Ustariz was a priority signing for the Tigers during the 2009 international signing period, getting his deal done promptly. After the signing period opened on July 2nd, the Tigers waited only four days to finalize the deal, inking him on July 6th for a reported low-six figures bonus.
Ustariz made his official pro debut as a 17-year old in 2010, playing 48 games in the Venezuelan Summer League. Despite seeing time behind the plate, in left field, and on both infield corners, Ustariz is a third baseman by trade. For the season he hit a very respectable .281/.372/.363 with eight doubles and two home runs, to go along with more walks than strikeouts.
The Tigers returned Ustariz to the VSL for this season and he has improved his numbers across the board, hitting .324 and bumping his slugging average up to .455. This year he has 12 doubles and three home runs.
Ustariz isn't going to wow with tools. He falls more in the mold of the guy that does a lot of things pretty well, but nothing really well.
A third baseman by trade, Ustariz has the tools to be a solid-average defender at the hot corner. He moves well to both sides with average range and good instincts. He is still learning when and how to charge slow rollers and bunts, and his throws on the run are often off line. His hands have improved dramatically and are now at least average and he flashes an above-average arm at times. He needs reps at third base to continue developing but has a chance to stick at the position.
Offensively, Ustariz has a short, quick swing that gets to the zone quickly and he keeps it there a long time. He rarely overextends during his swing and generates his pop through bat speed rather than brute strength. He has the potential to be an average or better hitter with gap-to-average power down the line.
He still needs to improve his ability to use the opposite field but he has shown strides in doing that this season. He is a fringe-average runner now and will likely be a below-average runner as his body matures.
If Ustariz's glove does not develop as the tools suggest, he could be pushed across the diamond to first base or be tried in left field, where his athleticism would be stretched. If he is moved off third base, his bat will be forced to carry the brunt of his prospect status, something most scouts don't believe his offensive tools are capable of doing.
Though a long way from converting raw tools into usable baseball skills, Ustariz has some projection as a second division regular at third base with both a solid bat and glove.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% R
Ustariz has been healthy throughout his two-year professional career.
With another strong season in the VSL, Ustariz has positioned himself to make his Stateside debut in 2012 as a 19-year old. The Tigers considered bringing him to the US in 2011 but felt he was better served getting at-bats and repetitions on a more regular basis in the VSL.
Ustariz isn't going to fly through the system once Stateside, and likely could take two additional seasons to reach full-season ball. With no standout tool to carry him, he will be forced to produce at every level to garner attention and earn promotions. Any big league timeline is still several years away.
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