The Tigers signed Ciriaco out of the Dominican Republic during the 2004-05 off-season for a reportedly modest signing bonus. Despite drawing interest and larger offers from several teams, Ciriaco opted for the Tigers in a bit of a surprise signing. The Tigers wasted no time in bringing Audy stateside to work with the organizations instructors, making his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League in June 2005. At only 17 years old, Ciriaco was part of the younger contingent present in the league. Despite the hype, Audy struggled to get going in his first taste of big time baseball, posting a modest .250/.299/.421 line in 40 games.
A return trip to the GCL in 2006 yielded less than inspiring overall results, but there were signs of progress for the talented infielder. A season line of .217/.255/.337 hides the progress that was made throughout the summer. While he failed to adjust to pitchers as the season wore on, his July performance warrants some attention (.279/.311/.430 in 25 games). While the statistics failed to demonstrate his considerable talent, scouts walked away impressed and hopeful of better things down the line.
The Tigers pushed Ciriaco hard at the start of the 2007 season, assigning him to West Michigan as the everyday shortstop. His overall line looks poor, but he did show promise in shorts spurts, and drew praise from various league managers for his power and improvements in the field. Audy's season was highlighted by a strong June that saw him drive in 15 of his 39 runs on the season.
In an attempt to see gains in his game, the Tigers assigned ‘C' back to West Michigan for the 2008 season, and there were again signs of progress; enough so that some scouts are again believing in his immense potential. From May through July, Audy hit to the tune of a .286/.309/.410 line with six of his seven home runs and nine of his twelve doubles. Still as only a 20-year old in the Midwest League, Ciriaco saw gains in every aspect of his game, as his strikeout rate, walk rate, and ISO all rose a year later.
When scouts speak of five-tool talent, they speak of players like Audy. He has the ability to hit for tons of power to all fields, and despite the strikeout rates, he has shown an ability to make consistent hard contact in practice situations. The ability has yet to translate to game action, but there are indications that he may be on the verge of a monster breakout at the plate. While he doesn't hit mammoth blasts over the fence, he is capable of hitting rockets to the gaps, with plenty of back spin and carry that generate home runs.
He is a plus runner with long strides and improving instincts on the bases. He gets up to speed quickly, and with improvements in his ability to locate bunts, he could add another dimension to his offensive profile. The speed helps him in the field as well, allowing him to range far to all sides to make plays that many players couldn't dream of making.
Though Ciriaco has tremendous raw defensive ability, he struggles to make routine plays, as the game has yet to slow for him. His instincts are above-average and his first step quickness is top notch. Despite getting to amazing numbers of balls both up the middle and in the hole, Ciriaco's footwork gets out of whack, causing his throws to routinely be mild. The Tigers are considering moving him from shortstop to third base on the chance that the position may be more reactionary and alleviate some of his errors. He has plenty of arm strength for third base, with tons of carry and more velocity than he needs to make every throw imaginable.
There is little doubting Audy's raw ability, but there are many questions about how much of that raw talent will actually translate to game action. Observing him during Instructional League games, he looked absolutely outstanding and displayed some of the most talent in all of camp. If things click for Ciriaco, he could quickly become the best position player prospect in the organization.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% A
Ciriaco has been a model of health throughout his minor league career, and his freakishly lean and athletic body lends well for his ability to remain healthy over the long term. There is some concern over the position switch leaving him vulnerable to some minor injuries, but he looked pretty smooth at third during Instructs and I'm hopeful that he can remain healthy at the hot corner.
With Cale Iorg likely moving to Double-A for the 2009 season, that opens the door for Ciriaco to man the position at High-A Lakeland, staving off his move to third base. It seems the Tigers truly want him to figure things out at shortstop and be able to stay at the position long term, and given his potential, I can't really blame them.
With Wilkin Ramirez, we've seen that it simply takes time for some players to really break out and translate their abilities to the field; and there is hope based on the view of some scouts, that Ciriaco could be on the verge of such a breakout as he enters his fifth minor league season. Look for Ciriaco to show more game power and some slightly better contact rates that could vault him up prospect charts.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.