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Tigers Prospect Notebook: Beware of Sergio Alcantara’s hot start

Alcantara has hit well so far, but his underlying numbers suggest it might not continue.

Detroit Tigers Photo Day Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If you were to just look at batting average, it would appear that Tigers shortstop prospect Sergio Alcantara is having a strong season so far. He is hitting .321 and slugging .411 through 15 games, good enough for a 120 wRC+. While the Eastern League is the most hitter-friendly stop in the Tigers’ system, Alcantara is a glove-first prospect getting his first taste of Double-A ball. Even just holding his own against more advanced competition would have been a victory for the 21-year-old, but his early numbers suggested he might be taking a step forward.

Unfortunately, that might not be the case. Alcantara’s early average is supported by a .439 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), an unsustainable number for even the very best of minor league performers. While he has been hitting line drives at nearly a 30 percent clip and, by all accounts, hitting the ball well, some of those seeing-eye singles will eventually turn into outs.

More concerning than the high BABIP are Alcantara’s strikeout and walk rates. He walked nearly 10 percent of the time in High-A last year, and has been praised for having good plate discipline and an advanced approach at the plate. He also has solid bat-to-ball skills, and struck out just over 15 percent of the time last year. This season, Alcantara is whiffing nearly 27 percent of the time, a major jump from 2017. He has also walked just one time in 60 plate appearances, a paltry 1.7 percent rate.

While it’s still early, strikeout and walk rates are among the first hitting stats to stabilize. Alcantara’s rates will probably improve somewhat — the walk rate almost has to go up — but unless they change dramatically, it could indicate that he’s overmatched by Double-A pitching. This wouldn’t be the end of the world for Alcantara, who should reach the majors in the next few years based on his defensive acumen alone, but it does damper some early excitement about his strong numbers.

Triple-A Toledo: LHP Blaine Hardy

Speaking of people we should probably cool our jets about, lefthander Blaine Hardy probably hasn’t turned into the next Sandy Koufax (sorry, Nicky). The 31-year-old southpaw has looked the part so far, though, holding opponents to a 0.52 ERA and 0.58 WHIP in six Triple-A appearances (including three starts). He has 20 strikeouts to just four walks in 17 13 innings, and has limited opponents to just over three hits per nine innings.

Don’t read too far into these numbers, though. There are no reports of Hardy adding velocity or developing a new pitch, and his peripheral statistics suggest there may be a bit of luck at play here. Hardy has limited opponents to a .167 BABIP so far, and is stranding over 90 percent of baserunners. He has produced a lot of weak contact — including a gaudy (and unsustainable) 31 percent pop-up rate — but a few more hits will start to fall in at some point.

Make no mistake, Hardy is dominating his opposition. There may be a bit of regression from him, but he would put up some stellar numbers were he to stay in Toledo’s rotation the entire season. But he’s a 31-year-old with ample major league experience pitching against minor leaguers. He should dominate, and he has so far.

Does Hardy deserve a call-up at some point? Absolutely. I wouldn’t mind seeing him come up after this week’s series in Pittsburgh, especially at the expense of a couple of the other relievers in Detroit’s bullpen right now. But don’t expect anything more than the solid production he has already given the Tigers over the past few years.

High-A Lakeland: IF Anthony Periera

The Flying Tigers have arguably the most exciting collection of talent in the Tigers’ farm system. While Derek Hill, Daz Cameron, Gregory Soto, and Alex Faedo aren’t the organization’s top prospects, they have some of the highest ceilings of anyone in Detroit’s pipeline. Add Matt Manning (and maybe Casey Mize) to that mix later this year, and the Flygers will be must-see TV.

We should probably add infielder Anthony Pereira to this mix. Long the apple of TigsTown’s eye, Pereira is a 21-year-old Venezuelan who is starting to find his way offensively in the Tigers’ farm system. Just a few months older than Cameron (and younger than Hill!), Pereira is hitting a solid .245/.315/.469 with six extra-base hits in 14 games this season. He hasn’t quite found his over-the-fence power, but is hitting gaps aplenty in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He has also upped his walk rate in the early going, with five base on balls in 55 plate appearances.

Pereira doesn’t have the sort of loud tools that others on his team do, but he does everything well. He is an adequate defender in the field, but might be a bit stretched at shortstop. He runs well, but isn’t a burner like Hill — though he showed good enough instincts to swipe 11 of 14 bases last year. He will hit for some power, but will probably be more of a gap-to-gap guy than one who hits 15-20 homers a year. He has been in the teens on TigsTown’s prospect rankings for the past few seasons for a reason, and might be starting to find a bit more in-game power as he gets a little older.