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Helium Alert: Jose Azocar, West Michigan Whitecaps

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20-year-old Tigers farmhand Jose Azocar is off to a blistering .330 start in the MWL. In a thin Detroit system, could his considerable tools and upside vault him into the discussion of the team's top prospects? (Spoiler alert: yes, most likely)

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Jose Azocar - CF/RF

5'11" 165 lb. R/R

Born: 5/11/96 in Sucre, VZ

Jose Azocar was a bargain six-figure signing by the Tigers in July 2012. After marinating in the VZL for a couple seasons, the traits he's shown in his first 400 AB's stateside have vaulted him from 'Others of Note' to arguable Top 10 consideration in the thin Detroit system.

I'll be bold and surmise that if Azocar stays healthy and produces close to his current level, he'll jump Whitecaps teammate and '14 first-rounder Derek Hill as the team's best hope for a quality future CF. Let's talk about why.

Now 20, Azocar has built a reputation as a free-swinging athlete with the tools to hold down all three outfield spots in the future, but not simultaneously. The power production would seem to be a red flag, with only one big fly over his first 800 pro AB's and a K:BB that consistently hovers at an unseemly 6:1.

However, Azocar has overcome the impatience and lack of XBH pop with a unique approach that's held static at every stop he's made. A look at his MLB Farm splits reveal a player who's willing to sacrifice power for hard contact to the opposite field.

Alarm bells started to ring after he closed out last year with a smoldering .411/.416/.568 in August, and he's carried the momentum into an equally strong debut in the Midwest League. About a year and a half younger than the competition, Azocar's .330 AVG is good for sixth in the circuit and tops the more highly-regarded Derek Hill by nearly 90 points.


Projection

Just to pump the brakes a bit, it's worth noting that Azocar has a ways to go before reaching his ceiling. His swing has a busy viciousness to it that has been susceptible to breaking stuff and prolonged slumps in the past. As with most raw, tooled-up bats he will have to improve his strike zone awareness as he climbs the ladder.

The other main focus of Azocar's development will be the physical side. Listed at a rail-thin 5'11" 165 pounds, he's in the envious position of being able to take on 30 pounds for the sake of improving his career. The prospect of putting on some good weight could prove a big part in unlocking his immense potential. An ability to drive the ball with more authority when combined with his already-nifty barrel skills could see him take off with the bat.

On defense, Azocar has primarily ceded CF to Whitecaps teammate Derek Hill this year. But with plus speed, solid range, and an above average arm, he's a candidate to stick in center long-term and will likely be a fixture there once he jumps Hill to the next level.


Irrationally Confident Comp

There are similarities between Azocar and countryman Jose Altuve's first four years in the minors. Each pocket-sized prospect flew considerably under the radar with an all-fields, contact-heavy approach while navigating the lower levels.

It was Altuve's fourth season in Lexington where he let loose on the basepaths and saw a power surge, which is the point we're at with Azocar.

The one chasm that ruins this comp is Altuve's plate discipline, miles ahead of what the 20-year-old Tiger farmhand has shown. Azocar has still managed to remain productive while being allergic to walks, and perhaps he can continue that but he'll unequivocally need to cut down on K's as he advances.

Dropping Altuve's name as a comp would indeed be reckless, as it's hard to peg anyone for a .408/.451/.606 thrashing of the CAL league as the diminutive Astro did at age 21.

But his name is being summoned here to remind that we shouldn't underestimate the small guys with plus speed and venom in their bat. Jose Azocar has shown those traits and more in his brief pro career. Perhaps to reach his ceiling as an above-average regular, Azocar doesn't need a physique that sells jeans but instead, a more disciplined approach at the plate.