No. 9: Eugenio Suarez, SS
I've been getting a ton of questions on twitter and through the mailbag regarding Suarez. "Will he be ready in 2014?" "How good is he?" "Will he be an everyday SS?" "Where will he be on the countdown?" Well, here he is at No. 9, and I hope this post will answer any questions you guys may have. Moving on: Suarez was signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela, and made his professional debut with the Tigers' Venezuelan Summer League (VSL) team during the 2009 season. He spent both 2009 and 2010 playing in the VSL, and showed very nice growth and development across those seasons. The Tigers brought him stateside as a 19 year old in 2011, where he split time between the rookie league GCL Tigers and Class A Short Season-Connecticut. He spent the majority of the season with Conn., where he posted solid numbers, especially as a 19 year old. Overall in 2011, he posted a .802 OPS across 279 plate appearances, with 30 XBH, 21 BB (7.5%), 47 K (17%), and 11 stolen bases. The Tigers promoted him to Class A-West Michigan for the 2012 season, where his prospect stock took off. Playing for the first time in a full-season league, Suarez batted over .300 for the majority of the season before tailing off towards the end, finishing at .288/.380/.409/.789 in 604 plate appearances. Most impressive here is obviously the high OBP, which was aided by a very nice 10.8 BB%. He did strikeout 116 times, good for a 19.2 K%, but also showed his power potential by smashing 34 doubles, 5 triples, and 6 HR's to go along with 21 stolen bases. On the whole, 2012 was an excellent season for Suarez, and while everyone would obviously like the strikeout numbers to go down, he showed enough that the Tigers are considering pushing him all the way to Class Double A-Erie in 2013.
Suarez is easily the most "complete" SS prospect that's even relatively close to the major leagues in the Tigers system. I say "complete" because someone like Dixon Machado is superior with the glove, but lacks the hitting profile that Suarez possesses; and someone like Harold Castro projects to be a better hitter, but does not profile as a SS, nor does he have the glove Suarez has. As far as tools go, Suarez profiles as an above-average to plus defender at SS, showing the "class Venezuelan infielder" tools that prospect hounds have come to notice. He has very good hands, good range to both sides, and has solid footwork. He has an above-average to plus arm that is capable of making all the throws from the SS position as well. He doesn't "wow" you defensively in the same way that Dixon Machado would, and his throws aren't full-on missiles (like Machado's are), but he's a very good defender nonetheless. He has solid speed, but not plus, and you certainly would never call him a "burner". He has good instincts on the base paths, which, when combined with his speed, should allow him to be a pesky baserunner in the future, projecting for 12-16 steals annually. He has an aggressive approach at the plate, which gets him into trouble at times, but he's a good enough natural hitter to where he has been able to get away with it so far. He has a simple line drive stroke, gets the bat through the hitting zone quickly, and with surprising power. He has some pitch recognition issues, but he's gotten better at that as he's progressed through the system, and the hope is that he will continue to improve. He has decent plate discipline, as evidenced by his high walk rate, but it could still use some refining, as he does have a tendency to chase pitches out of the zone. Like I said above, he has more power than you would expect from someone with his relatively skinny frame, which is a product of the good bat speed he generates through the zone. He hit 34 doubles at Class A-West Michigan in 2012, and is capable of lacing balls into the gaps all over the field. He'll never hit a ton of home runs, but he has the potential to hit around 10 HR's at the major league level, with plenty of doubles. Scouts are split in regards to his bat. Some feel that he will not be able to hit enough to play everyday, and therefore profiles as a utility guy in the majors. He does have the ability to play multiple positions, including SS and 2B, but has also played some OF in the past (although, obviously, he's being developed as a SS). Other scouts believe in his bat, and if he can hit at an average level, he projects as a quality everyday SS in the major leagues, thanks to his plus glove.
No. Suarez will not be ready to take over SS full time by 2014 (barring some developmental miracle). However, while I'm not completely sold on his bat quite yet, I'm beginning to believe in his projection as the Tigers SS of the future. It's beginning to look like the Tigers are going to skip him past Class A Advanced-Lakeland, and send him all the way to Double-A in 2013, so he will get a true test if that's the case. If all goes well, and that's a big if, I could see him receiving a call up late in 2014, with the chance to challenge for the starting SS job in Spring Training 2015.