Although experts consider the Detroit Tiger farm system to be weak overall, the organization feels it has depth with middle infielders. Due to the unanticipated absence of starting shortstop José Iglesias for most of spring training, that evaluation may be tested sooner than the Tigers would like.
The problem is a case of shin splints that has troubled Iglesias in the past and re-surfaced in late February. The condition has limited his action this spring and has forced his removal from the “new look” Tiger lineup, which must now proceed without him indefinitely.
So in lieu of Iglesias, a human highlight film even at this tender stage of his career, what are the Tigers’ options at shortstop, the most critical of field positions?
Let’s profile each prospective candidate in line to replace him.
Acquired as a “throw-in” in the controversial Doug Fister trade, the 25-year-old Lombardozzi has played in 257 major-league games, all for the Washington Nationals. He’s a switch-hitter with good speed, though his career numbers reflect a low OBP with little power (.264/.297/.342).
Though Lombardozzi is a solid fielder, he is primarily a second baseman who has played only 20 games as a professional shortstop–with the premium the 2014 Tigers are placing on team defense, it’s hard to believe he would be entrusted to handle a position on a regular basis with which he has such limited familiarity.
The soon to be 23-year-old Perez is a Venezuelan infielder signed by the Tigers in 2008. Like Lombardozzi, he has primarily played second base. He should be familiar to Tiger fans, as he took over for the injured Omar Infante late last summer at second and comported himself well defensively, though he did not hit (.197/.217/.227). Nonetheless he played a lot of shortstop at AA Erie and AAA Toledo last season, where his combined stats show he hit well (.301/.330/.410) and stole an impressive 28 bases in 35 attempts.
With enough arm and range to play shortstop, he makes for an intriguing prospect. Should he improve with the bat and demonstrate he can stand up to the daily rigors of playing middle infield at the major-league level, he might press for more playing time in the near future.
Suarez is a switch-hitting Venezuelan shortstop who is a few months younger than Perez. He has a reputation as a strong defender, though he had 26 errors and a low fielding percentage (.951) last year in Erie. Nonetheless he projects as more of a pure shortstop than Perez.
Despite his smallish frame, he has some pop in his bat and an ability to get on base. Last year’s combined slash line at Lakeland and Erie was .264/.363/.396. Though he runs well, he does not possess elite speed.
Despite his considerable promise, Suarez is obviously in need of further seasoning down on the farm, where he has played only 111 games at the AA level.
The 28-year-old California native has spent brief periods with the Tigers in each of the last four years, though the bulk of his playing time has been at Toledo. He is a classic “good field, no-hit” guy, as he has never crowded a .300 BA at any level. His major-league slash line is .242/.307/.315 in 219 AB’s, whereas his minor-league line is only slightly better (.248/.323/.359) in 1,929 AB’s.
Though Worth struggles mightily at the plate against right-handers, he posts respectable splits against lefties, which make him an interesting option in a platoon arrangement.
Worth is also a steady, versatile defender, as he can play second, short and third-base capably. Aside from his “no longer a prospect” age, the major impediment working against Worth is his roster status. He was removed from the 40-man roster in the off-season and of course a personnel move would have to be made for him to suit up again as a Tiger.
Unless Iglesias’s injury at some point is deemed to be more long-term than it appears, it is highly unlikely the Tigers will trade to strengthen the shortstop position. So come Opening Day, if Iglesias is not in the lineup, one of the candidates profiled here will trot out between Nick Castellanos at third and Ian Kinsler at second. Amidst the glow of the season’s inaugural, he will settle in at shortstop to the cheers of the Tiger faithful.
Whether those cheers continue as the season unwinds for the substitute shortstop, however, is an open question.
In a game inextricably tied to individual performance, that’s simply the long and the short of it.