Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Signed as an amateur free agent out of Latin America, Aponte made his debut with the Tigers organization as a 19-year old in the Dominican Summer League in 2005. He was impressive in 13 starts for the DSL Tigers, going 5-6 with a 2.71/1.11 posting. His 98 strikeouts in 76.2 innings were impressive, and ranked him amongst the league leaders in strikeouts per nine innings. Eleazar also displayed solid control, walking under two batters per start.
After such an impressive debut, the Tigers opted to bring Aponte stateside for his next challenge, slotting him in the GCL Tiger rotation in June. In eight appearances, Eleazar notched four wins against no losses; the wins tying him for 6th in the GCL. In addition, he notched a 1.77 ERA and 0.96 WHIP, good enough for 4th and 5th in the GCL respectively. His great start stateside prompted the Tigers to give him a try in the Lakeland rotation late in the season, filling holes created by injuries and innings limits. As a 20-year old in the Florida State League, Aponte equipped himself extremely well against older players. Despite his 0-2 record in four starts, he logged only a 3.22 ERA and 0.99 WHIP; giving up less than six hits per nine innings.
Aponte is similar to a lot of Latin pitching prospects, in that he has a promising arsenal from which to work, he just lacks the polish to use it to his advantage at all times. His fastball routinely sits in the low-90s, touching 94 when needed. He can generate some positive movement on his fastball, but lacks consistency in doing so. He commands his fastball very well, spotting it to both corners and working routinely down in the zone. He could stand to improve his ability to elevate his fastball, changing the hitter's line of sight, but that should come with experience.
In my estimation, his change-up was slightly more advanced than his breaking ball. The change has good fade and deception, and he was able to work it down in the zone regularly. He rarely missed up with the pitch, forcing hitters to pound it in the dirt. The breaking ball lacks consistent bite, but has the makings of a solid-average pitch. Overall, his package suggests he could remain in a rotation long term, provided some minor steps forward with his secondary offerings.
His body has plenty of room for projection, and there is hope that he will add some bulk as he matures physically. If that happens, he could inch his fastball closer to the mid-90s, making him that much more effective. He repeats his mechanics well, allowing him to command his pitches, and remain durable. He is surprisingly poised on the mound, and recognizes that he controls both pace and his own approach. With minor improvement, he could establish his ceiling as a solid mid-rotation starter.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG R
Aponte has remained healthy throughout his career, and with clean and easily repeated mechanics, there is little to suggest that trend will change.
After such an impressive emergency performance with Lakeland to close out the 2006 season, there are some serious questions about where Aponte will start the 2007 campaign. He could start the season at either West Michigan or Lakeland, and there is even a slim chance he could be pushed to Erie if there is an open rotation slot.
In the end, his late season performance should have less of an impact on his initial assignment, than should his preparedness this spring. If he comes in stronger and ready to go this spring, he could stand to be pushed aggressively. His arsenal screams projection, and there should be some rather lofty expectations placed on Aponte if he continues his successful trends.
Mark Anderson covers the Tigers' minor league system and all of minor league baseball for TigsTown.com. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.