The Tigers filled two vacancies today in their minor league development staff by promoting Dave Owen and hiring Al Nipper. The two replace the vacated positions of Director of Player Development (Owen) and Minor League Pitching Coordinator (Nipper).
The position of Director of Player Development came open when the Tigers moved Mike Rojas to bullpen coach earlier this year after the firing of pitching coach Rick Knapp. Since the move, the position has been vacant. Rojas became Director after the Tigers retired Glenn Ezell during the draft last year, and has been a part of a series of moves the Tigers have made in development. There might be more to come.
Owen takes over the position of after serving as the Tigers roving minor league infield coordinator. Owen has recent experience with the Royals at the big league level, serving as 3rd base coach and bench coach. He was also a minor league infield coordinator for the Phillies in 2004-06 as well. Owen has a history that is rooted in scouting, having 10 years experience in the field with three different clubs. In fact, he served as a scout for the Tigers 1997-99, having served in the same capacity for the White Sox and the Phillies as well.
The position of Minor League Pitching Coordinator became vacant when the Tigers let go of Jon Matlack earlier in the season. Al Nipper brings a variety of experience to the position, and most recently has been working in the Red Sox organization as a special assistant to the GM, evaluating minor league pitching for the Red Sox for the past 5 years. Nipper has either been a pitching coach or Minor League Pitching Coordinator for much of the last 15 years, and is pretty widely respected in the league. He has held pitching development positions or coaching positions with the Royals, Rangers and Red Sox.
The moves potentially signal what has been a shift in the philosophy of the organization, or at the very least, finding guys who fit the direction Dave Dombrowski and others want to take minor league development. It appears that most of the moves have been made with respect to pitching, raising questions of differences between upper management and the staff that was working day in and day out with the Tigers prospects.
Starting with Ezell last year, this is quite an overhaul for a team that is in first place and going to the playoffs. I’m not suggesting that it isn’t needed, as the Tigers continue to be in the bottom third of farm systems in baseball, but teams with success don’t seem to have this much maneuvering going on. There is some evidence that there has been a lack of development in some of the more talented pitching that the system possesses.
Hopefully Nipper and Owen can improve the quality and development of the Tigers prospects.