DETROIT — For Dawel Lugo, the 2017 season was one filled with changes.
For most players, the change that took place July 18 would be the toughest to handle: Lugo was one of three players the Arizona Diamondbacks traded to the Tigers in exchange for slugging outfielder J.D. Martinez.
The 23-year-old Lugo said that was not a big deal.
“I knew what to expect because I had been part of a trade before,” Lugo said through interpreter Bryan Loor-Almonte, a member of the Tigers PR staff, in an interview just before spring training began.
“It was just another step I had to take on the way to the major leagues.”
No, the bigger change for the native of the Dominican Republic came soon after the trade. Lugo, who had split time between shortstop and third base to begin the season, saw action at second base soon after the Tigers sent him to Double-A Erie.
“It felt strange at first,” Lugo admitted when asked about the switch. “But I had dealt with [changing positions] before. I was a shortstop when I was signed, and Arizona moved me to third base.
“Transitioning to second base was strange at first, but it’s still the same game. So I feel comfortable there.”
Lugo was a shortstop when he signed with Toronto for $1.1 million in 2011, but it was his bat that allowed him to rise through the Blue Jays farm system. He batted .297 as an 18-year-old in the short-season Appalachian League in 2013, and his prospect status dramatically rose soon after the Jays traded him to Arizona in 2015.
He batted .311 with 17 homers and 62 RBIs the next season, splitting time between High-A Visalia and Double-A Mobile. About that time, the Diamondbacks shifted Lugo to third base, and those two factors catapulted him to a spot as the second-best prospect in the Arizona system, according to Baseball America.
Last season Lugo played in 88 games with Double-A Jackson in the Southern League before the trade, batting .282 with seven homers and 43 RBIs. After the deal, which also saw shortstop Sergio Alcantara and middle infielder Jose King come to the Tigers, Lugo hit .269 with six homers and 22 RBIs in a 43-game cameo with Erie.
In winter ball, Lugo played third base exclusively, but he said his focus was more on getting in better physical condition.
“I’ve focused more on my body,” Lugo said of his offseason workouts. “I’ve been lifting weights to get stronger, and I’m trying to become more fit to deal with the daily grind of a season.”
As for the coming season, questions remain for the player Baseball America says is the eighth-best prospect in the Tigers organization. The biggest is whether he will continue to see action at third base, where his path to the majors is blocked by another highly regarded young player in Jeimer Candelario, or if Lugo will work on the transition to second base.
There also is a question of where he will play this season.
“Of course I want to be in Detroit,” Lugo said, smiling, knowing the reality is he never has played a game above the Double-A level. That makes it more likely he will begin 2018 with the Mud Hens.
But there is no question Lugo welcomes the chances his first spring training with the Tigers provides.
“I’m excited for this opportunity,” he said. “I’m excited to be in Lakeland to get an opportunity to show [my new teammates] what I can do and that I’m a good player.”
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