that level.”
Alcantara will head for the Dominican Republic and a reunion with Tigres del Licey once his Lakeland muscle marathon has wrapped up.
■ King, 18, shortstop: On a scout’s 20-to-80 scale, King is known has having 70 speed.
In other words, he’s a cheetah.
“And he’s just a baby, physically, but a real exciting kid,” Littlefield said of this left-handed hitter listed at 6-0, 160. “Great enthusiasm and energy, very engaged, a real smart player.”
King showed a better bat than was initially forecasted.
In 28 games with the Tigers’ Gulf Coast League team, he batted .321, with a .356 on-base percentage.
“Like so many, he just needs strength and some body mass,” Littlefield said.
“But a real overall interesting guy with all the skills.”
■ Long, 23, right-handed starter: Although he wasn’t on the Instructional League roster, Long was a third-round pick (Texas A&M) by the Angels in 2015 and had firm numbers with Double-A Mobile ahead of his Aug. 31 trade to the Tigers: 2.52 ERA in 23 starts, 1.13 WHIP, .226 opposing batting average. He had a lone start for Double A Erie during the season’s final weekend and gave up eight hits and six runs in four innings.
“We saw him at the very end, and it was clear he was kind of worn out from the whole season,” Littlefield said. “But in the meetings with scouts who had seen him, Bruce Tanner and Scott Bream, the report is we have a big, strong, durable guy — kind of an innings-eater.
“He’s a four-pitch guy who throws strikes. I know scouts saw a better fastball than we did at the end of the year, but he’s a tall kid (6-5) with a good angle on the ball.”
■ Rodriguez, 19, right-handed starter: The Tigers liked Rodriguez’s numbers from 2017, particularly his 11 starts in the Angels’ rookie league: 2.50 ERA, 1.04 WHIP.
“He’s tall, lanky, with an average to a tick-above-average fastball,” Littlefield said. “Has a lot of baseball awareness. Just a young right-hander with a good arm.
“At his age, he’s a nice arm to have at the lower end of A-ball as we keep building depth.”
He is 6-3, 160.
■ Paredes, 18, shortstop: Although he was granted paternity leave from Instructional Camp, the Tigers had known enough, and seen enough, about Paredes to appreciate why he was central to the Cubs trade.
He has a chance to be exceptional.
“An athletic guy with something of an advanced bat,” Littlefield said of a teenager who is 5-11, 175, and who bats right-handed. “Like a lot of young guys, he’s got to tighten some things up, but the ball comes off that bat barrel pretty well, particularly for an 18-year-old.”
It isn’t clear that Parades will stick at shortstop. It’s more likely he’ll be shifting to third base, all because of his body.
“Infield prospects come in all sizes and packages,” said Littlefield, “but right now, he’s middle infield. We’ll work on shaping his body. Getting him better-quality food, better choices at the dinner table.
“And more time in the weight room.”
Paredes will play winter ball in the Mexican League for his hometown Hermosillo team.