If you get to see the Flying Tigers batting practice there is one player that stands out. The six foot three right hander pulls almost every inside pitch over the left field wall. Then if you get the pleasure to see the infield drills his arm sticks out above everyone else.
Four years ago Audy Ciriaco signed with the Detroit Tigers even though he had more lucrative offers on the table. Ciriaco said, "They gave me better options, they signed me to play here [in the USA] not to just play in the [Dominican Republic]." By being guaranteed he would be playing in the United States versus staying in the Dominican Republic was enough for him to become part of the Tigers organization.
Now with four seasons under his belt, you can see how Ciriaco's talents have grown. His defense can be absolutely spectacular. "At times he could play for any team in the major leagues, defensively," raved manager Andy Barkett. While Ciriaco has the capabilities to make all the plays in the field, he has committed his fair share of errors this season.
The Lakeland Flying Tigers defensive drills have been modeled after the defensive specialist Perry Hill's teachings. Under Perry Hill's tutelage the Detroit Tigers went from the worst defensive team in Major League Baseball in 1996 to the best in consecutive seasons in 1997 and 98. The system dedicates time to the fundamentals and Andy Barkett has seen it work first hand.
"I learned the same drills and they helped me a lot and I saw it help other guys," said Barkett and now he's passing the knowledge on to Ciriaco and the Flying Tigers. Once the players start seeing the results it becomes addictive.
Barkett describes Ciriaco as ‘eager' to take fielding practice and states, "It's a testament to the system when [Ciriaco] comes in and request a certain type of work, because he knows it helps him get better."
Ciriaco has seen the difference. In his first 39 games this season he had 11 errors and since then he has had 10 errors in his past 50 games. His highlight reel range is a contributor to his errors, since he gets a glove on balls hit deep in the hole that the average shortstop would never get to. When it comes to fielding Ciriaco has been trying to stop doing too much. "I need to see the ball, cut it, and throw because no one is faster than the ball."
One of the toughest parts of the maturation of a prospect is adapting to failure. Ciriaco had to find a way to compartmentalize his mindset while fielding and batting. "Last season I made a lot of errors because I was thinking of my at-bats in the field" It is shocking that someone who can play such good defense can accumulate so many errors.
Ciriaco had an astounding 41 errors in 107 games last season in West Michigan. This season Ciriaco is on pace for 25 errors for the same amount of games. "[Now] When I'm in the field I think about the play going on and take care of my at-bats when I'm in the dugout."
While Ciriaco has shown his amazing fielding prowess, he has just as many tools to succeed in the batters box. Ciriaco's .240 batting average and .670 OPS for the season doesn't do his talent justice. His cuts during batting practice are the most entertaining to watch on the team, with him shooting liners across the field and then pulling the next pitch over the left field fence.
While his bat isn't as developed as his glove, he has made some strides this season. "I'm trying to keep things simple, and not try to do too much and hit the ball where it's pitched." While the majority of Ciriaco's power comes when he can pull a fastball that catches too much of the plate, it is vital for Ciriaco to not be too pull conscious.
Where the Flying Tigers batting coach Larry Herndon feels Ciriaco has made his greatest progress is his pitch recognition. "He's starting to figure out what this league is all about, he's seeing a lot more breaking balls and laying off of them so he can wait for his strike and hit it." The result is a lot fewer chasing swings and more authority when he makes contact.
In his 108 at-bats since the Florida State League All-Star break, Ciriaco has been batting .296 with an OPS of .796. Time will tell if it's a progress in his development or an extended hot streak, regardless Ciriaco has been putting in the time to get better.
"He's one of the hardest working players on the team… That's why he's not making April mistakes in July," Said Larry Herndon about Ciriaco's work ethic.
There's not a position player on the Flying Tigers that has as much potential as Audy Ciriaco. He has enough strength to hit for power as well as the approach to use the whole field to hit for average. He can make plays in the field that are worthy of montage on Youtube. When asked what his biggest weakness is Ciriaco stated "I'm not too fast" even though he would be on pace to steal 15 bases over a 162 game season.
He has as much talent as you can ask for in a prospect. Now the question is can Audy Ciriaco put it all together.