DETROIT -- The sun broke out through the clouds over Comerica Park on Saturday morning, providing slight warmth to the deep freeze downtown for TigerFest. Those rays were a preview of the warmer weather ahead for the baseball season as Michigan tries to get through the coming weeks.
It provided a fitting snapshot of where the Tigers stand. There was a lot of looking ahead at the ballpark on Saturday -- in the sky, on the field and in the faces of players and fans. While Detroiters headed to TigerFest looking for familiar faces like Jose Cabrera, Michael Fulmer, Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris, past Tigers like Nate Robertson, Phil Coke and Andy Dirks, and the first-time arrivals of Christin Stewart and Franklin Perez and others, were just as important.
The latter faces were part of the direction to which general manager Al Avila is pointing as Detroit's rebuilding effort continues.
"You see now some of the young guys coming up, like Christin Stewart last year and Spencer Turnbull," Avila said Saturday. "You'll see guys coming in and pushing us to come up to the big leagues. At this point in Toledo, we're going to have some good young pitchers and players that are going to be pushing to come up in a short period of time, as [will] some guys in Double-A. You're talking about guys that are maybe a year or two from getting here, mixed with the guys that we already have here at the big league level. ... We feel we have a good young nucleus developing and being ready in a short period of time. That, in itself, is encouraging as we look forward to the future. ...
"At this point, if you're following the progress of players in our Minor Leagues and at the big league level, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel."
The Tigers are doing their part to make the youngsters more familiar. The last interactive session on the TigerFest schedule included a "Get to Know Your Tigers" fan question-and-answer session with Stewart, All-Star reliever Joe Jimenez, catcher Grayson Greiner, relievers Reid Garrett and Zac Reininger, and shortstop prospect Willi Castro.
Of that group, only Jimenez has a full season in the Majors. Stewart and Greiner are fairly safe projections to join him on the Opening Day roster. Garrett and Reininger could make it. Castro could be up by season's end, depending on his development.
The bigger wave of prospects is still to come, heralded by the five highly rated pitchers, outfielder Daz Cameron and catcher Jake Rogers. Perez was the lone member of that group at TigerFest on Saturday, having been added to the 40-man roster earlier this offseason. It was his second visit in six weeks, having joined Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo here for an autograph signing in December.
"It's a special moment to be in something like this with all the Tigers fans," Perez said through a translator. "Seeing the fans' emotions while pitching is going to be something special."
That's some time away. Perez missed most of last season with injuries, and though healthy now, is probably a couple years away. Manning, Faedo and Beau Burrows ended last season at Double-A Erie. Mize could open next season there, or could begin at Class A Advanced Lakeland, depending on the weather.
Manager Ron Gardenhire and current players pound home the mindset that they can make progress now after back-to-back 98-loss seasons.
"We're going to be exciting. We're going to be young," outfielder Michael Mahtook said. "And now we have a good mix of veteran guys that we can lean on. I think we're going to be a lot better than people think."
Avila stresses patience in the big picture. The 2019 Tigers have young talent beginning to show through, that could provide a sneak preview of what's to come.
"This is an exciting year in that you're going to see some guys that are going to get opportunities," Avila said. "Christin Stewart is going to get an opportunity to see what he can do in left field. He'll be competing for a job in Spring Training. Grayson Greiner, behind the plate, is going to get an opportunity to show us if he can be at the big league level and compete. Jeimer Candelario, it'll be [his] second season, and we'll see the improvements he can make out there. JaCoby Jones last year ended the season as basically the best defensive outfielder in the game. Let's see if he can improve on his hitting and become an All-Star.
"There's a lot of good young players right now on the team that have a lot to prove that will determine somewhat of our future, with some of the pitchers that we also have on the staff. That, coupled with some of the guys that are going to be in Toledo and Erie, that will be pushing the envelope in the next year or so, that's going to be the nucleus of our team. I think it's an exciting thing to see how we develop this."