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Top Prospect Alert - Omar Infante

By Schuyler Dombroske

DOB: 12/26/81, Age: 20, Height: 6’0’’, Weight: 150, Bats: R, Throws: R. Acquired: Tigers - Signed out of Venezuela on 4/28/99. 2001 Stats: (AA - Erie) .302 AVG, 540 AB, 21 2B, 4 3B, 2 HR, 27 SB, 46 BB, 87 K, .357 OBP, .367 SLG. 2002 Stats: (AAA - Toledo) .235 AVG, 35 AB, 1 3B, 1 SB, 7 BB, 4 K, .357 OBP, .294 SLG.
    Omar Infante is a classic “glove first” shortstop prospect in the Tigers organization. Infante, one of two foreign imports (along with Ramon Santiago) that will likely comprise the future light-hitting double play combo for the Tigers, was signed out of Venezuela in 1999. His primary impact will be on the defensive side of the ball, where he exhibits very good range accompanied by the less common ability to make the routine play. His arm is not as good as Santiago’s, so out of the two, I would say it is more likely that Infante will end up at second base if they are both starters in the majors. He definitely needs to continue to improve on the offensive side of the ball, which has been difficult for him to do on the Tigers’ timetable (5 levels in not quite 3 years). Omar is a very light hitter, with only 45 extra-base hits in nearly 1000 professional at-bats. He does hit the ball to all fields, as he should with his skill set, and may in time get strong enough to hit 25 to 30 doubles and 5 to 10 triples a season. For now, at six feet, 150 pounds, he isn’t a good bet to quickly add to his two career homers. In his first few games this season, Infante has shown the kind of patience that will be required from him if he obtains a starting role in Detroit. He still swings and misses too often for my liking, but most people do in baseball today. He will never be better than a league average hitter, but he could be serviceable with some more work. His speed is above-average, and his baserunning instincts seem quite sound for his age and experience. Overall, I think that Infante could help a team with a strong core if he continues to progress.
    The Tigers are not a strong organization for hitting prospects, and their major league lineup only has four players that could be considered potentially above major league average in Higginson, Young, Rivera, and Fick. On the positive side, that means that there is quite a bit of room for prospects to operate. On the down side, it means that the team will likely have too many sinkholes in the lineup to be a consistent threat in the near future, as well as the present. More importantly for this column, it means that if Infante can progress enough to become a near-average hitter, he will have a spot in the Tigers’ future. He has been pushed very quickly, and could compete for the partially empty (Shane Halter?) shortstop job in spring training next season. Infante is a bit like Felix Martinez was when he broke in (although even younger at age 20 in AAA), which ought to further illustrate the fragility of prospect status in baseball. I hope that Infante becomes known for something other than a sucker punch in his first few seasons in the bigs. One final note on Omar: if his hitting does not improve, he does have the skills to be a good utility infielder. I think it is more likely that he will be a starter than a backup five years from now, but his hitting is just poor enough to make me wonder. As a tangential comment, I would say that one of the drawbacks to the “stathead” method of prospect projection is that it causes one to get overly excited about extremely young prospects. Infante, for example, was one of the youngest players in AA last year, and since he wasn’t absolutely horrible he jumped up all of the “stathead” prospect lists. The problem is that Infante is never going to be a great hitter, whether he is 22 or 16 now, because he just does not have the tools for it. I would align myself more with the statistical method of analysis than the tools method in general, but each side needs to respect the fact that the other has its merits as well.      


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