Ciriaco was signed by the Tigers as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic in February 2005, by Ramon Pena. Unlike many Dominican prospects, the Tigers opted to bring the talented Ciriaco to the GCL for his first season of pro ball. Debuting as an 18-year old, Ciriaco held his own with a .250/.299/.421 line.
A return trip to the GCL in 2006 appeared to be a step back statistically, but many were encouraged by his progress on the field. In 50 games, Ciriaco hit just .217, but he did smack seven doubles and four home runs, along with nine stolen bases in ten attempts.
Ciriaco was pushed to West Michigan for both the 2007 and 2008 seasons. After hitting just .224 in his first season with the ‘Caps, he upped his average to a still modest .240 in his second year. Ciriaco's power also saw a boost between the two seasons, as he improved his slugging percentage from .311 to .343.
The Tigers moved Ciriaco up to High-A Lakeland in 2009, and he responded with what was arguably his finest professional season. In 121 games for the Flying Tigers, Ciriaco hit at a .262/.296/.397 clip with 17 doubles and eleven home runs. His defense also improved dramatically, as he dropped from 42 errors at West Michigan in 2008, to 30 errors with Lakeland.
Ciriaco's raw ability is the very definition of a multi-tooled talent. Early projections included five potentially above-average to plus tools for Ciriaco, but as he has begun to fill out his lanky 6-foot-3 frame, he has lost a step of speed. Ciriaco still possesses all five tools and can utilize them to perform on the field, but he may not project as the freakish player he had before.
As mentioned, Ciriaco is still a solid-average runner and sometimes he still shows above-average speed on the bases and in the field. He is a graceful athlete with long strides and explosive movements.
As he has filled out his body, Ciriaco has begun to show more of the power potential that has been projected. His power is becoming increasingly more usable in games, and he can put on impressive batting practice displays. The ball jumps off his bat thanks to quick hands and an explosive hip turn that generates good power.
Ciriaco has finally begun to understand and control the strike zone. He is taking a much more refined approach at the plate, and he seems to have a purpose to his at-bats; something that has not been seen in the past. He has the ability to hit for a decent average, and while it is unlikely he will ever walk much, he shouldn't be the batting average-driven player he has shown thus far.
Defensively, Ciriaco has excellent range and good instincts. He can go deep in the hole or range far up the middle, and he is an aggressive defender. His arm is a plus tool. His limitations defensively, or what has led to his lofty error totals, has simply been trying to do too much and continually learning the position. He has the potential to be a plus defender at shortstop.
Ciriaco has filled out a lot over the last two years, and there are increasing rumblings that he may outgrow shortstop all together. He has seen limited time the last few years at third base, and he could fit in well there, or potentially in the outfield. The Tigers would like to keep him at shortstop if at all possible, but their hand may be forced in the end.
Ciriaco will be 23-years old in June, and though it seems he has been around forever, he is still a very young and promising prospect. He has the potential to be a game-changing player on both sides of the ball.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% A+
Ciriaco has been a very durable player throughout his minor league career. He is a lean, athletic player with excellent work habits and a nearly ideal body. His lone significant injury was a problem with his quad while in West Michigan in 2008, but he returned from the disabled list and has been fine since.
The Tigers added Ciriaco to the 40-man roster during the off-season, a testament to both his outstanding raw ability, and the progress he has made over the last year or so.
The Tigers system is littered with promising shortstop prospects, including Cale Iorg ahead of him and Gustavo Nunez behind him. In an ideal word, each would move up one level for the 2010 season and continue to be challenged. In a far more complicated world, Ciriaco may be promoted to Double-A Erie, with Cale Iorg still there.
The time appears to be approaching where Ciriaco will be forced to move off the shortstop position, and if that happens, it will likely be to third base. He has seen some time there during spring training and the Fall Instructional League over the last two years, and most scouts are confident he could handle the transition relatively easily.
It seems as though we have been saying forever, but this may finally be the year where Ciriaco puts all of his skills on display at once, and posts a truly impressive season worthy of attention.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.