With Spring Training almost underway, several Tigers find themselves battling for a spot on the Opening Day roster. After a less than impressive display in 2019, how will Dawel Lugo fit into the Tigers plans for 2020?
By the very nature of his arrival, Dawel Lugo was always going to have a tough task impressing Tiger fans. After arriving as the key piece of the trade that saw fan favorite and yearly triple crown contender J.D Martinez depart for Arizona, questions were already being asked of his pedigree before he had ever even donned the Old English D.
At the time he arrived from the Diamondbacks, Lugo was considered a second base prospect with 20 home run potential, which led to him drawing comparisons to former Cleveland Indians infielder Juan Uribe. The Tigers rather quickly decided that his best position was at third base, playing him there in 135 games combined between Detroit and Toledo last season, compared to just 6 at second base.
After a disappointing 2018 season which included a rather forgettable 10 game stint with the Tigers, Lugo began the 2019 season at AAA with the Toledo MudHens and did well enough to force his way onto the big league club, hitting .333/.370/.489 with 5 home runs in 303 plate appearances. That success however, didn’t exactly carry over at the Major League level, where he hit just .245/.271/.381 with 6 home runs, producing an alarming -0.6 wins above replacement in just 77 games.
The Question: What does Lugo need to do to make the team?
Baring injury, the Detroit Tigers infield plans for the 2020 season seem rather straight forward. C.J Cron will play first base, Jeimer Candelario will play third base, Jonathon Schoop will play second base and a combination of Niko Goodrum and Willi Castro will play short stop. So where does that leave Dawel Lugo?
He does have the advantage of being able to play multiple infield positions, but if they are going to carry a utility guy, it will likely be the versatile, Harold Castro as he can also play all 3 outfield positions. This seemingly leaves him with only one option – to hit.
Unfortunately, that is easier said than done – especially for a guy like Lugo who is seemingly allergic to taking a walk. He reached first on a free pass in just 2.8 percent of his plate appearances in 2019, chasing 47.2 percent of all pitches thrown out of the zone, a mark which nearly doubles the Major League average of 28 percent.
Apart from the obvious lack of walks, the issue with a hitter expanding the zone as often as Lugo does, is that it becomes incredibly hard to generate hard contact on a regular basis. His average exit velocity was just 86.2 MPH (223rd in MLB), he barreled just 4.6 percent of his batted balls and his average launch angle of just 7.7 degrees led to him constantly pounding the ball into the ground. This is largely in part to his above average bat to ball skills actually coming back to haunt him, making contact with 75.1 percent of his swings at balls out of the zone.
What to expect in 2020?
Unless he suddenly develops a Barry Bonds-like eye at the plate, the upcoming season will likely be more of the same for Dawel Lugo. I expect him to begin the year in Toledo, where his pure hitting ability should see him earn another opportunity in Detroit as it did in 2019. Whether he can alter his career long tendency to expand the zone and allow pitchers pitches to repeatedly get him out remains to be seen.