The Detroit Tigers’ farm system is rightly lauded for the excellent crop of pitching prospects closing in on the major leagues. The glaring problem is the lack of impactful future position players. Infielder Isaac Paredes is the player most likely to change that impression in 2020.
Paredes future position remains in question, but his ability as a pure hitter does not. The Tigers plucked him from the Cubs at just 18 years old in the deal that sent reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila to Wrigleyville. At that point, Paredes was already in the midst of a successful season at the Class-A level. He’s done nothing but hit ever since.
Paredes will be just a phone call away from Detroit this season, and the smart money says he’ll make it tough for the Tigers to resist placing that call at some point.
Paredes hails from Hermosillo, in Sonora, Mexico. The Cubs picked him up for $800K back in 2015 as an international free agent. In the two years between signing at 16 and being traded to the Tigers, the young shortstop was a precocious force playing in the Dominican and then rookie ball in the States. The Cubs undoubtedly hated to part with him, but they badly needed relief help and an experienced catcher in 2017 as they pursued back-to-back World Series titles.
The Tigers sent him to the Advanced-A level in 2018, and Paredes was more than a match for the league, devouring much more experienced pitchers. He launched 12 home runs in 347 at-bats and posted a 126 wRC+ in one of the better Florida State League campaigns by a teenager in years, though the performance of one Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was able to overshadow him. By mid-summer, the Tigers had promoted him to Double-A Erie and Paredes didn’t miss a beat there, continuing his torrid pace in July and August.
He came out in 2019 and continued to mash, trimming his strikeout rate to within a percentage point of his 10.3 percent walk rate. By June he’d gone a solid calendar year with the Erie SeaWolves without even a slump, but the Tigers decided not to promote him. That decision was presumably about sorting out his defensive home. As for his bat, it’s pretty unlikely that the International League will be much of an impediment on his march to the major leagues.
Isaac Paredes does have attributes beyond his hitting, but the hit tool is good enough that it’s hard to focus on much else. Paredes has superb feel for the barrel, good zone discipline, and some spin recognition. His hands allow him to cover the whole zone with some authority and while his power is to decidedly to the pull field, he will spray balls to the whole field.
His approach continued to improve in 2019. It’s notable that in a full season after making one of the toughest jumps in the minor league pipeline, Paredes cut his already excellent strikeout rate by three percent, and walked a little more at the same time. He posted the second lowest swinging strike rate of any player at the Double-A level last year.
Despite consistently facing older, more experienced competition, his peripheral numbers continue to advance in quality. In fact, the ZIPS projection system has already pegged him as the fourth best position player on the Tigers roster this season. Paredes is almost certainly going to hit.
Beyond the bat, Paredes has solid hands and a strong accurate throwing arm. While the speed, footwork, and range of a shortstop or second baseman is never going to be part of his game, it’s possible his defensive game is actually a bit underrated.
Paredes is generally a smart, heads-up player who has good instincts and doesn’t make many mistakes. He just lacks the range and agility to play up the middle without being a real liability. The Tigers have had him playing at shortstop for much of his time in the organization in the hope that his skills could make up for a natural lack of speed and agility. They appear to have given up on the idea at this point, and the expectation is that he’ll primarily play third base going forward. H
The key weakness is just an overall lack of speed and athleticism. Paredes is perennially dinged a bit as a “bad body” guy who hit his physical prime early, and may not age well. He’s certainly stocky at 5’11, 225 pounds, and has well below average speed already. The Tigers no doubt would’ve liked to see him develop more speed and agility, but the past two seasons have seen very little change on that front.
Speed was never going to be his game, but it’s lack, and the likelihood of a move to third base, has always put the full weight of his projections on his bat. Fortunately, his hitting is enough to do most of the lifting. Paredes has the eye and hands to consistently hit for average and power while taking his share of walks. Going forward, his ceiling as a future MLB player is largely a question of just how much power he produces.
For all the hitting ability, the hard contact remains a bit underwhelming. In 2019, he posted an 87 mph average exit velocity, and maxed out at 106 mph. Despite his gaudy on base percentages, he hit just 13 home runs in 553 plate appearances in what seemed a reasonably good hitting environment in Erie. Generally his raw power draws just average grades and suggests future season totals closer to 20 than 30 long balls per season. However, there is some reason to believe his hitting ability will eventually allow him to hit for more power than expected.
Because he can put the bat on just about anything, Paredes is a little prone to swinging at a pitcher’s pitch early in counts when he should be looking for something he can mash. Experience should help with this, and it’s entirely possible at his age that he improves and starts hitting for more power than his raw grades would lead one to expect. If he can, current projections as just an average major league regular may be obsolete.
If you believe there’s more to come, you’re betting on his youth and hoping experience leads him to better production than currently projected. Those who don’t, point to a lack of physical projection remaining, and the fact that despite his growth as a hitter he’s performed similarly each year without breaking out in the power department.
Projected 2020 team: Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens
Paredes has already been one of the better hitters in the Eastern League for a season and a half. He ran out of things to prove at that level last spring. He’ll begin the year at the Triple-A level, and should have priority over Dawel Lugo wherever the Tigers decide to put him. Presumably, that position will be third base, and it probably won’t be long before he’s ready for a call-up.