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Rookie ball round-up from Florida Complex League action

Let’s take a quick look at how some of the Tigers’ younger talents did this season as they look to work their way to full season A-ball.

Photo by Terri Nummer - Used with permission

The Florida Complex League wrapped their season on Saturday. That natural break provides us with an excellent opportunity to check in on the Tigers’ up-and-comers who spent their season representing one of the team’s two squads in the FCL. Although many of the players who spend time there aren’t household names yet, it’s a very young league and serves as baseball’s first step in dividing the men from the boys, particularly among international signees.

Older guys are generally expected to perform well and players age out quickly but struggling at this level of competition doesn’t break a career. Typically, these players are getting accustomed to the life of a professional ball player and both the sample sizes and the consistency of competition aren’t particularly persuasive. Even more forgiveness than normal can be extended to these players this year as many of them are facing professional competition for the first time after being forced to spend last season off the field due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Naturally, there’s going to be a little rust, and that factor is accentuated among teenagers with precious little professional experience.

Nonetheless, the Tigers are still firmly entrenched as a rebuilding team despite showing signs of life in the 2021 season, so it’s good to check up on who they’re investing in for the future. Here’s a look at the notable players who spent some time in the FCL and how they fared.

IF Manuel Sequera

Many prospect junkies can slip into a “what have you done for me lately?” mentality, but Sequera was productive in the FCL all season long. He hit .246./314./.509 over the course of 46 games, which comes out to a 109 wRC+. Impressively, he tallied 11 home runs in that time, which is equivalent to a 37 homer season on a major league slate of games. Sequera’s stroke is a thing of beauty and his added muscle clearly paid off in 2021.

The snaggle here is his strikeout rate. Whiffing nearly 30 percent of the time, he absolutely needs to improve in that category. Fewer metrics are more predictive of failure at the high levels than consistent contact issues throughout the low minors. Nonetheless, I’ve been a fan of the Venezuelan infielder since the first time I saw a video of him taking batting practice, and he should make his debut on our prospect list now that he’s shown well in a live setting.

IF Adinso Reyes

Reyes split time between the Tigers FCL East and West teams, and while he was largely a force for good while with the East for 12 games, his 36-game stint with the West was spent as a boat anchor’s worth of deadweight on the lineup. This one really hurts because Reyes had a fair bit of hype coming into the season, including kind words from FanGraphs and Baseball America. As with any player on this list, he still has time to turn it around, but this is hardly the season he or the Tigers envisioned for him. He’s still just 19 years old, but so far he’s also another one of the Tigers high-priced international signings in recent years who has failed to impress early on.

IF Izaac Pacheco

After being selected as the Tigers second draft pick in July, Pacheco played in only 29 games during his first stint as a professional. Billed as a power-hitting shortstop with development needed on both sides of the ball, Pacheco’s initial performances were not all that promising. It’s hardly time to throw in the towel on him, though — he’s not even 19 years old yet, and the first taste of pro ball post-draft can often be little overwhelming. The sample size was too small to be indicative of his true talent, and Detroit knew he would be a project when they popped him. The tools remain impressive, but real vulnerabilities to good breaking stuff and high fastballs are going to have to be improved substantially next season to avoid Parker Meadows 2.0 vibes.

Photo by Terri Nummer - Used with permission

Pacheco was viewed as a potential first round talent throughout the draft cycle and he slipped to the Tigers because he was not able to dominate the elite high school circuit. That continued in the FCL, where he walked a ton, but also struck out at an astronomical rate and couldn’t hit his weight despite rocking a .350 batting average on balls in play. However, he is physical and toolsy and offers the building blocks of a major league regular, even if a lot of work remains between him and that destiny.

OF Roberto Campos

When Campos signed with Detroit, he received the highest bonus ever given to an international free agent by the team at the time he put pen to paper. The Tigers immediately topped that figure with the next cycle for Cristian Santana, but it just shows how much faith they put in Campos. That faith looked well placed as he held his own in the FCL after turning 18 just prior to the start of the season. It was an aggressive assignment for the teenage outfielder, and he did as well as can be expected.

Frankly, even if he’d crashed and burned, that wouldn’t matter to me. Because of his age and assignment, we can have the luxury of praising the good things he did while tossing out the negative indicators. Walking 11 percent of the time and hitting live drives in 21 percent of his batted ball events are good indicators that he’s on track in his development and should be able to progress to Low-A next year.

RHP Daniele Di Monte

In case his name doesn’t make it clear, Di Monte is an Italian prospect, but the novelty of being a European in MiLB isn’t the only thing that makes him stand out. He’s been listed as a prospect of note by FanGraphs in consecutive years. He reportedly features a fastball with “big carry” at 90 miles per hour and a curveball to back it up. A slender 6’2” right-hander, and only 19 years old, physical development could make him one to watch in the years ahead.

Di Monte was able to make hitters swing and miss on his stuff, but when they weren’t fooled, things got ugly. His walk rate reached nearly a better per inning and his 9.84 ERA is only softened a little by his 8.99 FIP. On the other hand, a .340 batting average on balls in play would indicate that some of his struggles were bad luck. Either way, he’s still a teenager and his roots in a country with only passing interest in baseball would indicate that he has a lot of development ahead.

OF Carlos Pelegrín

The Tigers signed Pelegrín, who is already 21 years old, to a professional contract in January. As you expect from someone of his age, he smoked FCL pitchers and earned a call to the Flying Tigers. He immediately hit a nasty cold streak upon his promotion, but his time in the FCL was well spent — he walked over 18 percent of the time, en route to a 121 wRC+. Perhaps even more encouragingly, he hit four home runs and seven doubles in 37 games while logging most of his defensive innings in center field.

Photo by Terri Nummer - Used with permission

When they signed Pelegrín, the Tigers were bullish on his athletic ability and bat speed eventually paying off in terms of in-game power despite that not being part of his game in Cuba. That payoff came quickly, as he was clearly able to put some juice into the ball in the FCL. There’s no reason for the Tigers not to push him hard through the minors if he’s able to prove that his slump with the Flying Tigers was nothing more than a fluke, so don’t be surprised to see him gracing center field for the Whitecaps at some point late next season.

On the other side of the token, he has a longish swing that could potentially lead to trouble with velocity, a concern we hinted at when he signed. That came to fruition pretty quickly as well, as he posted a 29 percent strikeout rate in the FCL and was blown away in over half of his limited Low-A at-bats. That figure absolutely must come down, but just like anyone from the FCL, we haven’t seen enough of him to determine whether that will happen.

OF Jose de la Cruz

He kicked butt and took names in 2019 as a 17-year-old playing at the lowest levels of organize baseball, and somewhat predictably, didn’t match his 141 wRC+ when he returned to the field in 2021. However, his time in the FCL was largely productive. He had a well rounded line of .270/.361/.415 during his time in the league, but like Pelegrín, he tanked in his first shot with Lakeland.

I’m gonna sound like a broken record, but the strikeouts need to come down for de la Cruz as well. He has the potential to make a thunderous impact at the plate, which affords him more grace than other players, but at the higher levels of the minors, pitchers only get better at identifying soft spots and hounding them relentlessly. He’s a good bet to start the year with the Flying Tigers next season, and will likely spend all year with them honing his craft.