Detroit Tigers Prospect Report: Dawel Lugo

The Detroit Tigers are in rebuilding mode. “Future Friday” is a segment where we examine the bevy of prospects in Detroit and their future impact in the Motor City.

The Detroit Tigers sold off a lot of veteran talent over the past year in exchange for prospects.

While it can be hard for fans to see all-stars like J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton and Alex Avila dealt, not to mention franchise icon Justin Verlander, the return can be an exciting batch of prospects who will become the next stars in Detroit.

‘Future Fridays,’ is a new weekly column where we pick a prospect and delve into their expected impact on the team. We want to help Tiger fans identify the newest wave of prospects as they move into rebuilding mode.

So far, we have analyzed all the prospects acquired in the Justin Verlander, Justin Upton and Justin Wilson/Alex Avila trades.

Today we will focus on the prize acquisition in Detroit’s J.D. Martinez deal, infielder Dawel Lugo.

Dawel Lugo

Lugo was originally signed by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011. At the time he was one of the top International prospects on the market, signing for $1,300,000. 

He played in rookie ball in 2012 and 2013, eventually earning a call up to short season at the end of the season. 2014 was his first season in Single-A. He hit .259/.286/.329 with four home runs in 117 games.

Lugo crushed the ball to start 2015, hitting .336 and earning a promotion to High-A ball. He was then traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange to utility infielder Cliff Pennington.

He hit .313 with 13 home runs in High-A with the Snakes before getting called up to Double-A, where he hit .306. Lugo was off to a promising start at Double-A in 2017 when he was shipped to the Tigers along with Sergio Alcantara and Jose King for Martinez.

At the time of the trade, FanGraphs’ Chris Mitchell had this to say:

Of the prospects headed to the Tigers, Lugo is the closest to the big leagues and is also the most promising. Lugo makes a lot of contact while also hitting for a fair amount of power. Players who can do both of those things from a semi-premium position aren’t all that common.

Mitchell does go on to express concern about Lugo’s ability to draw a walk. However, Lugo posted a career-best 6.4% walk-rate in his 175 at-bats with the Erie Seawolves, Detroit’s AA affiliate.

Evaluating Lugo’s fit

Ultimately, the biggest question mark surrounding Lugo is where he will play. He has played mostly shortstop in his minor league career, but is not great with the glove. He got bumped over to third base and found more success there, but still grades out below average defensively.

The Tigers started him at third 29 times and at second 13 times after acquiring him. However, with Jeimer Candelario locking down third base for the near future, Lugo will have to play elsewhere if he wants to stick in Detroit.

Second base is another option that the Tigers could explore with Lugo. However, scouts give Lugo high marks for his arm strength, which is a wasted skill at second. Still, there is a chance if he hits well this season or next season that the Tigers will give him a chance to stick at second base, replacing Dixon Machado who fits the bill of utility infielder quite well.

The steady improvements Lugo has made with the bat have been encouraging. Seeing him post a higher walk rate and develop more power (he hit 30 home runs from 2016-2017, compared to 17 in his first five seasons) is encouraging. MLB.com projects him as a future utility player, but acknowledges his recent improvements could help him land an every day job in the show.

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At 23 years old, Lugo is likely a year away from making his big league debut. A slew of players will be competing for a utility infield role in Detroit next season, so Lugo will have to prove himself at Double-A and at Triple-A before getting the call.

However, expect him to be a piece of Detroit’s future for years to come once he is ready.