When the Detroit Tigers flipped Leonys Martin and pitcher Kyle Dowdy to the Cleveland Indians last week for Double-A shortstop prospect Willi Castro ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline, the natural reaction by a significant portion of the Tigers fanbase was to immediately begin comparing Castro to Sergio Alcantara, Castro’s new teammate, and fellow shortstop at the Double-A level.
The ultimate consensus is that Castro probably has a better chance to hit at the major league level than his counterpart, and Alcantara throws the better leather. Both have things to offer an organization, but neither really projects to be anything higher than a 45-50 Overall Future Potential (OFP) type player at the next level. A stopgap, in essence. To find the true long-term, and homegrown, solution at shortstop, we may have to look deeper into the lower levels of the minors.
The lottery tickets
José King is one of the young guys in the mix who has garnered some attention since coming over in the J.D. Martinez deal a year ago, mostly due to his double-plus speed. King has performed well in the Gulf Coast League in each of the past two seasons, posting a .345 on-base percentage in 177 plate appearances at that level. Now 19, the Tigers opted to have King open the season with short-season Connecticut, where he was promptly overwhelmed in 14 games and sent back down to the complex in Lakeland for more work in the GCL. King definitely has a chance to progress through the system on the basis of that speed alone. He will never hit for any pop, however, and there is considerable concern about whether his arm is strong enough to remain as shortstop.
Alvaro Gonzalez was the 23rd ranked international prospect when the Tigers signed him for $1 million in 2017. More likely to remain a shortstop than King because of his strong arm, Gonzalez’s hit and power tools have a higher ceiling as well. At 17 years old, Gonzalez is just now getting his feet wet in pro ball down in the Dominican Summer League. Through 43 games, he has posted a .359 on-base percentage with some extra-base power and a promising 13-percent walk rate. Until he lands stateside, however, it is virtually impossible to project Gonzalez’s long-term viability.
A new contender emerges
Although not an immediate replacement for José Iglesias, perhaps the long-term answer is currently holding down the shortstop role for the Connecticut Tigers. Wenceel (rhymes with “pencil”) Perez is a 2016 international signee who the Tigers inked for a $550,000 bonus. He made his professional debut in 2017 down in the Dominican Summer League, where all he did was hit .314 with a .387 on-base percentage, with superb strikeout and walk rates.
According to Mark Anderson of TigsTown, Perez’s speed grades out as a plus tool, with the arm, defense, and hit tools being average to a tick above average at full maturation. As with the other shortstops in the system (Isaac Paredes notwithstanding), the power lags behind his other tools. That said, Perez still profiles as a top-of-the-order option down the road. After tearing up the GCL by getting on base nearly half the time in 20 games, coupled with King’s struggles in the New York-Penn League, the Tigers sent Perez up to Connecticut, effectively leap-frogging King in the development process.
Through just 15 games since his promotion, the 18-year-old Perez appears to be moving through his adjustment period quite quickly. After a 4-for-28 start with no extra base hits, Perez now has hit safely in seven of his last eight games, during which he is 13-for-34 with a home run and eight runs batted in. He is showing a more advanced ability than King in terms of making contact, with just seven strikeouts in his first 65 plate appearances. With what Anderson describes as “an advanced feel for the game,” it will be very interesting to watch Perez in Connecticut for the balance of 2018, and see if the Tigers will test him out as a 19-year-old Opening Day shortstop in West Michigan. As we’ve seen with several other young players like Paredes, Wilkel Hernandez, and even Matt Manning and Beau Burrows, the Tigers will not let age hold them back from moving ready prospects through the system based on their aptitude.
Perez did not crack the Bless You Boys midseason top-30 prospect list, but there is a very good chance we will see him on the 2019 preseason version. Alcantara or Castro may be called upon to hold down the shortstop position in Detroit for a few years if José Iglesias is not retained. But both have concerning holes in their games, Paredes figures to move to second or third, Perez has bypassed King, and Gonzalez is light years away. Wenceel Perez, Detroit Tigers shortstop of the future? Could be, and with a name that rhymes with “pencil”, I only hope that he wears number two.