On those back lots at TigerTown, the training grounds that make Lakeland, Florida, the Tigers’ minor-league headquarters, a MLB team’s freshest prospects can be seen most summer days collected at a quadrant of four fields.
The workouts and intra-squad games sometimes give way to one of the fields hosting a Florida Complex League game.
And that sometimes means Abel Bastidas, 18, is starting at shortstop — if not third base or second base — while swinging his switch-hitting bat.
Bastidas is 6-foot-2, 165 pounds, and was signed in 2021 out of Carora, Venezuela, for significant money as international teen prospects go: $1.17 million.
He batted .260 in 44 games, which for the Tigers’ FCL players, ended Aug. 23. He finished with a .361 on-base average, three home runs, and a .770 OPS. He had 24 walks, helping that heavy on-base percentage, and a more-than-tolerable 33 strikeouts.
By far, his numbers were the best of any Tigers player in the entry-level FCL, even as a first year of professional baseball wore on Bastidas, as it does with so many teens. August was noticeably cool: .171 batting average in 12 games.
“He’s a good defender, and he can hit,” said Ryan Garko, the Tigers’ player-development chief. “We’re excited. I think he’ll be able to stay in the middle of the field. He has a good motor, he plays hard, and I think he’s on the right path.”
The Tigers wait and wait for one of their international prodigies to catch fire. It has been a long haul, as far as everyday players, since Willy Adames and Eugenio Suarez arrived. Or, in the case of outfielders, since Avisail Garcia became a Tigers outfield fixture.
Across the complex, at Marchant Stadium’s Publix Field, another 18-year-old shortstop with significant skills, Cristian Santana, works for manager Andrew Graham’s low-Single A Lakeland team.
Santana is yet considered a first-chair prospect. He batted .171 in August — another example of how Florida’s heat and a long first summer of pro baseball tends to grind down a player who batted .273 in July and who carries special status as a teen who received more money from the Tigers ($2.95 million) than any teen in Tigers international-signing history.
Bastidas doesn’t carry quite the pedigree that spurred the Tigers to make Santana their 2021 trophy. But they know how these developmental stories can go — which can be counter to projections when players are signed at all of 17 years old.
“I think he’s on the right path,” Garko said of Bastidas, who hit .100 points lower from the right side than from the left through those 44 summer games. “His body needs to get strong so he can impact the baseball more.
“But the foundation is there to be a complete player — and impact the game.”
Sizing up the cast
Garko’s thoughts on various Tigers farmhands, including some drafted in July:
► Roberto Campos, 19, outfielder, Single-A Lakeland: Campos is having a satisfactory summer: .261/.330/..391/.721. The only so-so grades stem from his size (6-2, 205) and from the relative lack of power (five homers in 110 games).
“A good year, and he’s gotten a lot better,” Garko said of a center fielder who in August had an .802 OPS. “Along the way there’s been some good and bad. In the outfield you want to make sure the ball goes to the right base. And he hits the ball on the ground too much.
“He might lead the organization in 105 mph ground balls. There are some swing-changes we’ll kind of target in January, which is when we make those kinds of tweaks. Zone-control is another. We want to make sure he’s controlling the (strike) zone.
“Hit first,” Garko said. “Then hit for power. We’re OK with that.”
► Manny Sequera, 19, shortstop, Lakeland: He has slammed 19 home runs, which is a bunch in a league where ballparks are big and summers sap strength. He’s batting .240 in 112 games, and it’s not strikeouts (104) that bother the Tigers. It’s that he has 19 walks in 474 plate-appearances, which is how you end up with a .287 on-base average.
“We’re trying to make sure he gets his pitch,” Garko said, “because it’s a very valuable skill being able to hit the ball to the pull-side in the air, and Manny does that. He’s a pretty tough offensive player. He knows how to do damage.”
Being a bit more selective could make him the Tigers’ breakthrough talent in 2023. His bosses understand, however, the challenge there can be a tough one.
► Danny Serretti, shortstop, West Michigan, sixth-round draft pick in July from University of North Carolina: Serretti is 22 and was a bit over-matched for low-A ball, where in 11 games he tattooed pitchers. He now is at West Michigan, and still raking (.333 in four games).
“He’s a pretty advanced player,” Garko said. “I know scouts like the whole tool-set. He’s a switch-hitter, has a nice compact swing. He’s moving fast.”
► Peyton Graham, 21, shortstop, Lakeland, second-round draft pick in July from the University of Oklahoma. “He’s exciting,” Garko said. “Even hearing from other scouts and other teams, he’s going to be the highest-ceiling position player in the draft if he puts it all in gear. There’s a lot of work to do, a lot of clean-up, but I’ll take it, because it’s there.
“He runs, he’s a good defender, he hits for power. All the tools are there to be an impact player.”
Graham is 6-3, 185, bats right-handed, and this spring hit 20 homers in 67 games for the Sooners.
► Keider Montero, 22, right-handed starter, West Michigan: Montero is among the Tigers farm’s chief head-scratchers.
“Some of the best pure stuff, on paper, that the analysts and pitching department has seen,” Garko said of a man from Venezuela who has no better than a 4.74 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 2022. “He’s a really good young pitcher who, I think, is learning that he can’t out-stuff everybody.
In other words: He needs to listen to his tutors, pitch with more precision, and move closer to converting his talents and 6-1, 145-pound frame into the brand of starter Garko and Co. believe he should be. A strong recommendation would be for the above to happen in 2023, which is in step with Montero’s capabilities.
“In the beginning, he probably didn’t take us seriously,” Garko said. “But I think he’s learned. He’s starting to value those meetings.”
► Jace Jung, 21, second base, West Michigan, first-round draft pick in July from Texas Tech: There are no complaints, no letters of regret being written about taking Jung with the 2022 MLB Draft’s 12th overall turn.
He has been so-so in his early games at high-A West Michigan. But that was expected even for a left-handed hitter of Jung’s skill.
“We threw him into the fire,” Garko said, acknowledging that the West Michigan promotion was aggressive, even for a player who was a hitting machine at Texas Tech.
A question, more than his bat, was whether Jung could handle second base with passing grades.
“His defense has been pretty good,” Garko said of the 6-foot, 205-pound Jung, who some scouts see eventually moving to first base.
“The body’s going to be important,” he said, meaning Jung will need to abide by training-room regimens. “The defense — making sure, defensively, he’s gaining. There are some things to clean up.”
The Tigers are sending infielder Colt Keith to next month’s convening of the Arizona Fall League. Keith, who last month turned 21, was having a dazzling 2022 season at West Michigan (.301, 914 OPS) before separating his shoulder in June. He has healed and will bring his left-handed bat to suburban Phoenix’s top-prospects stage. Additional players will be added to the extent the AFL requests more roster help from the Tigers. That decision is expected this week.
… Jackson Jobe has had two starts and two sturdy outings at West Michigan since getting pushed to high-A. His combined work: 10.2 innings, eight hits, one earned run, four walks, six strikeouts.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.