LAKELAND, Fla. -- Christopher Ilitch has followed his father's tradition of heading to Spring Training to meet and talk with players. But when the Tigers chairman and CEO, and Ilitch Holdings president made his annual spring trek to Tigertown this week, he wanted to meet with the analytics and player
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Christopher Ilitch has followed his father's tradition of heading to Spring Training to meet and talk with players. But when the Tigers chairman and CEO, and Ilitch Holdings president made his annual spring trek to Tigertown this week, he wanted to meet with the analytics and player development departments, too.
Ilitch was there a month ago, too, during the Tigers' offseason scouting meetings that included early work on the top pick in the upcoming Draft. It was Ilitch's idea to attend. His interest says as much about the Tigers' focus on the future as any of the moves they've made in their rebuild.
"As far as I'm concerned, our scouting staff, our player development staff, has the very most important work in the entire organization," Ilitch said Saturday morning. "I think we've seen it in hockey, we've seen it with our Tigers, and there's been plenty of examples throughout professional sports, that if you're committed to just tremendous scouting and player development and you have a great plan, you can achieve success.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for both our scouts and our player development staff. These folks work very, very hard. They're very talented, they are very seasoned, and they're committed. They're out there working when nobody sees what they're doing. My interest in being there was to thank them for their hard work and to really encourage them to continue doing what they're doing and let them know we're committed from an ownership perspective and in the front office to do what we can to support them and to support all the efforts going on to build a winner in this franchise over the long term; a team that will contend. And ultimately, our goal is to win a World Series championship."
Ilitch has been talking about the long-term goals since last Spring Training, repeating the point about building sustainable success through a productive farm system. Since then, the Tigers have deepened their prospect ranks through trades of veterans, but also expanded their scouting and analytics departments while updating their technology, reallocating money from player payroll. Among the recent additions was a six-figure investment in additional computer storage to handle all the information they've accumulated as part of the new information system.
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"I actually have spent a lot of time over the last couple days with our analytics staff, and they're walking me through what's been built and what they're building, and it's fascinating," Ilitch said. "And no doubt it's going to be a large contributor, along with player development and the work that's being done by so many of our hard-working scouts. It's going to be very impactful. It's exciting.
"In addition to that, I'm very impressed with a lot of the technology and innovation that [general manager Al Avila] and his baseball operations are testing in terms of being able to measure player performance and player safety over the course of time. Our team, our baseball operations team in particular, is being very progressive, very aggressive, and I support that wholeheartedly."
One thing Ilitch checked out on his visit was the technology being implemented in player development to try to get the talent out of the players the organization has brought in. Ilitch said they're investing whatever it takes to enhance that part of their organization and try innovative approaches.
"At the end of the day, it's about finding the best players, developing them, and really trying to put high-impact players on the field at Comerica Park to help us compete for championships," Ilitch said.
Ilitch expects the approach to pay off. For this season, he said, he expects a year of what he calls growth and development.
"I think at a foundational level our fans are going to able to see so many prospects that are coming up through our system," Ilitch said. "And they're going to grow and develop right in front of our eyes. And undoubtedly there's going to be wins, there's going to be losses, but our prospects are going to grow, and that's going to lead to our future of building a team that can win on a sustainable basis over the long term."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.