February 12, 2016
Suarez was signed out of his native Venezuela by the Tigers in 2008, and spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons as a part of Detroit’s Venezuelan Summer League squads. He posted a .311/.389/.396 line in 261 plate appearances in 2010 before coming stateside to the Gulf Coast League to start the 2011 season, where he was moved up to the New York-Penn League after just 12 games. Playing his age-19 season in the NYPL, Suarez hit for a .749 OPS with five home runs and nine steals in 229 plate appearances, before being moved up to the Midwest League for the entirety of the 2012 season, where he put himself on the prospect map by hitting for a .288 AVG and showing strong on-base skills (.380 OBP), walking in just under 11 percent of his 603 plate appearances while adding six home runs and stealing 21 bases (in 30 attempts). His breakout campaign placed him at no. 9, in Jason Parks’ eyes, among a relatively barren Tigers system at the time. His 2013 season began in the Florida State League, but he only stuck around for 25 games, hitting for a .311 AVG before his promotion to Double-A Erie, where he spent the remainder of the year and the start of the 2014 season. In 153 games at the Double-A level, Suarez hit for a .261/.336/.417 line with 15 home runs and 16 stolen bases (in 29 attempts), while walking nine percent of the time. After his strong start at Erie in 2014, he moved up to Triple-A Toledo for 12 games and was promoted to Detroit after Jose Iglesias’ season-ending injury.
Suarez’s first taste of big-league action as a 22-year old was a mixed bag, as he hit for a .242 AVG, but his power evaporated (.094 ISO), and reports on the glove were not exactly overflowing with praise. He maintained his nine percent walk rate from the minors, added four home runs, and stole three bases in his 277 plate appearances that spanned 85 games of action. With Iglesias returning from injury, along with Nick Castellanos and Ian Kinsler entrenched as starters in the Detroit infield alongside Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers shipped Suarez to Cincinnati in exchange for Alfredo Simon to fill their rotation void, rather than deploying him in an utility role.
What Went Right in 2015?
Stuck behind a veteran starting infield in Cincinnati, Suarez began the 2015 season in Triple-A Louisville, where he compiled a .786 OPS in 57 games, hitting eight home runs and stealing three bases, before another season-ending injury to a starter—this time Zack Cozart—earned him another opportunity at the big-league level. Suarez took advantage and hit .280/.315/.446 in 398 plate appearances the rest of the way, smashing 13 home runs and 19 doubles, and stealing four bases. Suarez’s .167 ISO placed him sixth overall among shortstops, and his .283 TAv was fourth at the position (min. 300 PA).
What Went Wrong in 2015?
Suarez’s walk rate of 4.3 percent with the Reds was down from his 7.9 percent mark with the Tigers in 2014, and was far lower than the 9.5 percent clip he registered over his minor-league career. That led to a less-than-sparkling .315 OBP—tied for 14th overall at the position. His strikeout rate of just under 24 percent was a jump up from his 18.2 percent minor-league rate.
What To Expect in 2016
Suarez’s HR:FB rate increased from 5.2 percent with the Tigers in 2014 to 12.1 percent in his first year in Cincinnati, although his line-drive percentage of 29.2 percent placed him fifth among shortstops and his .167 ISO wasn’t out of line with what he produced in the minors. While Suarez hit 43 points higher at Great American Ball Park than on the road in 2015, he slugged nine of his 13 home runs away from Cincinnati, so his power doesn’t simply look like a case of him taking advantage of the typically cozy home hitting environment.
The return of Zack Cozart and the trade of Todd Frazier will reportedly lead to Suarez sliding over to third base to start the 2016 season. The decision was likely made with the intention of giving Suarez his first full-season’s worth of at-bats, but with Brandon Phillips still a part of the Reds infield, he’ll have to hold off other options that include Jose Peraza, Eric Jagielo (who came over as a part of the much-maligned Aroldis Chapman deal from the Yankees), and possibly Adam Duvall as bench options who could conceivably cut into his playing time a bit.
In the 2016 Baseball Prospectus Annual (buy yours here), PECOTA projects Suarez for a .249/.311/.403 line in 558 plate appearances with 16 home runs and seven steals—good for a .253 TAv.
The Great Beyond
Suarez is currently coming off the board as the 287th player overall in NFBC drafts, 18th among shortstops and 24th among third basemen—which I feel is below his value. I wouldn’t be drafting Suarez in 2016 with the expectation that he produces value that would make him a worthy starter in standard 12-team mixed leagues, but his multi-position eligibility is an asset and he may end up forcing himself into mixed-league relevance if he plays every day. In deeper leagues, I think Suarez is an ideal option to slide in at either a MI or CI slot, as I think he can hit for a slightly higher average than what PECOTA projects—in the .260-.270 range. If he reaches the projected 16 home runs and seven steals, that would make him a solid option at either short or third. I’d much rather take a shot on Suarez than the likes of Josh Harrison (currently going 215th overall, or almost five rounds earlier), and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he ends up producing similar value to Matt Duffy, who is being taken 149 picks earlier.
J.J. Jansons is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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