Prospect Lugo displaying talent, plate discipline
Infielder impressing since joining Tigers' system in July 2017
DETROIT -- The thing that stands out about Dawel Lugo is that he produces velocity. Whether it's with his arm in the infield, or off the bat at the plate, he sends baseballs going in a hurry. That caught the Tigers' eye when they were looking at position prospects to snare from the D-backs' system in a J.D. Martinez trade back in mid-July.
Lugo did not disappoint in either regard over six weeks at Double-A Erie.
"He's very good, defensively. He's got a very strong arm," former SeaWolves manager Lance Parrish said. "All things considered, I like him a lot. I think he's got some serious potential. And the ball does jump off his bat, so that's always a good thing."
Of all the position prospects the Tigers acquired last summer, Lugo should be the next to arrive, following Jeimer Candelario. After a full season of Double-A ball -- combining for a .277 average, 27 doubles, five triples, 13 home runs, 65 RBIs and a .746 OPS between Jackson and Erie -- the 23-year-old Lugo is in line for a promotion to Triple-A Toledo, which would put him a short step from the rebuilding project in Detroit. The question would be the position.
Lugo began his pro career as a shortstop, but with depth at the position in Arizona's system, he shifted to third base in 2016. That's where he played in Erie upon arrival, but the Tigers' ensuing trade with the Cubs for Candelario gave Detroit more immediate help at the hot corner.
Not coincidentally, Lugo began playing more at second base down the stretch in Erie, starting 13 games there. If the Tigers trade Jose Iglesias at some point this coming season, shifting Dixon Machado across the infield would create an opening at second. If not, the spot would open up for 2019 once Iglesias becomes a free agent, giving Lugo a little more prep time.
Back in August, Lugo said he felt more comfortable at shortstop since it was his natural position, but he liked the quick reactions and strong throws required at third. But he also wasn't in a position to be picky. He just wanted to focus on doing his job, he said through a translator, and let the Tigers make the decision of where he would play.
"That's everyone's dream," Lugo said of cracking the Majors.
For what it's worth, Lugo picked up most of his playing time in winter ball at third base for Tigres del Licey in the Dominican League. More importantly, he picked up the bat, hitting .324 (24-for-74) with four doubles, four walks and six RBIs. The power wasn't as evident, but the contact was, striking out just seven times in 19 games.
That's a career trend as well, whether or not Lugo is hitting for power. He put up a relatively low rate of 72 strikeouts in 557 Double-A plate appearances last year, just over half as many strikeouts as base hits (143) for the season.
Aside from a July stretch when his aggressive approach might have gotten the best of him, Parrish said he saw a good amount of plate discipline from Lugo for someone his age. It hasn't translated into walks; his 33 last year marked by far the most in his career. But when he swings, he tends to put the ball in play, usually with quality contact.
"I always look at a young guy like him to see if he can actually hit a breaking ball. And he can," Parrish said. "He sits back. Once in a while he'll chase, but everybody does."
What Lugo does at Triple-A, where pitchers are older with a better grasp of offspeed and breaking pitches, will give a better glimpse into his big league potential at a number of positions. Depending on what else the Tigers do, or the rise of other infielders such as Isaac Paredes, Lugo's ability to play around the infield could well make him a valuable roster piece as a presence off the bench.
"He's a pretty talented guy," Parrish said.
Lugo ended last season ranked No. 15 on MLB Pipeline's list of Tigers prospects. He could tick up a couple more spots when the 2018 rankings are released next month.