TORONTO -- The new spending rules and caps for the international signing market didn't change the Tigers' usual strategy once the signing period opened on Tuesday. They've often preferred signing several mid-range prospects and under-the-radar talents rather than dedicating big money toward one or two top-ranked players, preferring strength in numbers.
Thus, though Detroit entered the international signing period with one of the smaller bonus pools among Major League clubs, the team still pulled off four signings, three of them from the Venezuelan market they've turned to for several prospects over the last few years.
The most mentioned name of the quartet is Elys Escobar, a 16-year-old catching prospect from Valencia, Venezuela. Baseball America tabbed Escobar as the third-ranked catcher available from that country, noting his strong arm and defensive skill set along with some power at the plate. Escobar reportedly signed for $350,000.
Dominican shortstop Hector Martinez signed for $400,000, MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez confirmed. The nephew of Vladimir and Wilton Guerrero was an All-Star in this year's Dominican Prospect League, showing an advanced, aggressive bat and some foot speed along with raw athleticism.
Two other Venezuelan signings, outfielder Hector Hernandez and shortstop Anthony Pereira, weren't as well known but still had the Tigers' interest. Hernandez is a left-handed-hitting outfielder with advanced speed and some power, while Pereira is more of a long-term project as he grows physically and adds strength to his fluid athleticism.
All of the signings must be approved by Major League Baseball, pending a standard identity check and age confirmation.
Leyland says Sanchez will return Saturday in Cleveland
TORONTO -- Not only will the comebacker Anibal Sanchez took off his left leg Monday night for Class A Lakeland not cost him any time off the mound, it apparently won't keep him from rejoining the big club this weekend. Manager Jim Leyland said Tuesday that Sanchez is scheduled to return from the 15-day disabled list to take his spot in the rotation on Saturday in Cleveland.
Sanchez was supposed to throw about 60 pitches Monday in a rehab appearance for Lakeland, but pitched just 1 2/3 scoreless innings before the line drive knocked him out of the game. Sanchez had significant swelling when it happened, but no structural damage.
"I don't know exactly the total number of pitches he threw, but it wasn't near as many as we would've liked," Leyland said. "But he felt great [pitching-wise] and we expect him to start on Saturday."
As long as Sanchez felt fine, another rehab start was not a serious consideration.
"We're just going to have to watch the pitches," Leyland said.
Sanchez went on the DL two and a half weeks ago with a right shoulder strain. Jose Alvarez has filled his spot the last three turns through the rotation, including Monday's loss to the Blue Jays, but might not necessarily be sent back to Triple-A Toledo on Saturday to make room.
Alvarez's fate could depend on whether the Tigers need a spot starter for Rick Porcello, who is appealing a six-game suspension he received for hitting Ben Zobrist with a pitch on Sunday. Porcello's next scheduled start is Friday in Cleveland, followed by a start next Wednesday against the White Sox at Comerica Park.
Back with club, Avila makes minor tweaks to swing
TORONTO -- Alex Avila showed up in the Tigers' clubhouse at Rogers Centre, back from the disabled list and a rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo with some hitting work from Mud Hens hitting coach Leon Durham. He did not come back with any major makeover at the plate.
"It wasn't like an overhaul or anything," Avila said Tuesday afternoon. "I mean, you'll watch the game and you won't notice anything, just some minor stuff to make sure I get myself in a good position, and that's really it. Hitting is difficult. You try to keep it simple."
Some of it was a mechanical adjustment, Avila said. The rest was about his approach.
"Nothing life-changing," Avila said.
He won't need long to figure out whether it makes a difference. Avila was in Tuesday's starting lineup and is expected to take back his old role as the regular catcher for a while. He had ceded playing time in May and June during his rough start at the plate while manager Jim Leyland tried to see if alternating starts between Avila and Brayan Pena could get Avila going.
Tuiasosopo to begin rehab stint Wednesday
TORONTO -- Matt Tuiasosopo, whose right-handed power bat appeared poised to earn him more regular playing time before an intercostal strain landed him on the disabled list, appears poised to return as soon as he's eligible on Sunday.
Tuiasosopo is expected to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Toledo on Wednesday, manager Jim Leyland announced. Tuiasosopo took full batting practice with the Tigers on Monday and Tuesday without any restrictions.
The Mud Hens are home through early next week. The Tigers will be down the road in Cleveland this weekend for a four-game series that concludes Monday night.
Tuiasosopo was batting .338 (24-for-71) with seven doubles, three home runs and 17 RBIs when he strained a rib-cage muscle on a batting practice swing, and appeared poised to grab some starts against right-handed pitching from slumping Andy Dirks.
Whether he can still do that remains to be seen, but his return likely means Avisail Garcia will head to Toledo. Garcia, recalled from the Mud Hens when Tuiasosopo went on the DL, has lost playing time amidst a 1-for-21, 10-strikeout slump that has dropped his average to .241. Leyland said Garcia's swing has seemingly gotten longer in recent games.
• Class A West Michigan infielder Jeff Holm was named the Midwest League Player of the Week after batting .385 (10-for-26) with two home runs, five RBIs and six runs scored last week.
• Leyland said he spent Monday night working on several scenarios for filling out the American League All-Star roster. As the manager, he'll have a handful of decisions to make once the fan vote decides the starting lineup and the players vote decides much of the pitching staff and some of the reserves.
• Leyland plans on giving Torii Hunter another day off this series to get the outfielder's 37-year-old legs off the artificial turf of Rogers Centre. He also plans to give Prince Fielder a start at designated hitter for a game.