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2019 BYB Tigers Prospect #20: SS Sergio Alcantara remains the best infield defender in the system

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Up two spots from our 2018 prospect rankings, Alcantara remains a possible future utility infielder.

MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Are you a fan that loves a glove-first shortstop? If you are, you must have enjoyed the past several years, as defensive wizard Jose Iglesias anchored the Detroit Tigers’ infield with stellar plays, but also a couple of sub-100 wRC+ seasons. With his contract now expired, the Tigers have passed the torch to Jordy Mercer, who they inked to a one-year, $5.25 million deal on December 12. Mercer hasn’t posted a wRC+ over 100 since 2013.

You might be wondering why I’m discussing major league players in an article about a prospect. No, I’m not here to make the stereotypical player comparison. I am here to imply that Mercer is a stopgap, a savvy veteran signed for one year to hold down the fort until the team has a young glove-first shortstop ready, so that Mercer may pass the torch onward.

That man might be Sergio Alcantara.

If you have followed our prospect coverage in the past, you may recall that we ranked Alcantara as our No. 22 prospect entering the 2018 season. Well, he has climbed to No. 20 in the rankings this year even as the system’s depth continues to improve. So, what has changed since we last heard from Alcantara?

Background

Alcantara, who comes in at a small 5’9 and 168 pounds, was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks on his 16th birthday out of the Dominican Republic in 2012. Nearly seven years later, Alcantara is entering his age-23 season. He has a lot of minor league of experience under his belt, and has been considered a legitimate prospect since 2016. Entering 2019, Alcantara has 540 plate appearances at Advanced-A ball and 493 plate appearances at Double-A under his belt.

Strengths

You’ve heard it before: Alcantara is a glove-first prospect. In 2018, FanGraphs scouted him as having an above-average glove that projects to turn into a well-above-average glove, and a top-tier arm right now. If all he had to do was field, Alcantara probably would have been in the major leagues as a teenager. Here is MLB Pipeline’s glowing report on Alcantara’s glove.

There are no questions about Alcantara’s ability to defend, however. He can flat out play the premium position with an easily plus arm and excellent hands. While he’s an average runner at best, he has enough range thanks to his instincts and a terrific first step. His defense is so highly regarded, he was the regular shortstop for Licey in the Domincan Winter League this offseason.

Alcantara has another strength that isn’t his glove: his speed. Sure, he has not had much success wreaking havoc on the base paths in the minor leagues. While he did steal 15 bases in Advanced-A ball in 2017, he was caught stealing 13 times. He did not fare much better at Double-A Erie last season, swiping eight bags while getting caught five times. But MLB Pipeline graded him as having average (50) speed, something FanGraphs echoed in their own grades.

One more tool to watch with Alcantara is his hit tool. While FanGraphs assigned his hit-tool a 35 grade last year, they gave it a future value of 55. That isn’t to say that Alcantara will become a future .300 hitter (his .272 mark at Double-A was his highest mark at A-ball or higher to date), but he does have the potential to develop into a decent slap hitter — especially as a switch-hitter.

Weaknesses

Remember when I mentioned Alcantara is 5’9 and weighs 168 pounds? There’s his biggest weakness. In 493 plate appearances with Double-A Erie in 2018, Alcantara hit just one home run. An even worse sign, Alcantara struck out a 19.1 percent rate this past season, his highest rate since 2015, when he posted a -12 wRC+ in 20 games in his first A-ball stint. So, Alcantara has had trouble with strikeouts and has just about zero power.

As we mentioned in our 2018 report on Alcantara, 19 of 22 qualified shortstops hit 10 or more home runs in 2017. In 2018, 19 of 21 qualified shortstops hit double-digit home runs — and 15 of those shortstops hit 14 or more homers. It is becoming more and more difficult to produce meaningful value in the big leagues these days with zero power. Without a big step forward in this department, Alcantara’s ceiling still looks like it is as a late-inning replacement, defense-first bench infielder.

Projected team: Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens

Alcantara has an entire season of Double-A experience under his belt. With top shortstop prospect Isaac Paredes reaching Double-A late last season, Triple-A is the next logical stop for Alcantara. But does he belong there? We mentioned Alcantara’s uninspiring performance in the Dominican Winter League back in 2017 in our 2018 preview, batting .255/.358/.274 with just two extra-base hits in 126 plate appearances. He was even worse this time around this time around, hitting just .213/.298/.258. One thing is for certain; if Alcantara replicates that stat line going forward, his exceptional glove likely won’t be enough to keep him around in the majors.