June 5, 2014
The Situation: The Tigers have struggled to find production at shortstop since Jose Iglesias went down with stress fractures in his lower leg, and this move is the next step in a continuing process to correct that problem. The club’s offensive production from shortstop has included a .167/.219/.233 line from the sinced-release Alex Gonzalez, a .167/.217/.190 line from the now-DFA’d Danny Worth, and a .200/.252/.252 line from the soon-to-be-backup Andrew Romine. Take a look at those numbers again and you will quickly understand why the Tigers decided to call-up BP’s no. 9 Tigers prospect.
Background: After moving Suarez around the diamond, including at least 20 games at shortstop, third base, second base, and the outfield in order to get him at-bats, the Tigers finally got Suarez settled in as an everyday shortstop in 2011 as he split time between the GCL and NYPL. In his full-season debut with West Michigan in 2012, Suarez hit an impressive .288/.380/.409 in 135 games while flashing an above-average glove. In 2013 Suarez hit .311 in just 25 games at High-A before promoting him to Double-A, where he hit just .253 with a solid approach and surprising pop. He returned to Erie to start the 2014 season and hit .284 with six bombs in 42 games before recently being promoted to Triple-A.
Scouting Report: Given the completely inept offensive performance of the Tigers early-season shortstop triumvirate, Suarez would be hard pressed to perform at a worse level, even if he isn’t fully ready for prime time.
Defensively, Suarez can generally match the production the club has been getting from the position so far this season. He has solid instincts in the field, and offers a quick first step that allows him to have above-average range to both sides. He tends to exhibit more range on balls up the middle but gets to plenty in the hole as well. Suarez has the hands to stick in the middle of the infield, and shows some ability to make the spectacular play, despite struggling with his footwork on routine plays at times. In my observation, the game still moves extremely fast for Suarez, preventing him from becoming a consistent defender.
Suarez’s arm fits on the left side with above-average to plus raw strength and an ability to make throws on the run and from a variety of angles. All told, Suarez can develop into an above-average defender in the majors, though he might not settle into that type of production for some time.
At the plate, Suarez offers some potential, but lacks the tools to be an impact offensive talent. Suarez has improved his ability to recognize pitches and work counts, but he still has a tendency to swing too often and chase pitches out of the zone. When he stays within himself, he has above-average bat speed and good plate coverage that allows him to spray line drives to all fields. At his worst, Suarez gets pull happy and over-aggressive.
His power will play below average in game situations, and he is unlikely to pick up more than six to eight home runs a year at the big-league level. He should add 20-25 doubles with a full season of at-bats, but his offensive approach will always be more contact/OBP driven than power driven.
Suarez can run at an above-average clip once underway, but he more frequently shows average times down the line. His instincts on the bases are generally good, but he is still learning how to read pitchers and get good jumps. Once fully developed, Suarez has the potential to steal 15-20 bases a year.
At the end of the day, Suarez’s ceiling rests in the solid regular range, but if the tools don’t completely come together, he could slide into more of a second-division type. At worst, Suarez should be a very good utility option capable of playing all over the field but spending most of his time at shortstop and second base.
Immediate Big-League Future: The Tigers have never been afraid to thrust their top prospects into full-time roles and Suarez should be no different. After an initial learning curve, he should be expected to get the bulk of the time at shortstop, and even if he struggles to handle major-league pitching he won’t be worse than his 2014 predecessors. Suarez should get plenty of leash throughout the remainder of this season, particularly if his defense compares favorably to Andrew Romine’s. —Mark Anderson
Fantasy impact: Well, Suarez is a better fantasy option than Andrew Romine was. That's about as high as I'm willing to go when it comes to praising Suarez for fantasy purposes. He's more of a "tough out" than a "good hitter" despite his attractive MiLB stat line this season and the decent averages he's put up at many levels. There's no real power or speed here either, and while Suarez will take a walk from time to time, he still won't be on base often enough to make a real impact in runs.
Suarez is okay as a last-ditch option if you really, really need MI help in AL-only leagues, and for the truly desperate just looking for any starter, I prefer him to Eduardo Escobar. But Dear Leader Bret Sayre summed up Suarez's fantasy value this preseason when he wrote that if Suarez was on your roster, "you may have to rethink your strategy for acquiring minor leaguers." Even with his proximity to the majors and even factoring in positional scarcity, he's never been a notable fantasy prospect. Hopefully he'll at least catch some of Jose Iglesias' BABIP magic. —Ben Carsley
Mark Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ProspectMark