Despite his status as probably the Tigers’ best hitting prospect, infielder Isaac Paredes is just now becoming a familiar name. He wasn’t one of the big ticket arms the organization has acquired in the first round of recent drafts, and he didn’t come over with the fanfare—or the baggage—of the Justin Verlander deal. Yet Paredes has done nothing but hit to an extremely precocious degree since his acquisition, and he may be primed to storm the major leagues as early as September of 2019. In a system lacking in high-end positional prospects, he’s quickly risen to the top of the pecking order.
Astute prospect watchers were intrigued when the Tigers received Paredes and third baseman, Jeimer Candelario, from the Cubs in July of 2017. For less than half a season of Alex Avila, plus a year and a half of closer Justin Wilson, the Tigers appeared to have the strong side of the deal, and that opinion has been born out thus far. Candelario was a nice, major league ready addition. However, it’s the hard-hitting teenage shortstop who was the real point of interest.
Unfortunately, as Paredes’ body has developed and his skill set has progressed, opinions on his relative tools and their projections have started to diverge. On the one hand, everyone really likes his stick. On the other, he’s filled out his 5’11 frame so rapidly that it’s called into question the long-term prospects for his athleticism.
We’ve seen Paredes make leaps into numerous top 100 lists over the past year, and he did nothing but produce across two advanced levels for his age in 2018. Yet we’ve also seen more sobering reassessments since the season ended that should put the brakes on hopes of a star in the making. The impression among many seems to be that he was something of an early bloomer, calling into question whether he really has as much ceiling remaining as his age would lead you to expect. The resulting impression is of a young player who should produce at the plate, but whose liabilities may hold him back enough to cap his ceiling well short of our hopes.
Paredes hails from Hermosillo, in Sonora, Mexico. The Chicago Cubs signed him for 850K back in 2015, and he rewarded them with his advanced hit tool in rookie ball. He came to the Tigers organization as an 18-year-old shortstop after tearing up full season A-ball for the Cubs. In 2018, he erupted, graduating quickly from the Florida State League to reach Double-A Erie by mid-July. Paredes didn’t miss a beat at the promotion. In fact, he caught fire with the SeaWolves and mashed his way through the final seven weeks of the season in extremely impressive fashion for a 19-year-old, particularly one playing the shortstop position.
This part is pretty simple. Isaac Paredes is a hitter. FanGraphs posits a plus future grade on his hit tool, and there is general agreement that it should top out as at least above average. He doesn’t strike out much, can take his walks, and is capable of doing substantial damage at the plate. Most of his home run power comes to the pull field, but Paredes hits a lot of balls hard in the air—though with too many pop-ups currently— and does so without compromising his discipline.
In 2018, Paredes cracked 12 home runs in 347 plate appearances for the Lakeland Flying Tigers, which is pretty prodigious power in a tough hitting environment. And while the sample is only 155 plate appearances in the Eastern League, he posted an .846 OPS mark there which would’ve placed him fourth in the whole league had he qualified. Numbers like those had his stock on the rise all summer long. Heading into 2019, the Steamer projection system expects that Paredes would already post a 93 wRC+ in the majors, close to league average.
To back up his bat, Paredes also brings solid hands and a quality throwing arm to the equation. All along, forecasts have predicted a move to second or third base, and that seems certain now. Still, a bat like that, from a player who plays on the dirt, is a very nice piece to have, particularly in the key area of weakness in the Tigers’ farm system.
Most of Paredes’ downside is wrapped up in his physique. Weighing in officially at 225 pounds, he’s thickly built and has already more than filled out his 5’11 frame. The Tigers reportedly have been displeased with his conditioning since acquiring him. That size, and the decline rather than improvement in his athleticism, has also served to undercut projections. Unlike other highly regarded teenage prospects, Paredes doesn’t really have room to grow. Instead, he needs to show commitment to getting leaner, quicker, and stronger instead.
When he arrived from the Cubs’ organization, one of the notes on Paredes was that he probably wouldn’t stick at shortstop, but possessed reasonably good instincts and reactions for a stockier middle infielder. Future success at either second base or third seemed likely. But even those minor notes of optimism have faded a bit as concerns about his size and conditioning have grown.
For example, FanGraphs had him graded as both a current and future 40 grade runner, one full step below average, in their mid-year tool grades in 2018. But in their most recent reassessment, his future grade is actually projected to decline from its current level. This is the kind of footspeed that usually heralds a first baseman or designated hitter candidate.
The bright side, is that Paredes is young enough to reverse this trend. His innate talent and hitting intelligence are obvious, and the flip side to all these concerns, of course, is that there is plenty of room for improvement in an area that is, to some degree, within his control. But it’s a pernicious issue that extends even to forecasts for his future power production. Based on his track record thus far, you’d expect above average power grades. Instead, many observers are taking a wait-and-see approach while forecasting only average future power potential.
If he can make strides in the right direction, we’re likely in for a fun season from him, and a renewed sense of optimism about his potential. If not? He still retains a good chance to be a fine major league hitter, but presumably one who is closer to his developmental ceiling in the rest of his game than was hoped. It may also prove tricky to find a positional home for him in that scenario. Much like Christin Stewart, for example, Paredes is on track to have his obvious value at the plate dragged down by poor speed and limited defensive utility.
Projected 2019 team: Double-A Erie SeaWolves
Paredes spent only about a month and a half in Erie late in 2018, so it’s easy to forecast a return this season. However, it wouldn’t take too much of a hot start to have him ready for the jump to Triple-A Toledo by the time summer officially rolls around. But as discussed, the bat isn’t really the issue here. The Tigers seem to be planning a full-time move to second base, and while Dawel Lugo is in a holding pattern at Toledo, Paredes will be the priority. If he comes out of spring camp in better shape than we saw last season, the Tigers are likely in business and Paredes isn’t too far from a major league debut. If he doesn’t, the Tigers will have to re-evaluate how he fits into their future plans.