Tigers still focused on international market

November 6th, 2020

Long before Willy Adames was playing shortstop for the Rays in the 2020 World Series, he was a prospect in the Tigers' farm system, signed a little more than eight years ago out of the Dominican Republic at age 16. Six years have passed since he went to Tampa Bay in the David Price trade, but the ties from those who scouted and signed him remain.

“I would have loved to have had him doing that with a Tiger uniform on for sure, but yeah, really excited for Willy to have that experience,” international scouting director Tom Moore said on a Thursday video conference with reporters. “Especially at a young age, it’s just going to do nothing but help him for the rest of his career. Willy’s a great kid, and I absolutely loved watching him enjoy that experience.”

Adames was long gone from the Tigers' system by the time Adinso Reyes signed with the Tigers two years ago, but his influence is strong. Both are shortstops from the central region of the Dominican and came through the same developmental program before signing with Detroit.

“It felt very good watching him play in the World Series. He’s a good guy,” Reyes said of Adames through an interpreter. “We met when he was already playing with the Rays. I had never met him before, but we have good communication.”

This is the cycle of baseball’s international-signing market, part of what makes the sport so unique. A promising prospect can take years of work, development and maturation before seeing the big leagues. Adames was an 18-year-old shortstop in his first full-season stop at Class A West Michigan when the Tigers traded him, and he didn’t make his big league debut for another four years. Reyes, who turned 19 last month, was scheduled to make his stateside debut this year before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Minor League season to be canceled. Instead, he’s in Lakeland, Fla., for the Tigers' instructional league. He’s currently Detroit's No. 23 prospect per MLB Pipeline.

The cycle goes on, even with baseball disrupted.

“We had about a six-month shutdown mandated by MLB where, internationally, we couldn’t scout,” Moore said. “Obviously, it was unfortunate times that I don’t think any of us have ever been through and certain challenges that we face. I do think we took great advantage of trying to improve as a department. It was a unique time where we could really look back and reflect at what we do well, what we can improve upon. There’s a lot of individual skill-building. We were able to address philosophies, look at different ways that we can improve individually and also as a group. …

“And then, under the MLB rules of what we could do, we kept in touch with certain players that are target players of ours. We were able to get videos of workouts, and then once things opened up, we had a direct focus of what players we wanted to see, how we’re going to see them.”

What is usually the July 2 international-signing date was moved back to Jan. 15. The Tigers’ goals remain the same. They’re favored to sign two players on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 International Prospects list: Dominican shortstop Cristian Santana ranks No. 13, while Venezuelan shortstop Abel Bastidas is at No. 26.

That didn’t change through the shutdown, though tracking those players did. Instead of watching showcases and academies, scouts relied largely on video. Scouts have resumed their normal work in the Dominican with protocols in place, Moore said, but quarantines and gas shortages in Venezuela have limited travel for their scouts based there. Some trainers have showcased players by streaming their events online. Tigers officials have watched pro games in Korea, Japan and Taiwan online to follow players there.

Much like their Draft efforts, Tigers scouts are also utilizing technology and metrics internationally, gathering data -- some from trainers, others they get themselves -- and adding it to their database to try to get a comparison between players internationally and stateside.

For the international players Detroit has already signed who haven’t made it to the U.S. yet -- such as slugging Cuban outfielder Roberto Campos -- the club is hoping to have an instructional league in the Dominican. Reyes and outfielder Jose De La Cruz, meanwhile, made it to Lakeland for Florida’s instructional league.

Time will tell what impact the pandemic has on player development. The bigger impact might be on time lost for scouts to get to know younger or overlooked prospects, meeting their families and building relationships, the kind of scouting work that doesn’t show up in stats but measures intangibles.

It’s another challenge in an already competitive market, Moore said, but it’s a key part of the job.

“That’s one of the things I love most about it, is that there are a lot of challenges dealing with players that are so young, dealing with a lot of challenges that they have at that age and also projecting players,” Moore said. “I just go back to our scouts. It’s the accomplishment and the hard work of our scouts.”