Tigers, Harris investing in young talent, not looking for short-term solutions

Detroit News

San Diego – That word again.

Sustainable.

Tigers president Scott Harris, speaking to beat reporters in his suite/war room at the Grand Hyatt hotel Monday night, laid out a significantly revised and more pointed mission statement for the offseason and beyond. It’s not about plastering over roster holes with short-term free agents. It’s not about trying to make a big-money splash in free agency or pulling off some blockbuster trade.

It’s about being mindful of the future while building the present.

“Coming off last year, we have a lot of holes on our roster and we’re trying to stay open-minded to any way to get better,” he said. “But one thing we won’t waiver 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.”

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Off-loading veterans like Jeimer Candelario, Harold Castro, Willi Castro and Victor Reyes creates opportunities for the likes of Ryan Kreidler, Kerry Carpenter, Kody Clemens and others. If Eduardo Rodriguez, Matt Manning, Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull comprise the top four spots in the rotation, the fifth spot can be an opportunity for the likes of Joey Wentz, Beau Brieske, Garrett Hill and others.

Opportunities not just in September when rosters expand, but throughout the season.

“It is important for us to redistribute the at-bats that we created with some of our decisions over the last month toward some of our young players who have a chance to be here for a long time,” Harris said.

It can go deeper, too. There is a reason prospects Wenceel Perez, Parker Meadows and Andre Lipcius were added to the 40-man roster and protected from Wednesday’s Rule 5 draft. All three have displayed an ability to control the strike zone in the minor leagues.

The only way to know if that will translate to the next level is to give them opportunity at the next level.

The same goes for pitchers Wilmer Flores, Brendon White and Reese Olson.

Certainly giving opportunity to young players isn’t a new narrative here. Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Manning, Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson − elite prospects all − have worked their way to the big leagues the last couple of years. Harris’ vision, though, is broader and constant.

“That doesn’t just apply to 2023,” Harris said. “We have to get to a place where we are both competing and developing good players at the same time. We have to. If we are sincere about building a sustainable winner here, we have to create an environment in the big leagues that will allow us to bring young players up and compete at the same time.

“You are going to see that in 2023. You may see it on Opening Day, you may see it in season, but you are definitely going to see it. It’s going to be a priority for us to make sure we carve out enough space in our pitching staff and with our position players for young players to come up and get that invaluable experience.”

It’s why, quite directly, the Tigers have invested in an expanded, development-centric, big-league coaching staff with three-man hitting (Michael Brdar, Keith Beauregard and James Rowson) and pitching (Chris Fetter, Juan Nieves and Robin Lund) departments.

“It’s going to be really important for us to make sure these young players are actually getting better when they are in the big leagues,” Harris said. “And you can’t do that without distributing some of those at-bats and those innings.”

It may sound like an extension of what has been a protracted rebuild in Detroit, but it’s not. It’s a core philosophy, one that would apply in a transitional season like 2023 as well as in a year of realistic playoff hopes.

It’s a philosophy Harris learned under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer with the Cubs. They gave a group of young players opportunities in 2014 and 2015 – Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez – and that coalesced into a championship in 2016. But they continued to find opportunities for more young talent (Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ) in subsequent seasons.

The Tigers are still scouring the trade and free agent markets for a right-handed hitting outfielder and a left-handed hitting corner infielder. They may still add another starting pitcher or two. As Harris said, he’s open to anything that will make the team better.

But, the priority is creating pathways to the big leagues for younger talent in the system. Not clog lanes with short-term fixes.

Other topics covered by Harris:

∎ Harris and manager AJ Hinch both seem content going into the season with the catcher tandem of Eric Haase and Jake Rogers.

“The surplus of talented catchers out there is very thin,” Harris said. “It’s really hard to find a stable Major League catching duo. A lot of teams out there are searching for that. Fortunately we have two catchers who have a chance to stay with us for a while.”

Rogers, coming off Tommy John surgery, is throwing without restriction and is expected to be full-go at the start of spring training.

Asked if he saw Haase as the primary catcher, Harris said, “Yeah. He put up a pretty good case for it last year. He is one of the catchers who will impact us.”

∎ Harris was asked what he liked about right-handed reliever Brendon White, whose addition to the 40-man roster was a mild surprise: “He had a good year for us,” he said. “He has a sneaky fastball and he can miss bats at the top of the strike zone. He also pounds the zone. One of the things I articulated as a priority for our pitching staff was to go right after hitters and keep the pressure on hitters. He’s demonstrated he can do that.”

∎ Hinch announced Nelson Perez as the Tigers’ new strength and conditioning coach and Shane Wallen the new Major League performance coach. Perez has been the assistant strength coach for the Cleveland Guardians and Wallen, who was out of baseball last season, was the Cubs’ strength coach up until 2020. Wallen was also formerly the strength coach with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.

∎ Holdovers from last season Matt Rankin and Chris McDonald will return as assistant trainers working under new head athletic trainer Ryan Eubanks.

∎ Hinch also announced that Gary Jones would coach third base next season. He coached first base last year.

∎ Harris on the decision to non-tender Jeimer Candelario: “He made a big impression in this organization. I knew him a little when I was with him in Chicago with the Cubs. But coming here, I asked a lot of people about him and heard nothing but positive things. Unfortunately he struggled a little last year and due to the nature of our situation it was a difficult decision for us at the tender deadline.”

Candelario signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Washington Nationals.

“He seems like he’s in a position now where he can get plenty of at-bats and try to recapture the player he was a couple of years ago,” Harris said. “We wish him nothing but the best. He’s a great person and he has a lot of fans in this organization.”

cmccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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