Aside from large, hard-throwing pitchers from the SEC, the Tigers are also known for a gluttony of lower-upside players hailing from Venezuela, most of them middle infielders. Hernan Perez, the #12 prospect on our countdown, does not project to be more than a utility infielder. Harold Castro is a second baseman who was added to the poll today. Former Tigers shortstop Eugenio Suarez was of a similar mold, though he certainly looked the part of a big league regular for a few weeks (if not longer).
Javier Betancourt is another one of these players. A second baseman who appears to be much shorter than he is listed -- many scouts think he's at least two inches shorter than the media guide suggests -- Betancourt is a player who doesn't have a lot of tools. He's a decent runner and fielder, but has little power to supplement his great contact skills. He has outperformed his competition early in his career thanks to some sharp instincts, but will be tested as he gets into the upper minors.
Betancourt is a 19 year old Venezuelan infielder that signed with the Tigers as an amateur free agent in 2011. He hit .333/.391/.455 in a brief professional debut in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2012, then replicated his .333 average with a .379 on-base percentage in the Gulf Coast League in 2013. The Tigers promoted him aggressively, pushing him to the Midwest League in 2014. While Betancourt did not set the league ablaze like teammate Willy Adames, he hit a respectable .269/.307/.344.
The .269 batting average was made even more impressive by his young age; at 19 years old, he was one of the youngest players in the league. He hit a wall in August, batting just .190 after August 1st. Betancourt was hitting .290 with a .324 on-base percentage through July 31st. He collected 27 extra base hits (including six home runs) in 612 plate appearances. While he spent most of the season at second base, he showed a bit of versatility by starting 18 games at shortstop after Adames was traded.
Betancourt is the nephew of former New York Mets infielder Edgardo Alfonzo. As such, his best "tool" may be his brain. He is universally praised for having a high baseball IQ and advanced approach to the game for a teenager. Part of this approach involves a good command of the strike zone. Betancourt did not walk much in 2014, but reports indicate that this was due to his plate approach, not a lack of discipline. He is an excellent bat-to-ball hitter, and struck out in just 13.2 percent of plate appearances last season despite going up against a league full of advanced college pitchers and flamethrowing high schoolers who made it through short season ball.
Jordan ranked Betancourt as the 18th prospect in the Tigers organization last season. Like everyone else, he cited Betancourt's bloodlines and praised his mental approach. He also identified Betancourt's hit tool as a big positive, and his 2014 numbers suggest more of the same.
At the plate, Betancourt has an advanced approach, and knows the strike zone well, especially for an 18 year old. His crouched stance gives pitchers a small zone to work with. He does not try to do too much, as he knows his strengths and weaknesses. Betancourt is a line drive hitter with good swing plane. He keeps the barrel in the hitting zone for a long time, and features solid barrel control and accuracy. His bat-to-ball is solid, as is the hand-eye coordination, and for a kid who would be a freshman in college this upcoming year, the hit tool is certainly advanced.
MLB.com, who has Betancounrt ranked as their #17 Tigers prospect, echoed the sentiments while providing a potential glimpse into the future.
Betancourt has a knack for making consistent hard contact, though his swing is geared more to line drives than power. One of the better pure bats in the Tigers system, he could be a future .275 hitter with 10-12 homers per year. He does a good job of making contact, though he draws walks infrequently as well.
Betancourt's glove was also mentioned, with MLB prospect analysts considering it "more reliable than flashy."
Betancourt biggest knock is that he does not have much power. He collected just 27 extra base hits in 612 plate appearances last season. He has just 33 doubles in nearly 1,000 career plate appearances against the worst pitching he will ever face. Part of this is his size, and it is difficult to project how much he will grow as he gets older. Still 19 years old, Betancourt could potential add a couple of inches and several pounds to his frame. Regardless, he will probably still end up with fringe-average in-game power, with far more doubles than home runs.
While Betancourt's defensive instincts and positioning have been universally praised -- his uncle really seems to have rubbed off on him -- he does not appear to have the physical athleticism to play shortstop at the big league level, which saps some of his value. Jordan echoed these sentiments last year, but was complimentary of what Betancourt could do at the keystone.
In the field, Betancourt is currently playing shortstop. I would wager that he ends up at second base in the near future. I don't believe he has the lateral quickness or range to stay at the most important position on the diamond. That limits his value just a bit, but second basemen who can hit for average are quite valuable. His arm is adequate, and his baseball smarts should help him with qualifying runners and positioning. He has the tools to be a solid average to slightly above second baseman.
Betancourt's average athleticism also limits his raw speed. While he is a smart baserunner who takes the extra base and doesn't run into outs, he is not the type of burner that can steal 20 or more bases in a season. He swiped nine bases for the Whitecaps last season, a decent total. However, a faster baserunner would have preyed on fringy catchers and pitchers more concerned with getting the ball to home plate. A single-digit stolen base total in the low minors usually does not turn into double digits at higher levels.
Video via Jordan Gorosh and MLB Farm
Projected team: Lakeland Flying Tigers
Unless the Tigers saw something we missed during Betancourt's August swoon, expect him to be promoted to the Florida State League in 2015. Betancourt is not a high ceiling prospect, as his upside is limited by a lack of physical tools and he is still a long way away from the majors. He is purely a second baseman who will rely on his superior baseball IQ to move through the ranks. He could add some value if he finds a way to add some power to his offensive game, but his size could be a hindrance. This doesn't mean he can't make it as a starter, it will just be a bit more difficult. Betancourt will need to squeeze out every ounce of talent he has to eventually cut it at the big league level.
New addition: Harold Castro, second baseman
A near-clone of Betancourt, Castro's playing time has been lacking over the past few years. While he is believed to have more upside than some of his peers, Castro had a career-high 315 plate appearances between Single-A West Michigan and Advanced-A Lakeland last season. Like Betancourt, Castro has shown a knack for putting the bat on the ball. He hit .286 last season but only walked 14 times, resulting in a .327 on-base percentage. With more tools than some of the other infield prospects in the system, Castro could shoot up the rankings if he has a strong season in 2015.