This is the fifth post of a series in which I look at the Tigers' prospects at each position. To this point, I've covered the catchers, first basemen, second basemen and third basemen. (That's right. I shun the serial comma.) The players listed are not a comprehensive list of what the Tigers have available at each position, but they are the guys who were considered starters last season or are otherwise notable.
Having covered the rest of the infield, we come to the shortstops. In fact, my Christmas gift to our readers here at Bless You Boys is to post the shortstop piece at a time when most of you will be too busy to stop and read a baseball post. To those of you who do have the time and inclination to read this, brace yourself. It was an ugly season to be a Tiger shortstop prospect.
The only good news is the putrid performances are reportedly not indicative of the talent some of these guys bring on to the field. The Tigers seem happy with that aspect of some of these players' games. It's just a matter of somebody putting performance to the talent. Their inability to do that to this point is cause for what I would consider reasonable skepticism.Toledo
Danny Worth, .287/.333/.354, 177 PA, 10 BB, 29 K; I'm including Worth with Toledo because he spent more time there than in Detroit. I'm including him with the shortstops because when you add in Detroit, he played short more than any other position. Not only that, I consider it his natural position. That's good news for him because he doesn't have the stick to entertain ideas of a big league future at any other position. His .287 batting average was a big rebound from a nightmare 2009, but he's not drawing walks in Triple A and he has very little power. His future lies in his glove and the ability to find holes in the infield so he can keep his average above .275 or so. 2011 Outlook: He'll probably spend most of the season bouncing around the Toledo infield and hoping for an opportunity to hold down a utility role for the Tigers.
Cale Iorg, .211/.248/.337, 454 PA, 17 BB, 139 K; Those numbers in a word are terrifying. There is a bit of evidence of power potential, but when you're striking out three out of ten trips to the plate you had better bring an isolated power above .126. That's especially true when you walk less than once a week. Iorg is obviously talented. The Tigers like his potential and everybody likes his defense at short. For any of that to matter, though, he's going to have to develop something like a clue of whether pitches are balls or strikes. I think some of the talent will shine through if that ever happens. I'd like to think his time in the Arizona Fall League (.304/.381/.500) was evidence of that development, but those numbers are due almost entirely to him having a hot streak (13 for 22 in his last six games) the last couple weeks of that short season. It's difficult to give a couple good weeks more weight than 1500 minor league plate appearances. 2011 Outlook: It's hard to imagine a third season in Erie, so I'll look for him as the everyday shortstop in Toledo. He'll be fighting to stay on the 40-man, so this is a huge season for him.
Gustavo Nunez, .222/.263/.281, 572 PA, 21 BB, 93 K; If Iorg's 2010 season was a stick in the front office's eye, Nunez's was another poke except this time the stick was lit on fire. Nunez did show improved judgment on the basepaths, nabbing 33 bases in just 41 tries, but there wasn't a whole lot else to like about his efforts in Lakeland. Again, I'm sure his acrobatic defense is good for some thrills but as good as it may be, I seriously doubt he can Mark Belanger his way to the majors with a sub-.600 OPS. His .315 batting average at West Michigan in 2009 was built on legging out singles, but he didn't draw a lot of walks or hit for much power. In Lakeland, the BABIP dropped to .266 and look what happened. I suspect his talent level is somewhere between the two but to be honest, I'm skeptical as to whether the skillset he showed in either season will be good enough to cut it as a big leaguer. 2011 Outlook: A second turn in Lakeland might not be out of the question if the Tigers let Ciriaco play shortstop for the SeaWolves. It's probably where he belongs, regardless.
Hernan Perez, .235/.273/.298, 507 PA, 25 BB, 98 BB; If you seek solace here, you will need to keep searching. Perez was given the challenging assignment of the Midwest League despite being just 19 last season. The anticipation of him breaking out as a prospect was exciting, but he did not appear to be up to the challenge at the plate. He showed very little power and walked less than five percent of the time. Something seemed to be a bit off in the field as well, considering he made 35 errors. The Tigers must see him as a nice talent to put him in the MWL at that age, but he would seem to fall back toward the back of the pack among his shortstop brethren. He lacks Iorg's potential and also hasn't had a good season to hang his hat on. The good thing for him is he has about three years to develop compared to either of those two. 2011 Outlook: Like Nunez, it wouldn't be surprising if he were in a holding pattern for 2011 and returned to the Whitecaps. The question is whether he'll lose even that job to Dixon Machado.
Brett Anderson, .199/.268/.291, 168 PA, 11 BB, 42 K; After a couple seasons as a third baseman in the GCL, Anderson made the shift over to shortstop this season. Even though Anderson was just 19 in his third season as a pro, it's telling that the numbers shown were the best of his young career. 2011 Outlook: I have to imagine that Anderson has come to the point where he's going to be fighting to stay in the system. If he clears that hurdle, I'd expect him to start the season in extended spring training.
Ryan Soares, .220/.248/.283, 134 PA, 5 BB, 23 K; Soares was the Tigers' 36th round pick in the 2010 draft and turned 23 shortly after the short season league started. That's a resume that takes some effort to overcome. 2011 Outlook: Like Anderson, I'm sure Soares will be fighting to make it past cuts once spring training wraps up. If he makes it, he'll likely be a utility fill-in at the lower levels.
Dixon Machado, .261/.315/.321, 183 PA, 14 BB, 27 K; Machado made the trip to the States at 18 and after just one season in the VSL. He's another defensive whiz, but I like that he was able to draw some walks in addition to posting an acceptable average. One thing that wasn't part of his game was power, which is to be expected from a kid who who weighs just 140 pounds despite being six feet tall. If he doesn't fill out and bring some power with some extra pounds, it appears he'll try to compensate with speed. He legged out three triples in his time with the GCL squad and in just 43 games, stole 12 bases in 15 tries. 2011 Outlook: Machado might have to wait until the short season squads start again, but I'd be surprised if he didn't get a shot in the Midwest League or the Florida State League at some point in the season.
I made no secret of the fact that the 2010 was a disaster for this position. Machado and Worth took steps forward, but the guys in the other levels make it a pretty large setback for the group as a whole. As I said above, there is supposed to be a lot of talent here. Talent or not, though, it's difficult for guys to be successful when they're striking out four or eight times more often than they walk.
Let's hope that's not a pitfall Machado finds himself in as he moves up through the system. As for the guys who struggled, I wouldn't be shocked if as a group, they produced a player or two who broke through and saved his prospect status. Then again, I also wouldn't bet a lot on the long-term success of any of them as individuals. The way things stand heading into the 2011 season, I'd be surprised if the Tigers' 2013 starting shortstop is listed above.