2013 Tigers Coming Stateside

With visas in hand and a need for a new challenge, the Tigers will bring 12 players stateside for their first taste of professional baseball in the United States. The list of this year's first-time travelers is headlined by catcher Franklin Navarro and shortstop Aaron Sayers.

From the Tigers complex in the Dominican Republic, right-handed pitchers Cesar Burgos, Ricardo Ciriaco, Juan Falcon and Confessor Lara, along with outfielder Samuel Crafort will make the trek to the United States. The Tigers brought Falcon to Lakeland for instructs in 2012 after he posted a 2.18 ERA in 45 1/3 innings of relief in the DSL. During the summer he allowed just 25 hits but walked 30 batters, showing the raw potential that forced the Tigers to sign him after he was released by the Diamondbacks following the 2011 season.

During instructs, Falcon showed a low-90s fastball that reached as high as 94, though he struggles to throw strikes much of the time. His change-up and slider both have some promise and in my limited fall viewing, I liked the potential of his hard slider better. Falcon is purely a reliever at this stage, but he has some potential as a middle inning arm or possibly a seventh inning guy if everything breaks perfectly.

Cesar Burgos should pitch in the late innings in the GCL in 2013, just as he did for much of the 2012 season in the DSL. With a fastball that parks in the 90-92 mph range and a cut-throat mentality late in games, he seems built for the role. His curveball also shows serious promise, rating as one of the best breaking balls in the Tigers Latin American programs.

The Tigers could opt to use Ricardo Ciriaco as either a starter or reliever in 2013 and they believe his fringe-average fastball could begin to play up as he adds strength to his mature, 6-foot, 220-pound frame. Ciriaco posted a 2.38 ERA in 53 innings last y ear, showing an ability to induce weak contact and get quick outs.

Originally signed as an outfielder, Confesor Lara hit just .187 in 144 career games in the DSL before taking his raw arm strength to the mound in 2012. Pitching in 26 games and notching 16 staves, Lara dominated the DSL with a 0.93 ERA and just 15 hits allowed in 29 innings. Lara pitches in the 90-92 mph range and touches 93 while also showing a sharp slider that has short vertical break.

Rounding out the Dominican crew, outfielder Samuel Crafort will make his maiden voyage to the United States. A former shortstop, Crafort is one of the organization's better pure athletes. His athleticism has allowed for a smooth transition to center field. He is a solid defender with good speed and some intriguing, though extremely raw, offensive potential.

As one of just four teams that still maintain a complex in Venezuela, the Tigers have had a veritable pipeline of talent coming from the country. This year's group of Venezuelan prospects includes infielders Javier Betancourt, Steven Fuentes and Jose Zambrano, outfielder Orvin Tovar and catcher Franklin Navarro.

Navarro, the Tigers #37 prospect, came stateside for instructs last fall and should be a player to watch in 2013. He has very impressive raw tools, both behind and at the plate. A switch hitter, Navarro needs to settle down in the box and learn to trust his hands against better pitchers, but he has the tools to hit for average and maybe even some power. His defense is rough around the edges but he took well to instruction and is expected to make significant gains in 2013.

Betancourt and Fuentes were both priority signings for the Tigers during the 2011 international signing period and both carry lofty expectations as they come stateside for the first time. As a 17-year old, Fuentes played 59 games for the VSL Tigers last year, hitting .257 with 14 extra-base hits while splitting his time primarily between shortstop and third base. Fuentes is lauded for his athleticism and his raw power from both sides of the plate, something he began to put on display more frequently during Liga Paralela this winter.

With Betancourt, the Tigers have a player with very good bloodlines but he only played in 32 games last summer due to injury. While he was on the field, Betancourt posted a .333/.391/.455 line, playing mostly second base. With health, Betancourt could be a breakout performer as an 18-year old in the GCL.

Outfielder Orvin Tovar made big strides in his second professional season, jumping his OPS in the VSL by over two-hundred points. He continued that progress during Liga Paralela, showing a very good approach at the plate, solid gap power and improving center field defense. He lacks prototypical size but he is a solid athlete with a quality package of all-around tools that could make him an intriguing player.

The last Venezuelan-born player to head stateside for 2013 is infielder Jose Zambrano. Already 19-years old after just one season as a professional, Zambrano hit .342 last summer but stands out more for his quality defense throughout the infield. The organization considers him a tough out at the plate and a potential plus defender at any infield position.

Finally, the Tigers will bring two players to the United States from Australia. Signed a couple of years ago, infielder Aaron Sayers has been playing in Australia as he finishes high school, but the Tigers remain excited about his potential. Sayers natural position is shortstop but he is likely headed to second base long term. His bat stands out as his strongest tool and you can read a full scouting report on him here.

Signed last year, right-handed pitcher Dean Aldridge is an interesting project for the Tigers developmental staff. A 6-foot-3, 190 pound 18-year old, Aldridge is extremely raw but his fastball can already sit in the 89-91 mph range and he has already flashed as high as 93 in bursts. The scouts I spoke with after his signing indicated he has no feel for pitching and needs considerable development but they liked the raw arm strength and thought he was an interesting gamble.

The Tigers have not been shy about bringing foreign-born prospects stateside in recent years, and with some spotty draft records of late, their ability to acquire and develop international talent is more important than ever. This year's crop of young players heading to the United States is as intriguing as any crop in recent memory, featuring some promising arm strength guys and talented position players; making it a fun group to keep an eye on in 2013.

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