DETROIT — The Tigers’ youth movement extended on Tuesday to their front office, where the team promoted Sam Menzin and Jay Sartori to vice president/assistant general manager roles while embarking on a search for a new head of player development.
Dave Littlefield, the Tigers’ vice president of player development for the last six years, has been reassigned to a role as a special assignment scout. Kenny Graham, Detroit’s player development director, will oversee the department as the organization searches for a full-time replacement.
David Chadd, Al Avila’s top assistant in the front office since the latter took over as general manager in 2015, will retain his title of VP and assistant GM but will shift his role toward a focus on player development and scouting.
The moves came from what Avila called a season-long review of the organization, especially in player development. The Tigers currently have the seventh-ranked farm system in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, and they were ranked as high as second last year when Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning were top 25 prospects, alongside current top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene.
The changes Detroit made were more about administration and instruction than rankings.
“We’re looking to be a more progressive organization,” Avila said. “We’ve been a very traditional organization as far as our way of teaching. We will not lose our old-school ways by any means, but we want to be a little bit more progressive and start using more technology, more sciences. We want to start being able to write up plans for our pitching and our hitting across the board, starting from the Major League level all the way down.”
This isn’t necessarily new for the Tigers, who have invested heavily in technology at their central complex in Lakeland, Fla., and across their farm system over the last few years. They added Graham and Dan Hubbs a couple of years ago to direct player development strategies for hitting and pitching, respectively, as well as Dr. Georgia Giblin to direct their performance science efforts.
“We’ve been looking at this for two or three years now,” Avila said. “And it’s not easy, because it also takes personnel. It’s not just buying a piece of equipment like Rapsodo, but it’s hiring the personnel that can do both things that you’re looking for. Sometimes it leads to more of a college-type coach that has maybe a better knowledge of certain equipment and metrics that the traditional guy doesn’t have. For me, it’s also been trying to teach the traditional coaching in some new ways, and if those guys are able to do it and catch onto that, that also is part of the process.”
Whoever takes over the player development department — and the Tigers are expected to search outside the organization for Littlefield’s replacement — will be coordinating those efforts while running arguably the most critical part of the Tigers’ organization. From chairman/CEO Christopher Ilitch on down, the team has made it clear that it’s trying to develop its next contending team primarily from within, through drafting and scouting.
Chadd’s shift will primarily focus on player development and scouting, which takes him back to his roots as a former amateur scouting director. In that role, he ran Detroit’s MLB Draft efforts for nearly a decade.
With that move, Avila said, somebody needed to help in Chadd’s previous roles, which included identifying and signing free agents and assisting in trades. That’s where Menzin and Sartori come in. However, both were rising stars in the organization even before those added responsibilities.
Menzin’s career with the Tigers began as an intern under then-GM Dave Dombrowski. Menzin has had a hand in nearly every aspect of the organization on his way up, helping the analytics department, working in player development, coordinating the team’s pro scouts and working on arbitration cases. He has played a critical role the last couple years in knowing Major League rules and protocols in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Sam and I are working day to day, hand in hand at the Major League level,” Avila said. “He’s involved basically in every aspect of the organization. Obviously he is the expert as far as rules and compliance with all the player moves. But he also leads the way in the arbitration process and negotiations, and negotiating Major League contracts. He’s involved day to day with A.J. Hinch and the Major League staff, preparing and planning on a daily basis.
“He’s taken on over the last couple years a really big responsibility. He’s really learned a lot, and in my opinion, he’s a star on the upswing. So this is to recognize that job and what he’s brought to the table and reward him. He’s one of my right-hand guys.”
Sartori was a big addition when the Tigers hired him away from Apple in 2015, shortly after Avila became GM. He essentially built out Detroit’s analytics department and got it up to speed with other organizations.
“From scratch, he’s built our analytical department and our science and development,” Avila said. “He’s led the way there. Now we have a full team, and as we move forward, we will actually go further. What he has done over the past four years, it has to be updated, and so he’s already starting that process.”