No. 49: Jesus Ustariz, 1B
Ustariz is a 19 year old Venezuelan who just finished his first season in the United States in 2012. He stands 6'1" and weighs about 190-200lbs, and profiles best as a 1B. He has played some 3B and 2B, and some scouts believe he has the athleticism to play a corner outfield spot, but personally, I like him best at 1B. He will turn 20 in April, and the Tigers may be aggressive and push him to West Michigan to start 2013, but it's also completely logical to think that he spends some time in extended spring training to hone his skills, before going to Connecticut to play short season ball.
What intrigues me most about Ustariz is his bat, particularly his plate approach. He actually walked more than he struck out in Rookie ball in 2012, which, at 19 years old, is incredibly rare and very impressive. I haven't seen Ustariz in person (I will in 2013 barring injury), but I have seen some limited film on him. What stands out, aside from his approach, is that he has a very quick, compact stroke that allows the barrel of the bat to get to and through the hitting zone in a very timely manner. Right now, he has some good doubles power and is able to spray the ball to all fields. I think that some home run power will develop as he matures, but I don't see more than 15-20 HR projection there. One year from now, Ustariz could easily be in the top 30 of this list, and I'm sure some will argue that I have him too low here, but before I get overly excited about a 1B prospect with limited power potential and no standout tools, I need to see him have another successful year stateside.
Ustariz has the ceiling of an average regular for me, especially if he's able to play a position other than 1B at an average level. Normally, for a 1st baseman, you want big power production from that spot. I don't see that from Ustariz, but that's not to say that he can't develop into a solid MLB player. Ustariz isn't going to be a fast mover through the system, especially because he doesn't have a standout tool that can carry him (for a 1B prospect, this would usually be power). He will have to perform well at every level to be promoted, but I think that Ustariz will be able to do this, albeit at a slower pace than some would like. He should start 2013 in either extended spring training or West Michigan, and should be ready for the majors some time in 2016.
Jeremy Beren (@JeremyBeren) wrote a full length prospect profile on Ustariz earlier this month, which can be found here.
As always, you can follow the Detroit Tigers Prospect Report on twitter @TigersProspects and me @B_Sakowski