John Niyo and Lynn Henning talk about the MLB Draft, Casey Mize, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Nick Castellanos, Joe Jimenez and the wayward Canada goose. Detroit News
Detroit — How this happened Thursday at Comerica Park, this rather easy Tigers victory over an Angels team with five times the celebrities in their lineup, was not difficult to explain.
The Tigers walloped the Angels, 6-2, in a game during which the Tigers out-hit the chaps from California, 12-8, and out-pitched them from the get-go.
The stickier wicket was analyzing how the Tigers did it with a collection of names that, here and there, looked as if they had been pulled from an old phone book.
In fact, these former minor-league mavericks that carried the Tigers on Thursday had been lassoed during the offseason.
It happened when general manager Al Avila, his assistant GM David Chadd, and their front-office partner, Dave Littlefield, conducted a round-up designed to stock the Tigers’ system with enough valid back-up bodies to withstand the kind of injury siege that has turned the Tigers lineup into a northern affiliate of the Toledo Mud Hens.
But it’s working. In rather amazing fashion. As was apparent Thursday.
Someone named Ronny Rodriguez awoke at 4 a.m. in Syracuse, where his Triple A Toledo team was playing, and after receiving news of his emergency promotion to Comerica Park, flew to Detroit in time to work at both second and third base in Thursday’s game. Rodriguez was so grateful he decided to swat a pair of singles in his first two big-league at-bats.
A kid who goes by Victor Reyes entered the day with a .139 batting average and with the stigma of being on the team because he was a Rule 5 pick. Being a Rule 5 guy is no fun. It’s like being invited to a wedding where you know absolutely no one but they asked you to attend because they need help cleaning up after the reception.
Reyes turned his fifth-wheel discomfort into quite a game: a triple, double, single, stolen base, and three RBIs as a 23-year-old man who last year was apprenticing at Single A made people realize, for at least one afternoon, why the Tigers gambled on stealing him six months ago from the Diamondbacks.
Meanwhile, Pete Kozma, who played quite a while for the Cardinals and who might have been Detroit’s first-round draft pick in 2007 had a kid named Rick Porcello not been available, helped out at shortstop as Jose Iglesias joined the long list of infirmed Tigers.
Kozma is no ongoing threat as a hitter. But he plays super-duper defense and offers Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire at least momentary peace as Gardenhire tries to place something other than emergency-room patients in his batting order.
It didn’t stop there on a day when 24,696 truly needed their scorecards, if not someone to explain where these cats came from.
Niko Goodrum, who arrived via last autumn’s minor-league free-agent safari, was in right field and banged a RBI double. Ryan Carpenter, a career minor-league starter with the Rays and Rockies, grabbed his car keys Thursday in Toledo and pulled into Comerica Park’s garage long enough to give the Tigers four shutout innings Saturday before he, true to the Tigers’ injury trend, left with a strained oblique.
And of course we cannot forget one Louis Coleman, whose name sounds like he ought to have designed a shoe line, but who instead opted to be a big-league pitcher and who hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2016 — until the Tigers signed him in February.
Check out Coleman’s numbers since he arrived, to Tiger Nation’s mass surprise and curiosity, a few weeks ago: Nine games, 12 innings, six hits, two runs, 11 strikeouts, a 1.50 ERA, a WHIP of 0.75, and an opposing batting average of .158.
As that band of brothers, Butch and Sundance, might have asked: Who are these guys?
It turns out they are the product of good scouting and a better budget. The Tigers were granted extra cash last autumn — Chris Ilitch is doing fine as the team’s owner — to help gird their reconstruction effort with desperately needed minor-league depth.
So, they scoured their rosters, talked with their scouts, got the greatly enhanced analytics staff involved integrally, and put together a grocery list of goods they thought could help in 2018.
These are players who, along with the cast of startlingly refreshing talent the Tigers have otherwise thrown together, make for a team that, while not playoff-good, has become a team 100-percent more entertaining than the dinosaurs who were around a year ago.
Leonys Martin. Mike Fiers. Francisco Liriano. All were and are big-leaguers, not to be confused with the gang signed as minor-league depth. But all have forged a team that has played surprisingly well at the same time it has been a boon to the Tigers’ front office and to their judgment.
“We put a good deal of effort into this, and yes — dollars — to acquire the best players possible,” Avila said after Thursday’s game. “Scouting, analytics — and opportunity. It (getting some depth for a barren club) has been a priority.”
Avila will forever be compared with his old boss and predecessor, Dave Dombrowski, which isn’t a comparison that’s terribly helpful. Dombrowski is a baseball CEO as much as a GM.
Avila’s background is in scouting, and in personnel.
“The scouts and analytics department identify players of interest,” Avila said. “Then we prioritize using the scouts’ and analytics’ info. Then David and Dave (Chadd and Littlefield) try to sign the players.
“Hopefully,” Avila said, “some will stick and be productive.”
That’s the hope. Tune in a month or two from now and some of the above might be sprinting to stay ahead of Tigers fans wielding torches and pitchforks.
For now, anyway, the smorgasbord that doubles as a Tigers roster has been a serviceable, even delightful, bunch that has won more games than any such crew figured to win.
Fans have taken a liking to them. What can’t be forgotten is that a front office hunting hard for overlooked help was first to have been attracted.