In my series where I try to guess at how the Tigers will stock each position for each of their four full season teams, we've come to the final position on the infield - shortstop. I would argue shortstop is always the most important position on the infield, but developing a shortstop has even greater importance for the Tigers. They have Jhonny Peralta for the next two years, but he's a stopgap. The Tigers have essentially said they can live with his defense at shortstop because of Inge's flashy leather at third.
The position has been a problem for the Tigers since at least 2007. Many who watched Carlos Guillen's last season as a full-time shortstop would say it was a problem that season, too. Since then, we suffered through Edgar Renteria's general ineffectiveness and Adam Everett being a non-factor at the plate. We've yet to see what kind of production we'll get from Peralta's mercurial bat and limited range. I feel safe in predicting, though, Tiger fans will be hungry for one of their home-grown shortstops to win the job once he's finished.
Let's take a look at who might be working toward offering that relief.
Dixon Machado, Born: 2/22/92, Bats: R
At six feet tall and just 140 pounds, I think we can safely assume two things. First, Machado pretty much has to put on weight. Hell, he adds five percent to his body weight when he slides head-first. I think we can also assume his value is going to come from speed and defense unless he does add some weight. Even once he matures, I wouldn't be surprised if he relies on those same skills. I know in his first domestic season his defense earned some attention.
So will the Tigers give him a shot in the Midwest League? He just turned 19 and what happened to Hernan Perez's bat last season - as a teenage shortstop in the Midwest League - is fresh in their memory, I'm sure. I suspect they will. I get the feeling Machado has a lot more potential than Perez, even though this assignment would make me wonder what they're going to do with Perez.
After he hit .235/.273/.298 for the Whitecaps last season, promoting him to Lakeland almost seems sadistic. Would he slide into a reserve role? My suspicion is it's either that or he gets another shot as the Caps' starter while Machado stays in extended spring training. With Machado earning a shortstop assignment over Javier Azcona last season, I would be surprised if Azcona leap-frogged him and got the Caps job at shortstop this year.
If you want to think of other candidates for the job, Brett Anderson and Ryan Soares pulled down almost all of the time in Connecticut last year - until Machado closed out the season there. Anderson has shown no signs of being able to handle a job in Grand Rapids, though, and Soares seems like an unlikely candidate to beat out the others as a 36th round pick in last year's draft.
Gustavo Nunez. Born: 2/8/88, Bats: S
I wasn't a huge fan of Nunez's game even when he supposedly broke out in 2009. Sure, he hit .315 in a pitcher's league and stole 45 bases. He also almost never walked, didn't show a great deal of power and was thrown out stealing another 25 times. He was another one who could pick it, though, and before the 2010 season we were told to keep an eye on him because of the plays he could make in the field. He would need to be able to cover the left side of the infield by himself to make up for hitting .222/.263/.281.
That deficiency at the plate is why I have him going back to Lakeland. Who are the other choices? I suppose Hernan Perez is one. If the Tigers push Nunez up to Erie for lack of better options, could they be aggressive with Machado like they were with Francisco Martinez last year? That option popping into my head hints at how few options there really are.
Argenis Diaz, Born: 2/12/87, Bats: R
And I'm officially spent on shortstop candidates for this level. Diaz split his 2010 between Triple A (.248/.302/.285 in 304 PA) and the majors (36 PA), so I can't believe he'd be thrilled about taking the job in Erie. If he walks, though, I'm at a loss for who could fill it.
Sure, as I mentioned above, Nunez could just get pushed to Erie out of necessity. It seems that regardless of where he goes, the Tigers will be stretched to fill out wherever he doesn't. For other positions, I've lobbied for giving the promising kids a chance. But does anybody really want to see what would happen if Perez was in Lakeland and Nunez was in Erie? I think we'd see a couple more sub-.600 OPSes; that's pretty safe to say.
If it's not Diaz or Nunez, though, we get down to...I'm not even sure what. I think Brandon Douglas ended the 2010 season as Erie's shortstop out of pure necessity. Shawn Roof doesn't seem like an every day player even if he breaks camp as a member of the organization. As I grasp at straws, I hope it's easier to see why I'm going with Diaz.
Cale Iorg, Born: 9/6/85, Bats: R
Well, with the Tigers trimming down the players in major league camp Tuesday we already know Iorg has been assigned to Toledo. I don't think where a player is assigned in that situation means it's written in ink, but I also think everybody expects Iorg to be the Hens' shortstop this season. He's already done two seasons in Erie. If he's going to flail harmlessly at pitches and play the defensive wizard in the field, there's no reason he can't fill that role in Toledo. I know that sounds harsh, but it's also pretty accurate for describing his 2010 season in Erie.
He hit .211/.248/.337 with 17 walks and 139 strikeouts. That's better than eight strikeouts per walk and an alarming rate even compared to a couple season's worth of alarming rates. The Tigers are sticking it out with him, though. As you may have noticed during my desperate scrambling to fill the four levels, there aren't a lot of choices.
Besides, Iorg is still very talented. Kevin Goldstein mentioned him as one of the elite defensive shortstops in the minors (right before saying he would probably never hit). He possesses power that he's been able to flash in games from time to time and he's fast. The Tigers are rewarding him with patience to see if he'll learn to hit enough to earn a job. What he did in 2010 won't cut it no matter how good his glove is, but I don't see what harm can come from giving him another year.
With him already getting the assignment we expected, it doesn't seem necessary to talk about alternatives. However, should the Tigers need one, you have Argenis Diaz and perhaps Danny Worth. Worth being available obviously depends on how the bench situation in Detroit works out.
Looking at this group, I see a lot of hopes the Tigers tried to pin to a granite wall. But the pins and the crude drawings attached to them just floated down to the floor. We're left wondering if the talent that caused the Tigers to promise us real artistry at the position will ever show itself. I don't expect much from the top three - Perez, Nunez and Iorg. It just seems like each has dropped below a certain threshold that permits continued expectations.
That's probably not fair for somebody like Perez who got a tough draw last season. Still, I can't help but notice that in a thin crop of shortstops his name wasn't thrown around a lot as one of the top prospects. I don't expect anything more than perhaps tolerable one-dimensionality from Iorg, so we're left turning our hopes to the next wave(s). Perhaps Azcona or Machado will step into the role or maybe our hopes should lie with even younger players like David Lizardo or Erick Soto.
You know what would be nice? A Troy Tulowitzki. They should really try to draft one of those. Can we get them without the mullet, though?