July 2nd, 2014

Tigers open international market with five signings

The Tigers have a form when it comes to signing prospects on the international market, and it usually involves quantity. They’ll go in on one mid- to upper-ranked talent, maybe two in a good year, then bolster that with a handful of deals or more involving lesser-known kids or raw prospects. They’ve done that since well before the MLB-imposed spending rules, and it has served them well.

In that sense, the Tigers stuck to tradition when this year’s international signings market opened Wednesday. In another sense, their deal for outfielder Julio Martinez went against the profile.

When they go position players, certainly in recent years, they’ve gone for top athletes at premium positions. Martinez is a big kid with a power bat who will either be a corner outfielder or a first baseman. Coming on the heels of last month’s First-Year Player Draft, when the Tigers were rumored to be looking at college power bats, it makes some more sense.

“Even at the big league level, power is a premium tool,” Tigers international scouting director Tom Moore said. “When you go through the draft and stuff like that, you definitely see more prevalent power, so that’s why we’ve been trying to get the athletes and guys you could project down the road. But this is a premium tool and something we couldn’t ignore.

“We always have a certain focus and things we think are successful in terms of producing talent. But at the same time, you always have to go with the best talent.”

Jesse Sanchez, who does a tremendous job covering the international signings for MLB.com, has a profile of Martinez here. Martinez ranked 19th on Sanchez’s list of top international prospects.

The secondary crop includes some more projected talent:

Irwin Chirinos, OF, Venezuela

Like Martinez, the left-handed-hitting outfielder has a strong body for his age (6-feet, 170 pounds) and a bat with some power. Chirinos’ outfield arm has the chance to be a strong one as his body fills out, while he should be an average runner. YouTube video of Chirinos is above.

Adonis Figuera, RHP, Venezuela

Figuera is more of a projection signing, based on what scouts believe he could do once his 6-foot-2, 165-pound frame fills out.

“He’s a tall, skinny-framed kid,” Moore said, “but he’s got a real big arm. His fastball is in the mid-80s, but he projects to have a lot more gas in the tank.”

He already has a curveball and a changeup, the latter of which is a work in progress.

“The bet on this kid is, as he gains strength, he’s going to gain more power,” Moore said.

Jose Salas, SS, Venezuela

Initially, Moore said, the Tigers saw Salas as a defense-first infielder, rangy and athletic but not necessarily a great hitter. As scouts continued to watch the teenager learn pitchers and adjust his game, they saw more upside to his bat.

“He’s got real quick hands. He’s going to be able to play shortstop,” Moore said. “The thing that’s really come on is his bat speed and ability to make hard contact.”

Jorge Ynirio, SS, Dominican Republic

If Martinez represents the Tigers’ need for power bats, Ynirio profiles more like the kind of player the Tigers have targeted in past summers, an athletic player with upside who can play a premium position. He can run, Moore said, and he has a plus arm. His bat speed shows the promise for offensive production.

“He’s got a little bit of crudeness to his game, nothing moreso than a lot of kids,” Moore said. “But really, the thing we’re banking on is the athleticism. The tools are there. They’re certainly things we can bank on. He’s got a good chance to become a good player.”

Verlander Day lineups: Tigers vs. Athletics

No batting practice suspense today: Victor Martinez is out. Torii Hunter gets the day as the designated hitter, with J.D. Martinez starting in right, a decision manager Brad Ausmus made last night.

“I’d rather be cautious in July than have an injured player through August,” Ausmus said.

With Hunter at DH, all four Tigers outfielders are in the starting lineup together for the first time. Andrew Romine, meanwhile, gets the start at short, giving Eugenio Suarez a day off after a night game.

TIGERS (numbers vs. Jesse Chavez)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-5, walk, 3 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (2-for-11, 2 doubles, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (3-for-6, double, HR, 2 walks)
  4. J.D. Martinez, RF (1-for-4)
  5. Torii Hunter, DH (1-for-1)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B (2-for-3)
  7. Alex Avila, C (2-for-5, HR, K)
  8. Andrew Romine, SS (1-for-5, 2 K’s)
  9. Rajai Davis, LF (0-for-2)

P: Justin Verlander

ATHLETICS (career off Verlander)

