The Tigers are four years deep in their rebuilding process, which means we’re four deep into Tigers bloggers constantly jawing about how the team needs to diversify the way they go about asset acquisition. While the team hasn’t done much in the Asian markets or by gambling on high-value reclamation projects, they’ve overhauled their strategy and spending in the international market under Al Avila.
For many years, Detroit took a quantity over quality approach, never making splashy signings on the open market and banking that a few of their many bargain signings would bear fruit down the road. Lately, they’ve switched things up and have put more of their eggs in fewer baskets, resulting in a flashier crop of international players.
Even for trained professionals, it’s tough to gauge exactly how good talented international free agents will ultimately be in their twenties, simply because they are so young when they sign (and are often even younger when they agree to deals in advance). Thus, it’s practically impossible for non-insiders to figure it out. As a result, a number of players who the Tigers have invested in relatively heavily in recent years didn’t make our top prospects list. That isn’t an indictment of the players themselves, it’s just reflective of the fact that we don’t have much to say about them. Any of these players could easily make a top prospects list down the road once we’ve seen them play affiliated ball here in the states.
It wouldn’t be right to leave them out in the cold either, though, so here’s a look at our top five international free agents who haven’t debuted in the states yet. They aren’t in any particular order, but feel free to let us know what you think in the comments. We’ll be around to discuss
OF Roberto Campos
The most famous of the players on this list, Campos was a surprise signing. It gained national attention when the Tigers inked him to a $2.85 million deal in 2019, then a franchise record. Though he presently resides in the Dominican republic, he is Cuban-born and was a youth baseball star in his native country. Now 17 years old and physically impressive for his age, he is already hitting for power in batting practice but there’s not much else known about his profile.
The Tigers clearly believe they plucked a gem out of the international market with Campos. Signing amateur free agents overseas is a bit like the wild west of baseball, and the Tigers took advantage by hiding him away from other teams after agreeing to a contract in principle years before he could actually sign. FanGraphs even reports that a number of teams were barely able to see him at all.
“I feel lucky enough to be able to see Miguel Cabrera when he was 15, when he was 16 years old,” said Miguel García, the Tigers director of Latin American operations. “Roberto Campos, to me, is the closest thing that I ever have seen to me like Cabrera when he was that age.”
SS Christian Santana
A year after snagging Campos from the Dominican, they double dipped for Santana, again spending a franchise record amount of money on an international amateur. This time an infielder, he’s also physically mature for his age, a trait that high profile Avila-era signings have often shared. However, the big draw with Santana is the maturity he offers in gameplay.
“I have no doubts he’s going to be at shortstop for a while,” said Tom Moore, who directs Detroit’s international operations. “The good thing is he’s got the bat if he needs to move off of shortstop to be an impact somewhere else.”
Third party evaluators seem to agree, with MLB Pipeline commenting on his short swing and ability to identify breaking balls. The concern with Santana is that perhaps he doesn’t have the athletic gifts to stay out of tweener status, but that’s not an impending problem. Being an older international signee and unusually put well together for his age, he has a real chance of being the first player on this list to reach the High-A Whitecaps.
SS Manuel Sequera
Challenged to name the best Tigers prospect I’m sure most fans have never heard of, I would most likely choose Sequera. Sequestered in the shadow of the much splashier Campos signing, he didn’t get much attention, but he could wind up as one of the team’s top infield prospects in a few years. “Sequera has a shot to stay at short and grow into some pop,” wrote FanGraphs.
Manuel Sequera Infieder de la clase 2019, practicando su swing en la jaula de bateo de nuestras instaciones en Fundalara, Barquisimeto. pic.twitter.com/btbRGbDov4— Latin Power Group (@latinpowergroup) March 16, 2017
It’s all about the projection with most international prospects, and Sequera is just about as projectable as they come. “Sequera has some power potential and shows a plus arm with solid offensive potential,” wrote Jesse Sanchez. “He’s an average defender and runner with a projectable body.” For obvious reasons, there’s not much video of him available, but the tape that is in the public purview reveals a fluid swing and good body control at the plate. Of course, that’s batting practice. In-game reps are completely different animal. Nonetheless, keep your eye on Sequera as he makes his rise though the Tigers’ system.
OF Carlos Pelegrin
The Tigers entrusted Pelegrin with a half-million dollar bonus, making him the third-highest paid signee of the 2020 period. The team is banking on his physical gifts to make that money worth spending. “He’s got a really athletic body. He has some fast-twitch in him and is an above-average runner. He’s got a quick bat... so we’re intrigued by that,” said the Tigers to the Detroit Free Press shortly after announcing the signing.
Pelegrin swing in a live batting practice, 20 days ago. pic.twitter.com/kBxJBv51sP— Francys Romero (@francysromero10) January 15, 2021
Detroit doesn’t have a long history of activity in Cuba, but this signing is based largely on looks the team collected while Pelegrin was playing for the Cuban national youth teams. I don’t love the video I’ve seen of him, but it never hurts to throw a dart at a player with tools. He’s already 20 years old, so we’ll have to see how well he handles the learning curve this year. Like Sequera, his isn’t a name you’ll see too often on Tigers prospect lists just yet. Just don’t be shocked if he pops in a year or two.
SS Abel Bastidas
The second of Detroit’s two major signings in the 2020 class, Bastidas is a long-term play that could pay off in a big way if everything breaks right. He’s an agile defender with a frame that can still be shaped in a number of ways as the Tigers figure out exactly how they want him to develop. Sporting a visually pleasing swing with more pop than you’d expect from someone with a slight build, he has real offensive potential once he adds good weight.
Bastidas’ projection as a player is so open-ended that the ways he could find himself in a major league uniform are widely varied. He has the instincts to support a glove-first utility role if his defense develops along its current trajectory. If he fills out more than anticipated, he could translate his sound swing into in-game power and rely on feel as a shortstop.
There’s a lot of “hurry up and wait” involved with him as a prospect. Like most players his age, the development curve ahead is very long, and despite some interesting tools he could easily wash out. However, there are plenty of ways to envision him panning out as a legit prospect, making him a player to watch for when he ultimately gets to Lakeland.