Detroit Tigers send message to hitting prospects: You’ll get promoted if you produce

Detroit Free Press

The first came from a $1 million international signing.

The second was slowed, quite literally, in 2020 by a broken foot.

And the third was drafted 78 spots after first-rounder Riley Greene in 2019.

All three are intriguing Detroit Tigers infield prospects.

And all three received promotions Monday in a series of interesting moves that played out like a game of dominoes across the Tigers’ organization.

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The message from the Tigers front office is clear: Just a month into the minor league season, there’s no time to wait. If you produce, you’ll get promoted.

Let’s start with Andre Lipcius, 23, a 2019 third-round draft pick. He was promoted Monday to Double-A Erie after hitting .277 for the High-A West Michigan White Caps. The average age for the Double-A Northeast League, in which Erie plays, is 24.1, so Lipcius is arriving slightly ahead of schedule even after losing last season because of COVID-19.

Wenceel Perez was promoted to West Michigan after hitting .293 for the Lakeland Flying Tigers. Perez, 21, was a $550,000 international signing out of the Dominican Republic. The average age for his new league is 23, so he is way ahead of schedule.

And the Tigers assigned shortstop Alvaro Gonzalez to the Lakeland Flying Tigers. Gonzalez, 20, was a $1 million signing out of Venezuela.

“We are about a month in and we are always trying to evaluate, making sure guys are at the right spots and adjustments that need to be made,” Dave Littlefield, the Tigers vice president of player development, said. “The three of them are doing a nice job and (are) thought of as prospects. So we want to continue to challenge these guys and give them a little higher level.

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“This is an organizational decision. There’s lots of people watching these guys, pro scouts and amateur scouts, and obviously, player development people work in the metrics to make sure we’re on top of what’s happening there. So there’s a lot of people involved in these decisions.”

‘More of a challenge’

Lipcius was drafted as a third baseman out of Tennessee.

“He’s a ballplayer,” Littlefield said. “He’s a hit collector. He is intelligent. He’s got a feel for the game. too. Tools don’t jump out at you but when you add them all up, the guy plays the game.”

Lipcius is the epitome of versatility, exactly the type of player that manager AJ Hinch loves.

Lipcius started at short as a sophomore at Tennessee before moving to third, where he has mainly played this season. He can also play second base.

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“AJ Hinch has talked about the flexibility of players is valuable,” Littlefield said. “And so we’re trying to have that happen throughout the minor league system. And a lot of guys are doing that.”

By moving Lipcius and Perez, it opened up a spot for Gonzalez, who has mainly played second base.

Gonzalez has struggled offensively, hitting .233 in 88 minor league games, never advancing beyond rookie ball.

“He’s a ballplayer; an intelligent, instinctive infielder,” Littlefield said. “He has a mature approach at the plate, is a mature guy, smart guy. We think this guy has earned a spot and needs a little more of a challenge.”

Back after a bad break

Perez lost last season because of a foot injury, not to mention the pandemic He broke his foot during spring training in 2020 while running the bases.

After surgery, he played instructional ball and felt tentative.

“A little bit of nerves when it comes to running the bases,” Perez said through an interpreter.

But he is feeling confident now.

“Mentally, right now, I’m in a good spot,” Perez said.

Perez had 33 errors at short in 2019, but he has switched to second base.

“It’s just been easier,” he said. “Everything’s been a little smoother, going a little slower at second base.”

Perez is familiar with West Michigan, where he played in 2018 and 2019 when it was a rung lower (Single-A affiliate).

In 2018, he played 16 games for the White Caps, hitting .308.

And he struggled in 2019, hitting .233.

But his offense appears to be back. He hit .293 across 23 games in Lakeland.

“It’s good to see him back on track,” Littlefield said.

And that track is leading to West Michigan.

All of this is welcome news, if not encouraging for each of these three players.

This rebuild feels like it has moved in slow motion and it’s time to see what these young kids can do at higher levels.

Why Tigers are losing ‘the hottest player in baseball’ for a few weeks ] 

It seems like forever since the Tigers have produced an everyday position player — what, Nick Castellanos?

And it’s not going to happen again if they don’t push these kids through the system.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/

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