| Detroit Free Press
Watch: Detroit Tigers introduce AJ Hinch as manager
Detroit Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch and GM Al Avila introduce new manager AJ Hinch, Oct. 30, 2020.
The Detroit Tigers avoided major changes in their farm system, as expected.
On Wednesday, the Tigers announced the four teams receiving invitations to join the organization’s minor leagues moving forward: Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens, Double-A Erie SeaWolves, High-A West Michigan Whitecaps (previously Low-A) and the Low-A Lakeland Flying Tigers (previously High-A).
The Tigers are losing their Short-Season A affiliate in Norwich, Connecticut, dropping them from nine to eight teams in the minors.
The decisions were part of MLB’s reorganization and consolidation of the minor leagues. Erie was once at risk of losing its affiliation, but a $12 million grant from the Pennsylvania government to upgrade UMPC Park allowed them to remain the Tigers’ Double-A affiliate.
“For nearly 20 years, Erie and its community have been great partners, and we’re thrilled to invite them back as our Double-A affiliate,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said in a statement. “I’d like to especially thank Fernando Aguirre and local and state government officials for coming together and supporting the much-needed facility improvements at UPMC Park for this coming season, including a new home clubhouse and training facility.
“The difference in workplace quality for our players is vital to their development, and we’re looking forward to seeing these additions come to completion.”
West Michigan and Lakeland swapped places within the farm system’s hierarchy because of the alterations being made to the Midwest League and Florida State League.
The Tigers have been affiliated with Toledo since 1987, Erie since 2001, West Michigan since 1997 and Lakeland since 1963.
“Each of them stands out across Minor League Baseball for having quality baseball facilities and passionate fan bases, and we’re hopeful to continue having our players develop there for years to come,” Tigers vice president for player development Dave Littlefield said in a statement.
“Moving the Whitecaps to be our Advanced A affiliate will improve our organization’s efficiency in significant ways, including having our High A and Double A affiliates closer to each other, while putting our Single A and Rookie League teams at the same world class complex in Lakeland.”
The Tigers will have four rookie-level teams, as well: two in Lakeland, Florida, and two more in the Dominican Republic at the organization’s academy in San Pedro de Macoris.
Here are additional statements and comments from the Detroit Tigers, Triple-A Toledo, Double-A Erie and High-A West Michigan:
Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila: “Player development has never been more important to our organization than it is today, and after a significant review process with each of the clubs and Major League Baseball, we’re excited to invite these affiliates to move forward as part of the Tigers family. These clubs play a key role in our long-term plan for sustainable success, to ensure our players are in the best position for growth and development to become impactful contributors at the Major League level. I’d also like to thank the affiliate owners, executives, state and local government officials, and the overall community in each of these markets. Their passion for the game is one of our sport’s greatest assets and is something they should be very proud of.”
Toledo general manager Erik Ibsen: “The Toledo Mud Hens are pleased to be among the 120 Minor League Baseball teams that have been invited to receive a Professional Development License from Major League Baseball. We value our long-standing relationship with the Detroit Tigers, and look forward to the return of baseball to Fifth Third Field and the Glass City as soon as possible.”
Erie owner Fernando Aguirre: “We are thrilled and honored to be invited by the Tigers to continue as their Double-A affiliate. The SeaWolves and Tigers have built a strong partnership, and today’s announcement confirms our commitment to Erie. UPMC Park has been through a major transformation over the last 18 months, and we look forward to having one of the best facilities in Minor League Baseball next season. We thank Erie Events, Governor Tom Wolf, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Detroit Tigers, UPMC, and Erie’s elected officials for their collective efforts. We also thank our fans, team partners, and staff for their dedication and continued support.”
West Michigan CEO Joe Chamberlin: “From our perspective, we’re excited. For us, this is confirmation of something we’ve known for a long, long time. West Michigan and Grand Rapids has really proven itself to be an incredible sports market and one of the best minor-league sports markets in the country. They love this franchise, and I think they’re ready and excited to support and embrace this higher level of play. We’re absolutely excited for our fans, this community and our staff. Another big point that shouldn’t get lost is our relationship with the Tigers have been fantastic for pretty much the history of that relationship. It’s stronger than ever, and we couldn’t be more excited to continue to partner with them moving forward.”