It’s not a secret that the Detroit Tigers have had poor infield defense this season. The acquisition of Prince Fielder due to catastrophic off-season events involving an ACL and Victor Martinez precipitated a position switch for in-house slugger Miguel Cabrera, and while he hasn’t been the trainwreck at third base that many predicted, no one is going to confuse Cabrera with Brooks Robinson any time soon. Add to that the below-average defense of Fielder at first, the limited range of Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, and the revolving door at second base and the infield at Comerica Park has more holes than Augusta National. But help may be on the way. Eugenio Suarez, a slick-fielding shortstop at Low A West Michigan, is having a breakout season, giving Tigers fans hope that in the not-too-distant future they will have a plus defender anchoring their infield.
A native of Venezuela, the 21-year-old Suarez is smooth if raw defensively, displaying a good range and a strong and quick throwing arm, but it is his success with the bat that has been turning heads in the organization. Signed in 2008, Suarez played two seasons in the Venezuelan summer league before coming stateside in 2011. The Tigers started him in the Gulf Coast League, where he proved he belonged by slashing .341/.408/.636 in 12 games and swiftly getting promoted to the short season NY-Penn League. There Suarez had a reality check, hitting .250 in 58 games, though he displayed surprising power (five home runs, .176 ISO) and a respectable batting eye.
In 2012 Suarez got promoted to full-season West Michigan and has made the most of his opportunity. After a 3-4 night yesterday with two doubles and a triple, Suarez is hitting .316 with 36 RBIs and 13 steals in 75 games. His power has dipped–only has three homers–but Suarez has compensated by improving his batting eye, raising his walk rate from 7.9 to 11.5 percent. Suarez was recently honored for his excellent half-season by being named a Midwest League All-Star. If he continues to perform at his current level, a promotion to High-A Lakeland is not out of the question, particularly given the Tigers’ penchant for rushing promising prospects and the lack of better options at his position.
Suarez will almost surely not taste the Major Leagues this year, and he is young enough and low enough in the system that a lot can still go wrong. There are countless examples of former exciting prospects who couldn’t adjust to the higher levels of the minor leagues. There have been reports that Suarez has some difficulty hitting breaking balls, a problem he will need to address if he is to continue progressing through the system. He also strikes out more often than a non-power hitter should–about 19%–and needs to tone down his aggressive approach.
Eugenio Suarez has already exceeded most expectations and his professional numbers thus far depict a player with major league ability. Equally as importantly, Suarez’s improved walk rate in 2012 shows that he is capable of making adjustments. If Suarez continues to refine his approach offensively and defensively and performs well at the next level he may find himself at Comerica Park sooner rather than later.
For more on Suarez and the Tigers, check out Motor City Bengals