Detroit Tigers Manager Candidate: Mike Rabelo

LAKELAND, FL - FEBRUARY 27: Mike Rabelo /

The former skipper in the Detroit Tigers minor league system Mike Rabelo would make a lot of sense to manage the team in 2021.

When the Detroit Tigers lost Mike Rabelo to the Pittsburgh Pirates to be the team’s assistant hitting coach, it was a huge blow in the sense of having to replace him with a new face that players like Casey Mize and Matt Manning were not familiar with. He also managed the following players on the Tigers 40-man roster.

  • Anthony Castro
  • Kyle Funkhouser
  • Bryan Garcia
  • Gregory Soto
  • Isaac Paredes
  • Spencer Turnbull
  • Daz Cameron
  • Derek Hill
  • Jake Rogers
  • Sergio Alcantara
  • Beau Burrows
  • Tarik Skubal
  • John Schreiber
  • Nick Ramirez

Throw in a half of a season of Joey Wentz, who is not on the Detroit Tigers 40-man roster but a good pitching prospect, and you have someone who is well versed in the current roster. It is tough to turn down a major league job as Anthony Fenech of the Freep points out in an article from January.

“Even as players bounce upward through the farm system, a continuity of message is important. That was the thinking behind the hiring of manager Ron Gardenhire and his staff two years ago. Mientkiewicz, one of Gardenhire’s former players, was expected to spread that developmental message in Toledo. Rabelo wasn’t part of Gardenhire’s crew, but he had worked his way up through the Tigers’ system, from a three-year stint leading Connecticut, followed by single-season stints as manager in West Michigan, Lakeland, and Erie. Along the way, he received rave reviews from players, establishing himself as an up-and-comer.

“That career path still might have led Rabelo to Pittsburgh, even if he had been picked to succeed Mientkiewicz.”

In his time in the Tigers minor league system from 2014 to 2019, Mike Rabelo would finish every season over .500 but one, his second at Connecticut in 2015.  Now that Gardenhire has retired, the question is, will Rabelo be able to have the clout to bring in his own crew? Joe Vavra and Rick Anderson were on one-year deals but Vavra made an impact on the Tigers bats this season that saw an improvement with pretty much the same lineup minus Schoop from 2019.

The Pirates are bringing everyone back from the coaching staff in 2021 that includes another Tigers manager candidate in Don Kelly, who is the team’s bench coach. As Chris Brown astutely points out in his article, Kelly has made a quick descent into managerial material. Fans love him and it is a slam dunk choice from a PR move standpoint from the aspect that he is beloved by the fanbase.

A  scenario that could happen is if Don Kelly is hired, he could bring Rabelo over as the team’s hitting instructor. But honestly, I rather go with Rabelo over Kelly because of his experience with the current system and he has managed many of the names above. Kelly as Chris pointed out, his time in Houston benefitted him in terms of how they are forward-thinking in using analytics and building out their farm system. So that potentially could work here.

Is he AJ Hinch or Joey Cora? No, but as the Detroit Tigers continue to work on the rebuild, a manager who at least has experience with how Detroit approaches player development would be an ideal fit. George Lombard’s story is great and he was just interviewed by Detroit last week according to Jason Beck of But I think Rabelo should get some heavy consideration for knowing the Detroit system as he does. No other manager candidate other than Lloyd McClendon can boast the same.