Al Avila may be gone, but Ryan Garko remains busy for Tigers

Detroit News

A new general manager is headed the Tigers’ way, with the likelihood, if not certainty, one staffer will be sticking around, no matter who is hired.

Ryan Garko is a Tigers vice president and director of player development. He is one year into a multi-year contract (length undisclosed, but think in terms of five years).

The grades have been good. His former boss, Al Avila, who was dismissed last week, was happy. The managers and coaches who work for and with Garko have been united.

The overall product, even if it can’t yet be seen in Detroit, has gotten better as new plans, strategies, and techniques have been locked-in.

Much figures to change when the new GM is named, perhaps within a month. But some folks are going nowhere, unless it’s their call: AJ Hinch as manager will stay, as much as can be determined. And so, too, should Garko be safe after he was named last September as supervisor of the Tigers’ minor leagues and training programs designed to put players in Detroit.

“I feel good,” Garko said Sunday, speaking from Guaranteed Rate Field, where the Tigers were finishing up their series against the White Sox. “It’s just a matter of getting systems and processes in order. And I think we’ve done a good job of that, the way we communicate.

“When I was hired, the biggest things we needed to create, as a group, was to match the same culture that AJ and his staff demand.

“And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that.”

Garko will not discuss Avila — ownership orders there — except to speak of Avila’s grace and professionalism during the months they worked together.

The focus instead is on designing an across-the-organization approach to grooming prospects. To installing a system-wide plan that encompasses science, biology, psychology, teaching, and training.

More: Around the Tigers’ farm: Who might stick as starters among Erie’s talented trio?

It’s a loaded word, “development.” There are seductive thoughts that you can take a typical crop from this year’s draft or from a team’s international harvest, then caress and massage and tweak and shape them — in proprietary ways — to become, voila, major-leaguers!

The most intelligent teams, according to this belief, take all kinds of mortal flesh-and-blood and turn it from mere farm fodder into bona fide big-league roster treasure.

It’s not quite like that.

Development is essential. It is irreplaceably important in the evolution of players who someday might crack a big-league lineup.

But no amount of development will turn a player doomed to the washout ranks into a 40-man roster presence who legitimately belongs there.

Good players drafted make for good players in the big leagues. Those talents are a small percentage of those brought initially into a system.

What development does is enhance skills already present. It can help to separate wheat from chaff. It can, on occasion, take a straw of chaff and perhaps make it a fifth outfielder, or a utility infielder, or a spot-starter, or bullpen piece.

But even those players, in those roles, tend from the outset to possess a level of skill that makes them a fringe possibility for MLB life.

What development is all about is maximizing skills. It streamlines education and tutelage. It places within an organization a consistent approach that ultimately enables a franchise to optimize its incoming talent and, ultimately, benefit a team’s record — and brand name.

“It’s attention to detail,” Garko said. “How to use data. We’re trying, again to match the same culture that AJ Hinch and his staff demand, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job at that. From the players’ feedback I’ve gotten, I think we have a plan for each one of them in place: their weaknesses, their strengths.

“There’s still a lot of work to do. And on the pitching side, we’ve really dug in, hired a lot of new people,” he said, and one of those has been Gabe Ribas, from the Dodgers, who this year has been the Tigers’ new director of pitching.

Garko mentioned a conversation he had the other day with Garrett Hill, who this summer made it to Detroit after working on the Tigers farm and, fairly quickly, turning himself into a pitcher who could be trusted to throw in a big-league game.

“It was just kind of a review,” Garko said, saying Hill’s feedback confirmed that things had not changed radically, “but for better or for worse, were just different.”

Garko said he “felt really good about that.”

And, also, about what’s ahead. He says ownership has offered him and the development staff every resource necessary.

“This is not a quick project,” Garko said. “But I’m excited. When I took the job, I knew there were some parts that were going to take three years, five years.

“Yeah, I want to win here. I think we can. A lot of good things are happening.

“I’m excited about where we’re headed.”

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.

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