Well this is the day Detroit Tigers fans have been waiting for. After five years of building up the farm system, the teardown of the major league roster in 2017, and several years of quiet futility, the next phase of the Detroit Tigers’ franchise begins today. The Tigers have called up Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and their sixth ranked prospect according to FanGraphs, infielder Isaac Paredes.
The loss of first baseman C.J. Cron to season ending knee surgery precipitated the decision, which came as quite a surprise. Most expected Casey Mize to join the club to shore up a struggling rotation, but the addition of Skubal, and especially Paredes, puts everyone on notice that the building phase of the rebuild is now underway.
With Cron out, the Tigers shifted a somewhat resurgent Jeimer Candelario over to first base, but called up shortstop prospect Willi Castro with the expectation that he and Dawel Lugo would share third base duties. However, Lugo was DFA’d along with the other moves today, and Castro just doesn’t pack the offensive punch Paredes may be able to provide. Presumably both will see time on the left side of the infield going forward, but it sounds like Paredes will make his debut on Monday night.
Al Avila says he thinks Ron Gardenhire will have Isaac Paredes in tonight's lineup— Cody Stavenhagen (@CodyStavenhagen) August 17, 2020
Isaac Paredes was originally signed as an international free agent out of Hermosillo, Mexico by the Chicago Cubs back in 2015. He was a precocious force with the bat from the start, and rewarded the Cubs with glimpses of huge potential in the Dominican Leagues and ultimately at the Class-A level after he arrived stateside in 2016.
The Tigers acquired Paredes, along with Jeimer Candelario, in the 2017 deadline deal that sent reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila to the Cubs. He’s done little but impress at the plate ever since.
As a 19-year-old, Paredes torched the Advanced-A Florida State League on behalf of the Lakeland Flying Tigers in 2018 and graduated to the Double-A level. That work at the Advanced-A level was fairly extraordinary for a teenager, though it was outstripped by the monster campaign of another teenager at the time, one Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Paredes’ success continued unabated with the Erie SeaWolves, where he posted a 136 wRC+ with nearly identical strikeout and walk rates last season.
Now 21 years old, standing 5’11” and listed at 225 pounds, Isaac (pronounced E-sock) Paredes has been man-sized all along. There have been some concerns about his thick frame, but he appeared to take those issues to heart over the winter. We didn’t see him in spring training much due to a minor arm injury, and he was a late arrival to summer camp due to a COVID-19 issue.
The bat is most of the package
Paredes’ calling card is his bat. We’re talking about an above average hit tool here overall, with the only big question revolving around his power potential.
The right-handed hitter has outstanding bat control, adjusting well even when fooled, and rarely swings and misses. Paredes has a relatively quick load and generally handles velocity well, with plenty of bat speed. He has a fairly neutral, balanced setup, with a modest leg kick he’ll trim down on when necessary. His hands are a little on the busy side at setup, and he will roll his top hand over too often, producing more grounders and pop-ups, and less hard contact in the air than the Tigers would like to see.
Even in the lower levels as a teenager, he was largely untroubled even by better breaking balls, though pitchers adept at changing speeds with command could still get him off balance. He will take his walks, and has a good idea of the strikezone, but his overall approach is still pretty aggressive.
He’s not afraid to use the whole field, however, and will take balls to the opposite field with regularity. The work required after his 2019 campaign was to limit offering at pitcher’s pitches early in counts, rather than trusting his quick hands to bail him out, which often resulted in contact, but of the weak variety both in the air and on the ground. If he can be a little more selective and quiet his hands down, the steady hard contact should ultimately show up with greater consistency.
Paredes hit 13 home runs in 127 games for the Erie SeaWolves last season. That’s a perfectly good number, but as he’s no longer considered a possibility at shortstop, he’s going to have to tap into a little more power to seize the long-term job at the hot corner.
For most of his time with the Tigers, Paredes hasn’t really seemed challenged, despite facing pitchers several years older than he is at every step of the way. This seems like the right time to challenge him. Either he’ll prove some of these concerns unfounded, or be forced to make adjustments that minor league competition has been unable to force upon him.
Good hands, bad feet
Beyond his performance at the plate, Paredes does offer solid attributes as an infielder, particularly at third base. He has soft, quick hands and is rarely eaten up by hard grounders. He also makes strong accurate throws to first, though he lacks the athleticism to make the kind of strong, on the run or off balance throws you’d associate with the top third baseman in the game.
On the basepaths, Paredes is on the slow side, and there have been longstanding concerns that he’ll rapidly lose even his mediocre speed as he ages into his mid-20’s. Probably these worries are a bit overblown. He was already man-sized when the Tigers got him, and hasn’t seen any degradation of his physique in the intervening years. In short, scouts worried he might continue to fill out, but he was just already full grown. He’s always going to be a little bit of a drag on the bases, but right now it isn’t a problem.
He doesn’t have the quick feet and burst speed you’d like in an infielder, but his instincts and baseball intelligence are good, and his hands and arm generally can make up for some lack of mobility in his defensive game.
What to expect
This is tougher. Yes, Paredes is still only 21 years old, and expectations should be kept in check. He’s not likely to come out and mash his way to stardom. However, he’s been somewhat undermatched by his competition the past two years, and many were surprised the Tigers kept him in Erie throughout the 2019 season. It would’ve been nice to get a look at how his offensive game played in Toledo with the minor league superball in play last season, but chances are still good he can ultimately find consistent 20 home run power once he gets some experience under his belt. Whether there’s more in the tank remains to be seen. For right now, he should at least get on base at a solid clip and provide decent power to a club that is sorely lacking it again after the loss of Cron.
General manager Al Avila seems to agree with this sentiment.
Al Avila on Isaac Paredes:— Cody Stavenhagen (@CodyStavenhagen) August 17, 2020
"We’re adding a bat, basically. We lost Cron to the injury. We felt, 'Hey, we need some offense, let's give the kid a chance.' He's very young, as you know (21 years old). But he's hit at all levels."
The Steamer projection system already projects Paredes for roughly major league average offensive production this season. For now, that would do just fine. Like any young player making his debut, some struggles should be expected, but Paredes is a confident, skilled young hitter and while we don’t expect him to hit the ground mashing homers all over the place, he should have no trouble competing with much of the current Tigers lineup for playing time, and the experience will be invaluable as he prepares for a full season in the majors in 2021.