2018-19 International Reviews: Detroit Tigers
This is part of Ben Badler's 2018-19 International Reviews series chronicling all the moves made by teams on the international market over the prior year. To see all 30 teams, click here.
Total 2018 (Jan. 1 - Dec. 31, 2018) signings: 31
The Tigers gave seven-figure bonuses last year to a pair of prospects from the Dominican Republic who are expected to debut this year in the Dominican Summer League. Their largest bonus went to Jose de la Cruz, a 17-year-old outfielder who got $1.85 million after training with Niche. De la Cruz is 6-foot-1, 195 pounds with a strong, compact frame that produces a mature tool package for his age. He's a plus runner with a plus arm. He has the tools and instincts to play center field, although with his body type, he might slow down, in which case he would fit in right field.
At the plate, de la Cruz has good bat speed and strength, making loud contact when he finds the barrel, with a chance for his power to develop into another plus tool. His pure hitting ability, however, is a red flag for scouts, as de la Cruz hit well for some teams early in the scouting process, but a lot of them saw stiffness in his stroke with a high swing-and-miss rate, both on fastballs and offspeed stuff. De la Cruz's raw tools rank among the best in the class, but he will need to make adjustments at the plate with his approach and timing for everything to click in games.
Another Dominican prospect, 17-year-old Adinso Reyes, got $1.45 million from the Tigers on July 2 after training with Jay. Reyes stood out for his physicality and power, as he's a heavy-framed 6-foot-1, 195 pounds and one of the stronger players in the 2018 class. His best tool is his power, with the bat speed, strength and lift in his righthanded swing to drive the ball out of the park in batting practice and a chance to develop plus power. Reyes has the awareness to let pitches on the outer third travel deep into the hitting zone and stay through the ball to drive it with impact to the opposite field. Power is Reyes' calling card, but his pure hitting ability is a question mark. His swing has some length and he can get underneath a lot of pitches, with a vulnerability against breaking stuff. Reyes moves surprisingly well for his body type with near average speed, though he's likely to slow down. He will play this season as a shortstop, though it's unlikely he will be there much longer. He could fit at third base if he improves his footwork and defensive actions.
Angel Cruz, a 17-year-old Dominican shortstop who trained in the same program as de la Cruz, signed with the Tigers for $400,000 on July 2. At 5-foot-11, 165 pounds, Cruz is a wiry, quick-burst athlete with plus speed, showing the quick footwork, arm strength and athleticism to stick at shortstop. Initially, Cruz looked like a speed-and-defense shortstop with a contact-oriented bat from the right side, but as he's gotten stronger he's started to drive the ball with more authority. He doesn't project to be a slugger, but he has an intriguing profile as a shortstop with potential to hit toward the top of a lineup.
Another 17-year-old Dominican shortstop, Geury Estevez, signed for $300,000 on July 2 after training at the Quality Baseball Academy. He's 6 feet, 180 pounds and didn't jump out for any one tool in a workout setting like de la Cruz, Reyes or Cruz, but he impressed Tigers' scouts for his ability to hit from both sides of the plate in games, both as an amateur and then after July 2 in the Tricky League, an informal league for 2018 signings. His athleticism and arm strength may end up moving him to another position, potentially second base.
Detroit's top Venezuelan signing last year was Rolando Sirit, a 17-year-old righthander. He's 6-foot-3, 165 pounds with a lot of space to add weight to his frame. He also has more room in the tank to add velocity to a fastball that's mostly in the mid- to upper 80s and reaches 89 mph. He shows feel to spin a curveball and has a solid changeup for his age.
Cuban outfielder Lester Benitez, 19, signed with the Tigers for $150,000 in July. He's 6 feet, 190 pounds and stood out for his power/speed combination. Benitez hits the ball hard from the right side in batting practice, although his in-game hitting is still raw for his age. He played for Pinar del Rio in Cuba's 18U national league in 2017, hitting .260/.327/.460 with four walks and six strikeouts in 55 plate appearances. His previous year in the league, Benitez hit .243/.303/.348 in 128 trips to the plate. Benitez's body type means he might slow down, but he has plus speed for center field, although his reads and routes will need to take a step forward to stay there.