‘There are no shortcuts back to contention’: Tigers’ Scott Harris embarks on first season

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Scott Harris, speaking to the media before the first official full-squad workout of the spring Monday morning, didn’t try to paint rainbows or sugarcoat the Tigers’ prospects for the 2023 season.

“Coming off 96 losses, there are no shortcuts back to contention,” said Harris, embarking on his first season as Tigers president of baseball operations. “It starts with putting together a team and an environment that can play competitive baseball every day.”

No shortcuts. No Band-Aids in the form of veteran free agents on one-year deals. No false-front signings that might take at-bats or innings away from younger players who have a chance to be part of the foundation.

So, no Jurickson Profar, Brandon Drury, Wil Myers or Adam Frazier.

“When we entered the offseason, we were looking for controllable young players who embody the offensive identity we’re working towards,” Harris said, meaning players whose contracts are still under team control. “Players who control the strike zone and could help us control the strike zone better as an organization.

“And on the position-player side, it’s really tough to find controllable players at manageable acquisition costs. I didn’t think it made sense for us to invest significant at-bats in veteran players who will not be a part of the team beyond 2023.”

Harris went on.

“Those at-bats are too valuable for us. We have to invest those current and future at-bats with some of our young players; players like Kerry Carpenter, Ryan Kreidler, Andre Lipcius, Wenceel Perez, Parker Meadows and a lot of the young players already in camp fighting for jobs.”

Through trades, Harris was able to bring in four young players who fit the profile — Justyn-Henry Malloy from the Braves, Nick Maton, Matt Vierling and Donny Sands from the Phillies.

Maton, Vierling, Malloy, as well as Tyler Nevin, purchased from Baltimore, are thick in the mix for the wide-open third-base spot.

“I think there’s going to be a little bit of a mentality shift here,” Harris said. “We’re looking at our team as 13 position players. We are looking at how they fit together and how they can produce as many runs as possible for us. We acquired Nick Maton, he’s going to be part of the solution whether it’s at second base, third base or the outfield.

“Justin-Henry Malloy, he’s not in the big leagues now but he’s as close as he could possibly be and he plays third base. We feel like we attacked that (third base) issue this offseason and how it all plays out, we have to wait until spring training tells us.”

It’s less about sinking or swimming with a core group of everyday players and more about mixing, matching and maximizing the entire roster. That’s not necessarily the preferred way but it is the requisite way for the transitioning Tigers right now.

The culture of development is real.

“An area of focus for us is helping players get better,” Harris said. “We’re introducing a lot of new things to the players that they’ve never seen before. And with that comes huge opportunity to help them get better, to find those small gains up and down the roster that can net huge returns for the team. That’s going to be our path back to contention and I feel we are off to a good start.”

There’s a new coaching staff, a new training staff, a new medical staff, new technology, new data, new training tools and development concepts. It’s a lot. And it’s going to take time for players to adjust and get comfortable.

“They’ve responded to it very well,” Harris said. “But there is an adjustment period and it takes time for these new concepts to gain traction and produce results.”

Manager AJ Hinch, for the record, is fully onboard with the new infrastructure Harris has put in place.

“We’re unafraid and unapologetic about trying to get better faster,” Hinch said. “We’re trying to do things that players can grab on to and be better versions of themselves. The infrastructure is what speeds that up the best. Our resources are great and our commitment to it is great.

“I love Scott’s vision of always taking a step forward in development, whether you are in the minor leagues or the major leagues — I love that we are aligned. It’s going to make me better and I hope I can make him better. And the benefit of that, hopefully, is that it makes the players get better.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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