Tigers pitch player improvement at Meetings

December 6th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- At most Winter Meetings, coaching staff announcements would be footnotes amidst a flurry of rumors and aspirations. For the Tigers, the coaching staff is a reflection of what the team is trying to do here and for the rest of this offseason.

Manager A.J. Hinch’s staff includes three pitching coaches, including a newly-hired assistant who was teaching kinesiology in college and led the development of several pro pitchers at the University of Iowa. Detroit’s trio of hitting coaches will be led by a 28-year-old former University of Michigan shortstop who earned acclaim for his teaching and ideas as hitting coach for the Padres.

The Tigers put together a staff with wide-ranging backgrounds with an overriding goal: Make Detroit a destination for everybody to get better. It’s part of the recruiting pitch that Hinch and new president of baseball operations Scott Harris have been making to free agents, and part of the Hot Stove plan for the Tigers to identify players they can acquire and improve.

“We’ve built a staff that’s going to focus on competing to win that day’s game, and also competing to deliver ways to get players better,” Hinch said. “So, if you are in our system and you come up through, it’s continuous how we blend the Minor Leagues and the Major Leagues. If you’re coming from [elsewhere], you’re going to come to us because you feel like we can make you better and make your career better.”

While the Winter Meetings have so far been dominated by the courtship of Aaron Judge and the reported signings of Justin Verlander by the Mets and Trea Turner by the Phillies -- all players at or near the top of their games joining championship contenders -- the Tigers are playing a different game.

They’re also playing a different game than their plan last offseason, when Hinch and general manager Al Avila tried to recruit top free-agent shortstops. The Tigers’ targets are different this year, but so is the recruitment -- most of it done by Zoom. More importantly, the pitch is a change.

“One thing that we have tried to convince the players that we are pursuing is that you can come to Detroit and be surrounded by the resources and support staff that are going to help you take the next step in your development, no matter where you are in your career,” Harris said.

“If you’re a young player coming up to Detroit or if you’re a veteran who has been in five different places, you can come to Detroit and work with [pitching coaches Chris Fetter, Robin Lund and Juan Nieves] or work with [hitting coaches Michael Brdar, Keith Beauregard and James Rowson], and they’re going to have excellent content for you. And they’re going to be in the trenches with you every day for 162 [games] to help you get better.

“I think that message has been well-received by the players that we are pursuing and that we continue to pursue, and that we hope to come to terms with at some point. That has been one of the main messages, and it has resonated with several players.”

Yet while the Tigers are looking for upside on the free-agent and trade markets, they’re doing so with a plan to keep playing time for young players who they need to evaluate for the long term. That includes not just youngsters on the roster now like Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Ryan Kreidler, but prospects like Wilmer Flores (No. 3), Reese Olson (No. 9) and Parker Meadows (No. 16).

“Coming off of last year, we have a lot of holes on our roster,” Harris said, “and we’re trying to stay as open-minded as possible to any way to get better. But one thing we won’t waver on is we’re going to invest in our young players. We’re going to earmark at-bats and innings for our young players.

“One of our most valuable resources in this organization is opportunity at the Major League level. It’s important for us to redistribute the at-bats that we created over the last month with some of our decisions towards some of our young players that have a chance to be here for a long time. This doesn’t just apply to 2023. In this organization, we have to get to a place where we’re both competing and developing young players at the same time. We have to, if we’re sincere about building a sustainable winner here.”