Set At Short; Detroit Tigers Deep With Iglesias, Suarez


At least the Detroit Tigers won’t have to completely overhaul the engine.

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As they shape their off-season roster, they’ll have numerous parts to retool–the bullpen, center field, and the bench among them.

Fortunately, the return of uber-defender Jose Iglesias will remove shortstop from the checklist.

Add another year of experience to youngsters Eugenio Suarez and Hernan Perez, along with slick-fielding Andrew Romine, and the squad should be significantly stronger at the position than it was last year coming out of spring training.

Of course it was late last February when Iglesias irritated a pre-existing condition in both shins. After a brief unsuccessful re-hab attempt, he eventually required surgery which cashiered him for the entire 2014 season.

Though it was not obvious at the time, Iglesias’s injury–along with the loss of reliever Bruce Rondon, also in spring training–placed the team in  a precarious position from which it would not fully recover.

After a series of failed shortstop rehearsals early in the season, Suarez was called up from AAA Toledo and regularly manned the position for most of the summer, though Romine replaced him in September.

Although Suarez and Romine each had spurts of effectiveness, Iglesias’s absence was clearly felt.

With a nod to 2015, let’s take a closer look at the foursome most likely to log innings at shortstop for the Bengals, and why they should transform the position from one of weakness to strength.

Jose Iglesias

Iglesias’s off-the-chart athletic abilities as a defender are the reason the Tigers traded away a strong outfield prospect, Avisail Garcia, to the Chicago White Sox in July, 2013.

Iglesias regularly makes cameos on the ESPN highlight reel, and is one of the few contemporary shortstops who invite comparisons to all-time greats Omar Vizquel and Ozzie Smith.

Aside from his elite defense, Iglesias had a strong offensive year in 2013, slashing .303/.349/.386 in a combined 350 at bats for Boston and Detroit.

Sabermetricians make a strong case, though, that his offensive numbers in 215 at bats for Boston (.330/.376/.409) were inflated due to what can be summarized as a “luck factor”. Nonetheless, Iglesias still had respectable numbers in Detroit (.259/.306/.348) for a 23 year-old shortstop with limited major league at bats.

My analysis of American League shortstops in his age range shows their offensive production tends to dramatically increase with the second full year of exposure to major league pitching. For instance, batting average jumps by about 20 points, OBP by 16 points, and slugging percentage by 36 points.

Discarding Iglesias’s anomalous Boston numbers, and simply working off the (presumably) more representative Detroit statistics in 2013, he can reasonably be expected to hit around .270-.280 next year, with a .320 OBP and a slugging percentage of .380.

Assuming Iglesias stays healthy and recovers from the year layoff, that level of offensive output would be well received by a team anxious to add production to the bottom of the line-up.

Eugenio Suarez

After posting strong offensive numbers at AA Erie and AAA Toledo in early 2014, Suarez was called up to the Tigers to fill a void at shortstop in June. After a hot start, he settled in and ended the season with decent numbers for a rookie–.242/.316/.336.

Whether he makes the team out of spring training or is sent to Toledo to get regular at bats, Suarez can also be expected to improve his offensive production in 2015 as he garners more experience.

If he wants to maximize his playing time, though, one problem Suarez will have to address as he matures is a disquieting tendency to make mental mistakes on defense. On several occasions this year he seemed to “freeze up” (for lack of a better term) and subsequently failed to either make a routine play or recognize a developing situation.

That simply won’t cut it in the big leagues–especially at shortstop–and could possibly make Suarez a trade candidate in the offseason, before the rest of the league catches on to that ripple in his game.

Andrew Romine

Romine played regularly at shortstop both early and late in the season. He was adequate with the glove in the early going and exemplary in September, though he did make a crucial error in the playoffs.

Romine’s weak bat (.227/.279/.275) prevents him from being an everyday major leaguer. He does add value as a utility guy, though, as he can play second and third base in addition to short. He also runs well, as evidenced by his 12 steals in 14 attempts this year.

Expect to see him come off the bench as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner in 2015.

Hernan Perez

Perez played second base for Detroit in late 2013 as a replacement for the injured Omar Infante. Though he comported himself well in the field, he hit an irrelevant .197.

The 23 year-old had a solid 2014 in Toledo (.287/.331/.404), and also flashed speed on the bases with 21 steals.

Considered a more reliable defender than Suarez, with a strong spring training Perez could make a run at the Opening Day roster. He also provides insurance at shortstop should Suarez be dealt.

The Bottom Line

With the return of a healthy Jose Iglesias, the Detroit Tigers’ infield defense makes a quantum leap forward in 2015.

In addition, his presence in the everyday lineup will buttress the back end of the batting order.

If for some reason Iglesias is sidelined, Eugenio Suarez gathered invaluable experience as a regular last season and should be ready to serve as a quality back-up.

Behind them stand promising Hernan Perez and defensive-minded Andrew Romine.

On a team whose engine sputtered at times last year–and completely stalled in the playoffs–it’s comforting to know the shortstop position should be running on all cylinders in 2015.