Manuel Sequera is a name to know.
The Detroit Tigers identified Sequera, from Barquisimeto, Venezuela, as a high-potential player in the 2019 international class and signed him July 2, the first day of that year’s signing period, for a $125,000 bonus.
“I’m proud to play for the Tigers,” Sequera said Friday, with his agent, Jose Luis Montero, translating.
Sequera was scheduled to travel from Venezuela to the Dominican Republic and report to the Tigers’ academy in San Pedro de Macoris on Saturday. That’s where the 19-year-old will work out until minor-league spring training begins in Lakeland, Florida.
He should start the 2022 season in Low-A Lakeland.
Sequera started his professional career in 2020 without playing in any games because the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the minor-league season, including the Dominican Summer League. He spent the entire year training at the Dominican academy.
“That was hard for his mother,” said Montero, who operates Future Stars Baseball Academy in Venezuela. “I always talked to his mom. She’s a very good friend of mine. She was always crying, ‘I need my boy. I need my boy.’ I said, ‘He needs to play baseball. He needs to be there.’ Venezuela is really tough for those guys, due to the situation. I would like them to stay in the Dominican or the States like 11 months out of the year. They don’t need to be here. Venezuela is dangerous. It’s really tough for those guys to live here and try to do something better for them.”
“My motivation is my family,” Sequera said. “Everything they did for me when I was younger, that motivates me to be in the majors one day.”
When the 2021 campaign came around, the Tigers skipped Sequera past the Dominican Summer League and into the Florida Complex League. It was the 6-foot-2, 204-pound shortstop’s first time in the United States.
“I feel like I’m a good hitter,” said Sequera, whose physical projection could move him away from shortstop, according to one American League scout with ample time watching him. “I like leadership on the field. I like to be in the game, taking control of the game. My defense is good.”
Sequera, a right-handed hitter, hit .246 with 12 doubles, 11 home runs, 40 RBIs, 15 walks and 57 strikeouts in 46 games, adding a .314 on-base percentage and a .505 slugging percentage.
Facing the FCL Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 4, Sequera drilled three home runs — one each in the first, third and fifth innings — in his team’s 6-3 victory. He had two homers against right-handed starter Dahian Santos and one against righty reliever Connor Cooke.
“I didn’t put pressure on myself,” Sequera said. “I was confident. I wanted to work hard to get the experience and do my best for my first season with the Tigers.”
Sequera started 39 games at shortstop and six at designated hitter. His arm strength is his best defensive attribute, which is why a transition to third base is the plan if his body outgrows the shortstop position.
For his efforts, Sequera was named 2021 Florida Complex League MVP. He tied for first in home runs (11) and extra-base hits (23) and tied for third in RBIs (40) among all players in the FCL and Arizona Complex League.
“It was really good for me to have some good results, for my career and for the team,” Sequera said. “When I got the MVP, I had the confidence to keep moving, to keep growing. I don’t want to only get the MVP for the 2021 season. I want to keep working to get the MVP for the next year of my career.”
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Outfielder Roberto Campos, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Tigers’ No. 8 overall prospect, also spent 2021 in the Florida Complex League. While Sequera — unranked by MLB Pipeline — played for FCL Tigers East, Campos took the field for FCL Tigers West.
Still, they got to know each other.
“I think that he is one of the best outfielders in the organization,” Sequera said of Campos. “He is a really good player.”
Campos, 18, hit .228 with five doubles, eight home runs, 19 RBIs, 17 walks and 41 strikeouts in 39 games. He, too, was playing his first professional season. The Tigers signed Campos for a $2.85 million bonus in July 2019, overshadowing the additions of Sequera and other international signees from that class.
Although Sequera hit more homers than Campos, the Cuban-born Campos has more raw power.
So does Dominican-born outfielder Jose De La Cruz. He signed with the Tigers for $1.85 million in July 2018 and reached Low-A ball in 2021. The 20-year-old hasn’t translated his raw power into game situations yet, slugging just five homers in 83 games last season.
What separates Sequera, described by another AL scout as a player with above-average instincts, is his seemingly natural ability to connect with the barrel of his bat and produce ideal launch angles. In 2021, his swing path granted access to his power.
“I don’t want to get on top of the ball,” Sequera said. “I focus on launch angle and keeping the barrel on the ball to get the connection.”
There’s a long way to go in Sequera’s development before his MLB debut. His 29.4% strikeout rate, for one, needs to improve. But in his first pro season, Sequera made himself a prospect to watch in 2022.
The Tigers can’t wait to see what happens.