DETROIT -- Chris Ilitch arrived at Comerica Park on Tuesday to join Tigers players, coaches, staff and general manager Al Avila in the annual team photo. In do doing, the Tigers chairman and CEO continued the longstanding tradition of his father, the late Mike Ilitch.If his remarks later are any
DETROIT -- Chris Ilitch arrived at Comerica Park on Tuesday to join Tigers players, coaches, staff and general manager Al Avila in the annual team photo. In do doing, the Tigers chairman and CEO continued the longstanding tradition of his father, the late Mike Ilitch.
If his remarks later are any indication, he plans on many more team photos.
"I am committed, and we are committed, to long-term Ilitch ownership of the Detroit Tigers," Chris Ilitch said.
Much of Ilitch's 10-minute session with reporters centered on the long term. He endorsed the rebuilding plan Avila and the front office began last year. He talked more than once about the progress and investments made in player development, mentioning top prospects by name. And as he talked about the goal of building a contending team again, he emphasized the idea of making it sustainable for the long term.
"We have a vision and a plan for the long-term, sustainable success of the franchise," Ilitch said. "We operate with the long term in mind, and in that regard, the Tigers are in very good shape, both on the business and the baseball side of the operation. That's really a testament to Al Avila, [manager Ron Gardenhire], our coaches, our players, scouts, player development and all of our front-office staff who have worked exceptionally hard."
Ilitch has taken an up-close approach on player development. He was in on organizational meetings with scouts in preparation for the Draft, and he watched Casey Mize pitch for Auburn before the Tigers made him the top overall pick in the Draft.
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"I think anytime you go through a rebuild, there's challenges," Ilitch said. "But I'm thrilled with the progress that we're making, in particular in our areas of player development. We've seen tremendous strides in player development this past season. Al Avila and has staff have worked tirelessly to rebuild and restock our Minor Leagues.
"We've seen some players come now through the system. Some are at the highest levels and some have made the big leagues, players like Dawel Lugo. It's exciting to see these guys progress. And at the lower [levels], Single-A, Double-A, we have some potential high-impact players now. Very exciting to watch Matt Manning, Beau Burrows, Alex Faedo and of course Casey Mize. That's what has us so excited about what's to come."
Ilitch also endorsed Gardenhire and the culture he has instilled at the Major League level.
"I think so much of the credit goes to Gardy and his coaching staff," he said. "I am thrilled with the culture they've instilled in this ballclub, and I think it's only going to get better as the years go on, and I know Al feels the same way. It's been a lot of fun to watch. I think fans have enjoyed it. I hear from folks all around town: 'This is a fun team to watch.' You have to watch right until the end with these guys. You never know when they're going to pull it out."
He gave similar credit to Avila.
"I'm very pleased with the job that Al Avila and our entire staff have done," Ilitch said. "They've been very committed. They've worked very, very hard to enhance everything that we do at the organization, from analytics to scouting to player development. They're committed to building a world-class organization, and that's what it'll take to compete on a sustainable basis. In turn, I'm committed to providing the resources that they need to do that.
"I'm very pleased with the work Al's doing. He's a professional. He knows what he's doing. And he's putting a lot of energy behind it and he's doing a great job."
Ilitch acknowledged the test of patience that the process can put on fans at times through the growing pains, but he expressed his belief that they'll stick through it. The key, for him and for fans, is to see continued progress.
"When you go through a rebuilding period, attendance and television ratings are two areas we knew would be impacted," he said. "But we also know Tiger fans, and they're some of the greatest fans in all of baseball. We believe they're still with us and they still support this club."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.