The Curious Case of Cale Iorg

There is no doubt, evaluating baseball prospects is an extremely difficult task. It is a difficult task under the most normal of prospect circumstances, let alone under complicated circumstances such as those surrounding Tigers shortstop prospect Cale Iorg.

Iorg was the Tigers' sixth round pick in the 2007 draft, signing for nearly $1.5 million right before the August deadline. The Tigers aggressively pushed him to Lakeland to get his feet wet late that season, and then attempted to have him continue receiving playing time in Hawaii Winter Baseball; only to have a hamstring problem shut him down for the year.

The Tigers again were aggressive with the then 22-year old shortstop, sending him back to High-A Lakeland in spite of his two years removed from

the game while on a Mormon mission in Portugal. Iorg finished the season with a .251/.312/.405 line for the Flying Tigers in 2008, including 15 doubles, seven triples, ten home runs, and 22 stolen bases.

The Tigers were optimistic about Iorg's future heading into the 2008 season, with General Manager Dave Dombrowski stating "We think Cale Iorg will be an All-Star," in an off-season interview.

Assigned to Double-A Erie to start the 2009 season, Iorg has struggled to post numbers commensurate with the high praise received from the Tigers' GM. As the season winds to a close, Iorg has yet to get his average out of the .220s, has yet to begin drawing walks at an acceptable clip, and has yet to harness his strikeout problem. In short, it's been a rough year statistically.

When you look at the track record since debuting late in the 2007 season, things seem pretty straight forward. The numbers tell the story of a player with good tools that has yet to post good numbers. The baseball landscape is littered with prospects that have followed exactly this path. "I could name 100 guys that have failed to turn tools into production, and we've always been able to identify a reason why," said one National League scout, who quickly followed with; "Cale Iorg will not be one of those guys."

You see, this is where the story begins to take turns, and not just those rolling turns you might see along Interstate-80 through Iowa, but sharp rights and lefts that can send you flying off the road.

In two years of talking to coaches, scouts, and front office executives, I have yet to find a single person that believes Cale Iorg won't be a very good big league player. That person may exist out there, but I have yet to find or speak with them.

In surveying many Florida State League and Eastern League managers over the last two years, I have made one simple request at the start of every discussion about Iorg; "Give me one sentence that summarizes your feelings on Cale Iorg."

"Big league shortstop," said one FSL manager.

"I wish he was on my roster, I'd have a field day with that talent," said another FSL manager.

"That kid is a big league player. No doubt about it," chimed one Eastern League manager early this season.

"I have zero doubt he'll be a big league shortstop," said another EL coach last week.

The message from coaches throughout both leagues the last two years has been clear, but the numbers muddy the waters considerably. When asked how he would respond to someone throwing his poor 2009 numbers back as a rebuttal to his praise for Iorg, one American League scout said "You take the numbers without context, and I'll take the kid that is a pure player, pure big leaguer. You have to understand the full story here; otherwise you have no clue what you're talking about."

The whole story is an article in its own right. After a standout high school career, Cale Iorg posted a .280/.331/.415 line playing in 62 games as a freshman for the Alabama Crimson Tide. He then proceeded to walk away, following his beliefs; walking away to a two-year Mormon mission in Portugal.

The Tigers took a chance by selecting him in June 2007, but they believed in the raw tools, they believed in the lineage – his father Garth, uncle Dane, and brother Eli played or are playing professional baseball – and most importantly, they believed in the person.

For many, it was simply about shaking off the rust for Iorg. Fans though that After two years away from the game, he may need a season to get back into the swing of things, but then he would take off and rocket towards the big leagues. As with everything in this storyline, it was far from that simple.

"That wasn't just two years away from the game, that was two years without development," said Tigers Area Scout and former GCL hitting coach Garrett Guest. Guest continued "You almost have to consider him as a 19-year old kid when he was drafted in 2007; one year of college ball and then pro ball. If you look at it that way, you'd be cutting a 21-year old in Double-A quite a bit of slack if he was struggling. That's where he's at right now."

As with most things surrounding Iorg's career, this is a special circumstance. It isn't simply about coming back and regaining form, it's about regaining form while also trying to continue learning the game he walked away from during a critical developmental phase. Oh yeah, and Cale is being expected to run those parallel tracks – regaining form and catching up on developmental time – all while being aggressively pushed through High-A and Double-A in his first two full years back on the field.

We have covered the history, the numbers, and some of the beliefs of those that have seen him, but there is one piece of very important information that we must discuss. During the developmental phase for prospects, one of the most critical evaluative tools is the scouting report.

Defensively, the belief is nearly unanimous that he is a Gold Glove caliber shortstop, and not down the line, but right this second.

"Every single game he makes a play that forces you to just shake your head," said an NL scout.

The praise for Iorg's defensive abilities is consistent; consistently glowing. Every scout I have spoken with this summer has raved of his defensive abilities, calling him everything from "the best defensive shortstop in the minors" to "the type of defender that makes you buy a ticket to the game."

On the other side of the ball, despite the numbers, the praise continues for his offensive potential.

"I see a guy that can hit, hit to all fields, hit with power, and run the bases. I see a guy that can do everything offensively," said Altoona Manager Matt Walbeck.

His 2008 coach with Lakeland, Andy Barkett, insists he will hit. "I think he's just got to slow down and stop trying to do too much. He has every tool you want in a hitter, and I think it will come together for him. He's going to hit."

Garrett Guest sees a guy that can hit, he just has to refine his game, "I've seen him hit, I know he can hit, the consistency just isn't there yet. He gets so amped up sometimes, he's got to slow down a bit. I think they were working with him on starting his swing a little earlier to get him to the ball quicker and maybe settle him down."

One AL scout summed it up cleanly as I sat next to him for a game in June, "There's too much there not to believe in this kid. He's an athletic freak. He's chock full of tools. He's got the bloodlines. He's a stud defensively. Everything is there, except the time to pull it together. I think he's a sure fire big leaguer, and I'm not moving off that stance.

There may be alarm amongst fans and passers by because of his rough 2008 and 2009 numbers, but the baseball folks – those that have seen this many times before – are not wavering in their belief that Cale Iorg will be a good Major League player.

There is nothing normal about the career of Cale Iorg, so why would we expect him to start now and make things easy on the way to The Show? If the pattern holds true to form, the story will take another sharp turn in the near future. It could come with a breakout Arizona Fall League performance, or it could come with a breakout 2010 season. Either way, industry insiders are convinced the breakout will come, and who knows, with the way the Curious Case of Cale Iorg has unfolded to date, maybe that breakout will come at the big league level sometime next year.

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