Avila cautiously optimistic with rebuild

Tigers GM: 'Fans should know that we are on the right track'

July 21st, 2020

DETROIT -- In most years, Al Avila would be attached to his phone around this time, calling or texting with general managers about potential deals in the days leading up to the Trade Deadline. For a team looking to build around young talent, this usually ranks as a critical stretch as it looks to the future.

This July will go down as a big stretch for the Tigers for far different reasons. With a 60-game season and a Summer Camp at Comerica Park, this is the stretch when Detroit saw prospects grow into players.

Riley Greene grew physically and mentally, from a recent Draft pick into a prospect who might not be far off. His body now looks like a Major League player.

“From the time we drafted him, which was not very long ago, physically speaking, he’s already developing into a man from a young man,” Avila said. “The power has been there and the athleticism. He’s got good running speed. Obviously, he’s taking a lot of pride in his defense. So that total package, we’re seeing it develop right in front of our eyes pretty quickly. For a kid right out of high school, that’s pretty special.”

Casey Mize arguably sped up his timetable from a top prospect expected to make his Major League debut at some point this season to a pitcher who could help Detroit sooner than later, despite being sent to Toledo on Monday.

“He’s got time to continue to build, continue to work on all his pitches, stay healthy, stay fit and get yourself ready for when your time comes, and when we call down there, everybody says he’s ready go,” Avila said.

Catcher Jake Rogers, whose offense was in serious question going into camp, looks closer to rounding out his game to match his standout defense now.

“He’s still one of the guys that we’re looking at as one of the special players in our near future,” Avila said. “He’s just got to hone some things out with the hitting. We think he’s made a lot of progress. I don’t think he’s got too far to go.”

Center fielder Derek Hill, the Tigers' first-round pick in 2014 who seemed to be at risk of being left off the 40-man roster last fall, opened eyes this camp with a performance that could land him in Detroit at some point this season.

“Here’s a guy that all of a sudden, he’s looking different,” Avila said. “And we were cautiously optimistic and a little excited about seeing him develop.”

Add the developments together, and when asked about his sentiments on the state of the rebuild, Avila sounded upbeat.

“We’re cautiously, optimistically happy, I guess you could say,” Avila said. “I guess I’m not going to be totally happy until we start winning games and being a legitimate playoff contender and get into the playoffs. The day I’ll be happy is when we’re in the playoffs. The day I’ll be happiest is when we’re in the World Series. So there’s a long way to go.

“As far as the rebuilding, adding of talent to the organization, yeah, I think we’ve done a good job. Obviously, from where we were a few years ago, at the bottom of the list of organizational prospects, to where we are right now, it’s a tribute to our scouts, our analytics department and our player development system, so I’m proud of them. I think they’ve all done a good job. I think we’re on the right track for sure, and fans should know that we are on the right track. And with a little patience, we’ll get there.”

As far as where the Tigers at now, Avila hopes they’re in a position to sneak into the American League Central race.

“We want to win as many games as we can,” he said. “If we can sneak into the playoffs because we get a good start, we can get into a nice little run, and then all of a sudden, we’re in it. That would be nice to see, obviously. So as an organization, you still have the hope that things click your way from injuries, avoiding the virus, having guys being able to perform up to their capabilities, up to their talent. If you have that, then we have a good chance.”