  1. Coco Crisp, CF (9-for-38, 2 doubles, HR, walk, 5 K’s)
  2. Alberto Callaspo, 3B (4-for-22, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  3. Yoenis Cespedes, DH (6-for-18, 2 doubles, walk, K)
  4. Brandon Moss, RF (2-for-18, 3 walks, 11 K’s)
  5. Derek Norris, C (1-for-9, 5 K’s)
  6. Stephen Vogt, LF (0-for-11, 6 K’s)
  7. Jed Lowrie, SS (2-for-14, double, walk, 5 K’s)
  8. Nate Freiman, 1B
  9. Nick Punto, 2B (5-for-29, 3 walks, 11 K’s)

P: Jesse Chavez

Game 80: Putting Porcello’s performance into perspective

Let’s be quick with this, because there’s a day game Wednesday, and Justin Verlander is pitching in it:

The Oakland Athletics came to Detroit leading the league in runs scored (422), walks and on-base percentage (.335), while ranking third in home runs and fifth in slugging percentage. They were tied for fifth in extra-base hits, and they had the AL’s lowest ratio of ground balls to fly balls (0.69). Their run differential was and is the best through this point in the season since the 2001 Mariners team that ended up winning 116 games.

Rick Porcello became just the second pitcher this season to throw a shutout on them. Texas’ Martin Perez was the other, doing so on April 23 with a complete-game three-hitter.

Rick Porcello just missed the three-hitter, having given up a fourth hit in the eighth inning. Everything else Porcello did was hard to match.

His 17 ground-ball outs — again, from the team with the lowest ground-ball ratio in the league this season — tied knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and Wily Peralta for the most in a Major League game this season.

His only extra-base hit was a blooper that fell in between Nick Castellanos, Eugenio Suarez and Rajai Davis in shallow left field. His three other hits allowed included one infield single on a ground ball up the middle. Other than Austin Jackson running down a couple drives to center, his outfielders spent most of the evening (and I use that time frame loosely, since it was still light out when Porcello finished this game) as spectators.

His 95 pitches marked the second-lowest total from an American League pitcher in a shutout this season, only one more pitch than Jered Weaver needed to shut down the Astros on May 21. It’s the lowest pitch count for a Tigers starter in a complete-game shutout since Armando Galarraga’s would-be perfect game against the Indians in 2010, a game that required just 88 pitches.

Porcello not only became the first Major League pitcher to toss a shutout without a strikeout since Derek Lowe two years ago for the Indians, he’s the first to do so without a walk or a strikeout since Baltimore’s Jeff Ballard in 1989, and the first Tiger since Dizzy Trout in 1944.

He not only didn’t strike out a batter all night, he induced just two swings and misses all game, both on secondary pitches — one on a changeup, the other on a curveball. He threw 37 two-seam fastballs (or sinkers), induced 16 swings, none of which missed, got 13 foul balls, 14 others put in play, and only one base hit. That’s the same hit total he gave up on the only slider he threw all night, according to data from MLB.com’s Gameday application and brooksbaseball.net.

It was a classic sinkerballer’s performance from a pitcher who has wandered back and forth from the classic sinkerball style.

“You can move your sinker as much as you want. You have to have offspeed pitches behind it,” Max Scherzer said after the game. “You’ve got to be able to change speeds to be able to get the ground ball, generate the weak contact he’s getting. That’s what we’re seeing. He’s executing not only his sinker, but his other pitches as well at such a high level. His offspeed pitches are the best they’ve ever been.”

He’s had those pitches for a while now. He stopped choosing between the curveball and slider and started throwing both at times last year, and moreso this season. He’s throwing them better now. He’s throwing his sinker better, too, it turns out, thanks to side work with pitching coach Jeff Jones.

“We’ve been working hard on some mechanical issues, slowing things down, staying back over the rubber,” Porcello said. “A lot of times when I get up in the zone, my lower body rushes out ahead of my arm, and then my arm’s dragging behind my lower body and I can’t get through and get on top of the baseball and then everything comes up.

“Jonesy’s been huge for me all year in staying on me to make the adjustments. Right now I’ve got everything working in sync and the ball’s down for the most part pretty consistently and moving the way I want it to. I’ve got to maintain that.”

His last three starts, he’s doing that. He has 38 groundouts and 11 fly outs over his last three starts, covering 24 shutout innings in three different cities against three different teams. He has thrown 131 sinkers in those three starts and given up just five hits from them, compared with seven swings and misses.

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