The Detroit Tigers Way: Building Talent from Within


For years, the St. Louis Cardinals have been known for “The Cardinal Way” program used for growing their own talent. They draft players, develop them, and win championships. The Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland A’s, and a few other organizations around the league have similar programs (although, not all of the programs are as successful as The Cardinal Way). On December 8, during the Winter Meetings, the media learned that the Detroit Tigers were throwing their hat into the ring by creating “The Tigers Way” for building home-grown talent from Single-A to the Major League.

May 30, 2014; Toledo, OH, USA; Toledo Mud Hens catcher James McCann walks off the field after defeating the Charlotte Knights 3-2 at Fifth Third Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

According to the Detroit News, this new program to build and develop talent from within is not something that Avila actually wanted to share with the media. But, now that announcement has been informally made, it is certainly good news for fans and players. During Dave Dombrowski’s years with the team, he completely ravaged the minor league system, trading several low-cost prospects for a handful expensive stars. This method of doing business has cost the Tigers a significant amount of money that has not paid off in the post seasons.

In 2015, the Tigers’ minor league systems were unsuccessful. The Connecticut Tigers were 35-38. The Toledo Mud Hens were 61-83. The Lakeland Flying Tigers were 22-43. The Erie Seawolves were 64-78. The West Michigan White Caps were 75-64. Other than the Connecticut Tigers and the White Caps, all of the minor league teams were in last place in their leagues and divisions. The Connecticut Tigers were second-to-last. This does not bode well for the future of the Detroit Tigers.

To remedy the minor league problem, the Tigers decided to fix it from within. With the help of Brad Ausmus and his experience with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Avila and other front office experts developed what they are now calling “The Tigers Way.” This program addresses the training that minor league players will encounter from the Single-A teams to the Triple-A teams. This program will have a handbook that players in the entire organization will use in order to develop consistency from pitching to hitting to fielding.

It is important to know that the Tigers are not going to become the Yankees, with mandates about how they can wear their hair and whether or not they can have a beard. The program is all about the mechanics of the game as well as the values that management wants to instill in their players when they are on the field.

Feb 18, 2014; Lakeland, FL, USA; Toledo Mud Hens manger Larry Parrish (right) during a team practice at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The player handbook will be distributed this spring. Even though the players will receive a copy of the manual, the handbook is designed for use by the coaches so the methodology remains consistent between the minor league teams. Like any new program, there is the possibility of an implementation dip, where things to do not always go as planned and adjustments might need to be made.

However, anyone who has been involved in prep sports from the freshmen, junior varsity, and varsity levels knows that when there is consistency in an organization, the teams are set up for success. Teammates who grow together in a well-run organization are more likely to win championships than teammates who have never had the chance to mesh with each other.

Along with implementing “The Tigers Way,” the organization introduced several new minor league coaches. With the disappointing 2015 season, many coaches were let go and some retired. The newest hires include Lloyd McClendon and Jeff Pico in Triple-A Toledo, Willie Blair in Erie, and Mike Hessmann and Ace Adams in Connecticut. The biggest changes across the board were made with pitching coaches. There are also plenty of roving coaches and trainers who will work with the coaches throughout the organization to help with the continuity issues that arise.

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For fans in the minor league local markets, these changes should make positive changes to the games they get to enjoy. At the major league level, the expenses involved with player salaries should decrease as “The Tigers Way” spreads through the organization within the next few years.