Detroit Tigers minor-league tools series: Best Hitter

Five of the Detroit Tigers' six draft picks in the 2020 MLB draft participated in instructional league play in Lakeland, Florida.
Five of the Detroit Tigers' six draft picks in the 2020 MLB draft participated in instructional league play in Lakeland, Florida. /
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Taking advantage of MLB gridlock to look at the Detroit Tigers farm system.

MLB owners have locked out the players, so Detroit Tigers news figures to be a bit scarce for the next few weeks. But that lull gives us a chance to look to the minor leagues and hopefully give readers a better idea of the skills displayed by players in Detroit’s farm system.

This is the first of a dozen articles about the best individual player tools in the Detroit Tigers farm system. If you want to refer to this series as “The 12 Tools of Christmas” we won’t stop you.

Fans who found their Detroit Tigers minor-league coverage at TigsTown will be familiar with this format. We describe what we’re looking for in each tool, then list the five best examples in the Detroit Tigers system, along with a few honorable mentions, and young prospects who may climb the list soon. Let’s begin.

Detroit Tigers Minor League Tools Series: Best Hitter

When we talk about the hit tool we’re generally looking for three skills:

  • The ability to put the bat on the ball
  • The ability to hit the ball with authority
  • The ability to control the strike zone

The best hitters combine all three skills, and players generally need two of these skills to be successful big-league hitters. At the risk of sounding like Yogi Berra…it’s hard to be a good hitter if you can’t hit good. Putting bat to the ball is essential, but without power and/or patience, that contact can become something of a Pyrrhic victory.

In the player profiles, we’ll touch on other factors that play into the utility of the above skills — the ability to adjust, bat speed, and pitch recognition — but let’s make with the lists.

Detroit Tigers Best Hit Tools: Future Shock

  • Cristian Santana – IF
  • Iverson Leonardo – OF
  • Danuerys De La Cruz – C
  • Carlos Mendoza – IF

Detroit Tigers prospect hounds likely recognize the name Cristian Santana, as he was the club’s top signing for the 2020 class international free agent class, and he already ranks among the team’s top-10 prospects at FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline. Santana also had a terrific pro debut, batting .269/.421/.520 with 9 home runs, good for a 161 wRC+ in the Dominican Summer League (DSL). Judging players based on rookie-league stats is unwise, but the combination of Santana’s production and prospect pedigree make him a player worth watching.

Iverson Leonardo, Danuerys De La Cruz, and Carlos Mendoza weren’t as highly regarded as Santana as amateurs, but they’ve each shown positive signs in pro ball. Leonardo had a strong 2019 season in the DSL, and while his batting average dipped to just .229 in his U.S. debut this year, his patience and power kept led to a very productive season in the Florida Complex League (FCL). De La Cruz ended up leading the FCL with a .283/.432/.543 line this season, while Mendoza is an undersized slap hitter with a strong eye and good contact skills.