2024 Detroit Tigers Youth Movement: A new narrative that will need more of a plot

Detroit Tigers Photo Day
Detroit Tigers Photo Day / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

Spring training baseball delivers waves of optimism, with sunny skies and warm temperatures setting a positive tone for fans' expectations. The time in Lakeland this week for myself has changed my deposition after a gray January.

As the Detroit Tigers prepare for the 2024 season, they are among the youngest teams in the league in terms of positional players. This youth movement is the result of consistently drafting in the top 15 since 2017, including No. 1 overall picks Casey Mize in 2018 and Spencer Torkelson in 2020.

Before signing Gio Urshela, Detroit Tigers President of Baseball Operations Scott Harris said, "We have a young hitter in the big leagues, or pretty close to the big leagues, at almost every position – we got to commit to those guys." But it seems clear that Matt Vierling will go back to a utility role and limit at-bats for players like Justyn-Henry Malloy and others to get at-bats in Toledo.

The one-year commitment to Urshela, who sought regular playing time and chose Detroit over teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, who reportedly expressed interest, could serve as a stopgap measure for the heir apparent at third base, Jace Jung and taking advantage of a weak free agent market, where we are seeing teams waiting till the last possible second to sign players for under their value (See the Tim Anderson one-year deal with the Marlins)

The Tigers had to spend to upgrade the pitching staff this offseason, since they were heading into 2024 with a lot of unproven starting pitching and bullpen depth. They were the busiest team in the off-season. The debate is there if Detroit should have spent more to get a bat, considering where they finished among teams in OPS (26th).  This should position themselves to win the AL Central, right? On paper, absolutely, but let’s push the youth narrative aside for a moment. 

Takes more than youth

The catalyst for the offense remains a question mark for the Detroit Tigers, as the lack of established track records among the young players is a concern. Despite an easier schedule to start the season, offensive projections from various publications place the Tigers third in their division and below .500. These projections reflect the uncertainty surrounding players without consistent track records or expected natural progression.

The organization has undergone significant changes, even before Scott Harris's arrival, with improvements made by Ryan Garko and the player development team. The 2024 season will be a test to see if the Tigers have successfully identified and developed talent capable of becoming regular, productive major league players.

While the strategy may seem straightforward, the frustration among Tigers fans is understandable. Some believe the team did not spend enough on big-name free agents, while others are content with the youth movement, citing glimpses of potential from players like Carpenter, Greene, and Torkelson.

Every Tigers fan should look for signs that the team has taken the first big step in establishing a team identity this season. While phrases like "controlling the strike zone" are often mentioned, the real question is whether these concepts will translate into wins. While the optimism of spring training is infectious, it's important to remember that spring training stats are not a reliable indicator of regular season performance.

The narrative for the season shouldn't be solely focused on the youth movement; hopefully, other positive developments will emerge to provide a more optimistic outlook for the team's future.