Tigers return to roots with Venezuela-heavy signings

January 18th, 2023

The Tigers have a new-look front office and a leader who’s looking for any competitive advantage the organization can use. In the first international signing period under president of baseball operations Scott Harris and assistant Rob Metzler, the Tigers got back to their roots.

After a few years of big-money signings taking up most of Detroit’s bonus pool, the Tigers spread the wealth this time with a larger group of 20 signings, three of them ranked in MLB Pipeline’s Top 50. It’s a group with a strong Venezuelan influence.

The Tigers had a dominant position in the Venezuelan market not long ago, signing eventual Major Leaguers Eugenio Suárez and Avisaíl García from there.

They’ve kept a strong scouting presence even while becoming more aggressive on highly rated prospects from other parts of Latin America. This week’s signings, including 13 from Venezuela, have been a reminder of that.

“I think it’s a combination of trying to take advantage of the market -- we have a huge presence there -- and also, sometimes some of the players that may not be as high-profile, that aren’t going to showcases outside of Venezuela, we have a chance to build history on and have a lot of different looks,” Tigers international operations director Tom Moore said.

Like many teams, the Tigers don’t have the same presence in Venezuela as in past years, a result of the instability there. But they’ve maintained strong connections, in person and remotely. International crosschecker Alejandro Rodriguez is based out of Venezuela, while Latin American scouting director Miguel Garcia and international operations manager Rafael Gonzalez are from there. They have nearly as many scouts for Venezuela as they do for the Dominican Republic, where they have their academy.

The Venezuelan presence is up and down Detroit’s signings list. Their top signing, switch-hitting catcher Enrique Jimenez, ranks 32nd on MLB Pipeline’s list and has earned strong reviews for his presence behind the plate and his hard hitting. The area scout who recommended him, Raul Leiva, was once a switch-hitting catcher signed out of Venezuela by the Tigers 16 years ago.

“When [Leiva] first reported on him, that certainly struck the attention of our guys,” Moore said. “Then we were able to see him in some showcases, and what he had reported on was evident. And so I think that was helpful and advantageous to us.”

Fellow Venezuelan Maikol Orozco ranks 44th on MLB Pipeline’s list and has earned strong reviews for his advanced hitting approach and ability to drive the ball to all fields.

Dominican outfielder Cristian Perez was the Tigers’ other ranked signing, listed 48th by MLB Pipeline.

At the other end of the list is outfielder Adrian Hoyte, the kind of player who could easily get overlooked. Listed at 5-foot-7 and 145 pounds, he doesn’t stand out physically. But beyond the usual traits such as speed and hitting, the Tigers saw intangibles when scouting him.

“He makes you watch him,” Moore said. “If you see the body, you’d be like, ‘All right, he’s not going to make anything of himself.’ But obviously there’s a strong tradition, in Venezuela especially, of teams maybe not putting enough attention into Jose Altuve when he signed for a low bonus. And I’m not making comparisons necessarily of Hoyte to Altuve, just in a sense that he made us watch him. High-energy player.

“You’re watching [batting practice] and he’s among the players out there shagging. He’s the one that’s making diving plays and giving everything he’s got. He’s got some surprising pop from the plate, an interesting kid who can run a little bit and plays above his toolsets.”

The influence of Harris and Metzler should be seen in the coming years. They’re already beefing up the international department, adding a full-time analyst, another scout and video and data personnel. But Venezuela will remain a priority.

Here’s the full list of signings:

Willian Berti, OF, Venezuela (6-0, 180)
Brandy Caraballo, OF, Venezuela (5-9, 150)
Erickson De Los Santos, LHP, Dominican Republic (6-6, 200)
Juan Hernandez, SS, Venezuela (6-0, 160)
Adrian Hoyte, OF, Venezuela (5-7, 145)
Enrique Jimenez, C, Venezuela (5-10, 165)
Leonardo Leon, RHP, Venezuela (6-4, 180)
Nelson Marin, C, Venezuela (5-11, 165)
Andy Mateo, RHP, Dominican Republic (6-4, 180)
Abelardo Medrano, OF, Dominican Republic (6-2, 180)
Wuilberth Mendez, RHP, Venezuela (6-3, 150)
Maikol Orozco, SS, Venezuela (5-11, 175)
Victor Pena, RHP, Dominican Republic (6-3, 185)
Cristian Perez, OF, Dominican Republic (5-11, 190)
Santiago Pinto, OF, Venezuela (5-11, 170)
Deibi Rodriguez, RHP, Venezuela (6-0, 175)
Anibal Salas, OF, Venezuela (5-11, 180)
Kelvis Salcedo, RHP, Venezuela (6-0, 180)
Martin Tamara, C, Colombia (6-0, 185)
Luis Vasquez, RHP, Dominican Republic (6-4, 180)