Tigers Raise the White Flag, Not Enough Comes Back

Like writing on a graffiti-tagged freight car, the time finally came for the Tigers to throw up the proverbial white flag and start dealing away some of their costly, aging veterans. Detroit agreed to ship All-Star outfielder J.D. Martinez, a free agent at the conclusion of the season, to the resurgent Diamondbacks for a trio of infield prospects: Dawel Lugo, pint-sized shortstop Sergio Alcantara, and baby-faced middle infielder Jose King.

Lugo, the centerpiece of the return for GM Al Avila, was originally acquired by Arizona for replacement level veteran Cliff Pennington less than two years ago. However, since then his offensive production has continued to steady as he’s moved through the low- to mid-levels of the minor leagues.

I’ve always been a rather big fan of Lugo’s. Here’s what I wrote about him in my 2015 book while he was still in the Blue Jays’ organization:

“Lugo had a fine showing in the Appalachian League two years ago, hitting .284/.301/.437 with 15 doubles, a pair of triples, and seven homeruns while posting a 122 wRC+. The problem, however, are the seasons that end-cap his 2013. He batted .224/.275/.329 in the Gulf in 2012 and followed that up with a .259/.286/.329 triple-slash line last year. He definitely doesn’t walk much and the hit tool seems questionable right now. But, again, he put together three steady months in the Midwest League at 19, that can’t be overlooked.”

I followed a year later with this – after Toronto aggressively, and wrongly, pushed him up to High Class A:

“Let’s pretend for a moment that Lugo was simply a 20-year-old shortstop prospect making his debut in the Midwest League. Had he hit .335/.358/.419 he’d likely be the talk of the town. But, unfortunately, his failings the previous season – as well as the ill-timed move of bumping him up to High Class A – dampen his shine a bit. And that’s not including a BABIP hovering around .400. It’s still a tremendous value for what amounted to a couple weeks of Cliff Pennington and cash. Lugo shows six- to eight-HR potential, no patience, very little speed, and strong contact skills.”

Lugo promptly went out and slugged .314/.348/.514 in a return to High Class A, though he spent half of his time in the hitter-friendly confines of Visalia. But he continued to mash as Arizona moved him up to the Southern League in the second half of the year, batting .306/.322/.451.

And here’s what I wrote in last year’s book when I ranked him as the seventh best prospect in the Diamondbacks’ system:

“Needless to say, the shine is back – and brighter than ever. So let’s take a deeper look into his numbers, shall we?
It’s important to recognize that the majority of Lugo production – including 14 of his 23 doubles and 13 of his 17 dingers – came during his tenure in High Class A. He, of course, spent half of his time playing in a notoriously hitter-friendly ballpark: Rawhide Ballpark.
Adjusting for his favorable home field, his triple-slash line goes from .314/.348/.514 to .300/.332/.484. Again, still strong production for a 22-year-old infielder in High Class A.
Outside of that, Lugo’s walk rates are terrible. The hit tool – and BABIP – seems repeatable. But he was shifted from shortstop to third base, where the offense clearly doesn’t play as well.
He is a fringy big league shortstop (with defensive woes) and a career minor league third baseman. Hopefully the franchise’s new regime realizes that too. “

Well, the new Arizona front office did realize that. I just expected them to move him back to shortstop, not trade him away.

Anyway, Lugo is having another Lugo-like year in a return to the Southern League, hitting .282/.325/.428 with 21 doubles, four triples, and seven homeruns en route to topping the league average production by 16%. Defensively, according to Clay Davenport’s metrics, he continues to be average-ish at the hot corner and slightly worse at shortstop.

I’m going to stick with my 2017 pre-season analysis: he looks like a fringy big league regular at shortstop and a career minor league third baseman.

The second piece in the deal was young shortstop Sergio Alcantara, a former highly touted international amateur free agent who just can’t seem to consistently solve low level minor league pitching. After struggling in 2014 and 2015, the 5-foot-9, 168-pound prospect looked strong in a 15-game return to short-season ball before struggling a bit upon his promotion to the Midwest League.

His calling card has been tremendous defense: he’s been a (+7) defender throughout his minor league career. If you squint hard enough you might be able to see a quasi-useful big league shortstop here. But there’s definitely a lot of risk involved. If I was the Tigers’ front office, I would have insisted that Alcantara was the third piece of the deal, not the second.

The final piece is teenage second base/shortstop – and complete wild card – Jose King. Like so many other notable – and too often irrelevant – prospects in the Dominican Summer League, King ripped through the level as he slugged a robust .350/.402/.413 last season. This year he’s walked up to the plate just 51 times in the Arizona Summer League, compiling a .261/.333/.348 triple-slash line.

King swings it from the left side without much pop year. And his only standout tool, thus far, has been his speed.

In the end, it just doesn’t seem like the Tigers got enough of a return for J.D. Martinez – even if the rental is only for a couple months. On one hand it makes complete sense that Detroit targets middle infielders, as they’re usually less risk involved, but they all just seem…a bit underwhelming.






After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.