Erie, Pa. – Study the numbers and there, in Isaac Paredes, you see something rare among Tigers farmhands.
An authentic hitter.
He is a player who could bring to Detroit a passel of pluses the Tigers need for a lineup and roster that today, in the bushes, features lots of arms and too few mashers.
Paredes is 20 years old. Last week he wrapped up a season at Double-A during which he batted .336 in August and .321 during the Erie SeaWolves’ final 50 games.
He had a season on-base average of .368. and a second-half OPS of .866.
And still there is a problem.
The Tigers aren’t wild about him playing the position he prefers to play, third base.
Paredes was born into professional ball as a shortstop. The Tigers are so firm on him not losing his moorings there that they ordered Erie manager Mike Rabelo in 2019 to have Paredes play two games a week at short.
The only reason he wasn’t scheduled there regularly is tied to an old Paredes problem.
He is at most 5-foot-11 and weighs 225 pounds. And that means his defensive longitude and latitude aren’t up to code for potential big-league life at short.
“He’s a good third baseman, with good range, and a quick first step, and he has enough arm,” said Dave Littlefield, the Tigers’ vice president of player development. “But with that kind of bat you’re intrigued with the idea of him being a shortstop.
“That’s an unusual talent — a shortstop who can hit,” Littlefield said.
“The bat’s going to be sufficient for him to be a regular, but when you’re profiling all those different positions, you’d love to have a bat like his at one of those up-the-middle positions. There aren’t many of those guys.”
Advanced hitting skills
Paredes today qualifies as the only Erie regular from 2019 who is all but sure to play in the big leagues. The SeaWolves were keen on pitching during their 2019 season, which ended on Labor Day, with them just missing a playoff ticket. They won 41 of 57 games during one summer stretch on the strength of their arms, not their bats.
Five months from 21, Paredes is so advanced relative to age and level that the Tigers will allow him time next year at Triple-A before shipping him to Detroit.
But that day is drawing near two years after he came to the Tigers as potentially a handsome payoff from the Cubs. It was the Cubs who had mixed him within a trade package that in July 2017 brought Justin Wilson and Alex Avila to Chicago.
Note the way in which Paredes’ timeline has since moved. A year ago, as a 19-year-old he was zoomed from Single-A Lakeland to Erie and in 39 games at Double-A batted .321 with an .864 OPS. He had a cooler spring to begin 2019, then caught fire at mid-year, smacking 12 of his 13 home runs from June through August, five of them coming in his final 27 games.
He also had for the year nearly as many walks (57) as strikeouts (61). This from a man, born and raised in Hermosillo, Mexico, who lives for at-bats.
“He doesn’t chase (bad pitches) and he doesn’t miss when it’s in the zone,” said Rabelo, the one-time Tigers catcher and Miguel Cabrera trade chip who skippered Erie in 2019.
“He’s got an advanced approach at the plate.”
Defensively, Rabelo is with Littlefield. Yes, Paredes can play third base. But if he could drop 30 or more pounds and boost his range, Paredes has the stuff to play shortstop more than twice a week.
“He makes the routine play,” Rabelo said. “If the ball’s hit at him, he’s (the batter’s) out.”
Paredes’ personal style, as Rabelo notes, is that of “a very quiet guy — a cool customer.”
For an interview late last month, Paredes and a writer got an assist from Erie’s bullpen coach, Santiago Garrido, a one-time Tigers farm reliever who has ease in both Spanish and English.
Paredes stood in a clubhouse corner and spoke tidily about his 2019 season — all of it, including that rare knack for judging strikes and balls with a gemologist’s eye.
He says it stems from time spent in the winter Mexican League when he played for Yaquis de Obregon and a manager, Jose Luis Sanibel, who told him as a teen that being picky would help get him to the big leagues.
Prefers third base
Of course, all players get similar counsel. Not everyone has the eye, or the hand-eye mastery, to be as picky with pitches and to smack the ones that are worth a swing.
“Still a long way to go,” said Paredes, by way of Garrido’s help. “Definitely, my two-stroke approach got better this year. I started going later in the year more for the right-center field gap. And I definitely had a better second half.
“I think the Futures Game gave me some confidence.”
The Futures Game, played on Sunday before the big-league All-Star Game in July, is a grand-stage event for baseball’s best farm talent.
Late in the July 7 game, Paredes lashed one of those right-center doubles and nearly scored the winning run.
“I just had to stop second-guessing myself,” he said, speaking of how a 20-year-old’s psyche most changed during what might have been a breakout stretch in 2019.
As for position, Paredes and the Tigers aren’t yet aligned. Ask him where he prefers to play and the response is automatic.
“Third base,” Paredes says.
But he understands why he was moved to third. And he doesn’t disagree that his body, which is thick as opposed to flabby, is an issue.
“Since I got here, I’ve been told to get into better shape,” Paredes said. “I’ve used that to motivate rather than to feel bad.
“But, yes, definitely, I need to watch what I eat.”
He says he does indeed weigh 225 and that in his view an ideal weight would be 210.
That’s still more than the Tigers believe is flesh Paredes could ever carry at short.
And so there’s a tussle here that will continue unless Paredes opts more for fish, fruits, and vegetables and less for menus flush with carbs.
Whether that can, or will, happen is a question that will follow Paredes into the southwest desert a month from now when he begins work in the Arizona Fall League.
The AFL is another big-league showcase for prime-time farm talent that teams hope will toughen their finest young prodigies. Paredes, after a year of Double-A ball, could continue with his Erie ways. Nothing he does deftly with a bat during a month in Arizona will necessarily surprise the Tigers.
“It’s easy to forget that he won’t turn 21 until February,” Littlefield said. “Here he has double-digit home runs for the year, and not a lot of 20-year-olds are doing that at Double-A.
“He’s a ballplayer. He’s got some of that hitting gene, and we think it’s only going to get better.
“We need some bats,” Littlefield said, speaking of an organization’s obvious hole. “This is someone we have a close eye on.”
Freelance writer Lynn Henning is a former Detroit News sports reporter.