A player transitioning to a different defensive home is often one that spends an uncomfortable season in limbo. Dawel Lugo, the Detroit Tigers’ newly minted second baseman, was expected to take an extra year to adjust to playing at the keystone after arriving in last summer’s trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. But the former shortstop-turned-third-baseman isn't new to having a new position, and he’s taking this latest adjustment in stride. Scouting reports have praised his hands and footwork at the position, and he should have plenty enough arm to handle throws from deep up the middle.
Meanwhile, Lugo’s bat is seemingly unaffected by how things have shaken out in the Tigers’ system. He has been one of the hottest hitters on the farm since the season began, and arguably hotter than many on the big league club as well. He put together a nice little nine-game hit streak to begin the season before finally going hitless against the Durham Bulls on Monday (although he still drove in a run). His strikeout rate has remained very low — he’s at 12.7 percent through 12 games — and he’s hitting for a solid .321 average, as advertised. Despite not yet hitting a home run, wRC+ grades Lugo’s offense as league average.
There are some warning signs, to be sure. Lugo has only walked once in 55 plate appearances, an early disappointment after he upped his walk rate slightly in 2017. He also hasn’t hit for power — just three of his 14 hits have gone for extra bases, and all were doubles. Some of that may get better as the weather warms up, but we would like to see more before he’s established as the full-time second baseman in the majors.
As for his defense? Well...
Double-A Erie SeaWolves: RHP Sandy Baez
Sandy Baez has been as advertised through his first three starts: electric at times and thoroughly frustrating at others. Making the jump from High-A to Double-A is a challenging move, and this fireballer’s season debut was as impressive as they come. Though he didn't last past the fifth inning — a pitch count decision, no doubt — Baez whiffed 10 batters over that span while only losing one to a walk and three others to hits.
The 2018 season will be Baez’s opportunity to prove that he can stick a starter. As with any hard-throwing pitcher with questions about his delivery and command, there are people who believe that he will need to move to a relief role soon. We at Bless You Boys have openly wondered whether that would happen this season, or at least in another year or two as the team gets closer to contention. His double-plus fastball would play well in short bursts, and the command issues wouldn’t be quite so alarming.
A three-time alum of Carson Cistulli’s Fringe Five series, Baez is somewhat of a statistical darling. He has an absurd 29.7 percent K-BB% this season; better yet, he was pushing close to 20 percent both in High-A and Double-A last year. His strikeout rate finally took a much-needed step forward, and might make another jump this year. This gif appeared with Baez’s most recent inclusion on Cistulli’s list on April 17. Watch as he strikes out a batter from the Phillies Double-A club on two breaking balls and a high heater.
Rotation? Bullpen? That kind of sequencing and location will play anywhere.
High-A Flying Tigers: RHP Alex Faedo
I’m not sure there are many who are more excited than I am to see Alex Faedo pitch professionally in Detroit’s organization. I wrote about him back in January, saying that the Tigers be wise to put him on the fast track to the majors. I also raved about his slider and pitchability in March. Early returns on the former Flordia Gator have been weak, though, and it’s almost impossible to ignore the red flags he has displayed in his first three starts.
The first sign of trouble is a noticeable decrease in velocity. While Faedo was never a typical strong-armed Tigers prospect, he reliably pitched in the low 90s and topped out at 95-96 miles per hour while in college. His first few showings in professional ball, however, have been a very different story. Faedo has been sitting around 89-90 mph with less-than-ideal movement on his fastball in the early going. That’s approaching touch-and-feel lefty territory, but Faedo is neither a touch-and-feel pitcher, nor is he a lefty. He can’t blame the weather either, unlike many of his colleagues in cold-weather climates.
Another potential problem that is starting to reveal itself is a lack of strikeouts. During both his sophomore and junior campaigns, Faedo whiffed upwards of 11 batters per nine innings. High-A hitters are only marginally better than SEC competition, but he has only managed to ring up 15 batters in 16 innings. Those numbers figure to 8.28 strikeouts per nine innings, a steep decline from his previous benchmark. That’s not even considering the fact that Faedo has already surrendered a trio of home runs, and has generally looked a little off in his pro debut.
Here’s to hoping that this unexciting version of Feado gives way to the dynamic ballplayer the Tigers drafted — and soon. If a return to dominance is in the wings, Tigers fans are due for a treat.
Low-A West Michigan Whitecaps: RHP Elvin Rodriguez
The Whitecaps can be difficult to follow at times during the early part of the season. Their Opening Day roster primarily consists of players who were in short-season ball the year prior, many of whom were recently drafted that summer. It’s easy to lose track of players between draft day and their brief pro debuts, not to mention the six months off they get before they show up in full-season pro ball.
Elvin Rodriguez wasn’t part of that group. The young righthander came over from the Los Angeles Angels in last September’s Justin Upton trade, but wasn’t named by the Tigers until September 15, after the end of the minor league season. Rodriguez was billed as a slim teenager with solid mechanics who might add velocity as he matures, and the latest reports on him suggest he was working into the lower 90s as the 2017 season went on.
Suffice to say, he’s the Whitecaps pitcher you should be watching this season. He coughed up a few runs in his first start, but struck out five hitters in 4 1⁄3 innings. He was slightly better on Thursday — his second start of the year thanks to this ridiculous weather — and fanned another five hitters in 5 2⁄3 frames to earn his first win of the year. That’s 10 punchouts in 10 innings for those counting at home, an impressive rate for anyone in the Midwest League, let alone a 20-year-old still growing into his lanky frame.