Henning: A lot more hits than misses for Tigers scouts

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Detroit – There are names that should be known if you follow the Tigers with regularity. These names, these men, are in part why the Tigers have managed to bring to Detroit a steady stream of big-leaguers, almost all of whom have helped deliver a string of playoff appearances.

Scott Reid, Scott Bream, Jeff Wetherby, Bruce Tanner, Jim Olander, Dick Egan, and now Dave Littlefield, who replaced Mike Russell, are critical in explaining why the Tigers have scored with so many stars who were imported to Detroit.

They are the Tigers' big-league scouts. Their voices have been key in assembling a Tigers roster that in recent years has sported some of the following cast members:

Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Victor Martinez, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Jose Iglesias, J.D. Martinez, Shane Greene, Alfredo Simon, Ian Kinsler, Yoenis Cespedes, Anthony Gose, Joakim Soria, etc.

One of those players, Iglesias, knocked in the winning run Friday with a scorching ninth-inning single that gave the Tigers a 2-1 victory over the White Sox at sun-soaked Comerica Park. The Tigers are 9-1 and the hottest team in baseball.

Ten of the above players listed are on this 2015 team. All have taken turns during a crazy 10-game spurt that has unmasked just how talented and potentially how good this club could be.

You will note that the Tigers seldom have been disappointed by a player they have targeted since Detroit's better baseball days began in 2006.

It isn't that Dave Dombrowski's front office and scouts necessarily see things unknown to other clubs. But even in the instance of Victor Martinez, a supreme hitter, Tigers scouts had to choose between signing him in the autumn of 2010 over a muscular power hitter who also was available, and whose reputation then was immensely appealing: Adam Dunn.

Future Cy Young winner

They had gotten Scherzer a year earlier in a trade for Curtis Granderson. Not much was made of Scherzer in 2009, but during his next five years in Detroit he became a Cy Young Award winner and at times was probably baseball's best right-handed pitcher.

Neither was there great fuss when the Tigers traded in 2011 to get Fister, who was about as steady as a starter could have been during his 2 ½ seasons in Detroit.

Iglesias? At the moment, he is the most electric player in manager Brad Ausmus' lineup. Gose? He plays an impeccable center field and, even if the year is young, he has been hitting (.407) at almost twice the clip he batted a year ago for the Blue Jays.

Greene has pitched so spectacularly for the Tigers that many are wondering what the Yankees were thinking in sending him to Detroit, even if it was for a shortstop New York desperately needed.

Simon was viewed by some (hand raised) as a bit of a risk when one considers the tense times starting pitchers can experience in moving from the National League to the American. He is 2-0 and a 2.03 ERA.

It goes on, and on, and on. The Tigers along the way have had a few blowouts: Edgar Renteria, Aubrey Huff, etc. But their percentage of direct hits has been astounding.

Ausmus was asked Friday about the front office's scouting efforts and had a one-word response: "Kudos."

It's a group effort, and includes other lieutenants, such as assistant general manager Al Avila, who was heavy in signing J.D. Martinez. Jim Leyland is part of the group, also, now that he is a special assistant to Dombrowski. Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Alan Trammell — the Tigers have a hoary corps of consultants.

'Very good opinions'

The individual scouting duties break down like this:

Reid, 68, is the Tigers' big-league scouting coordinator. He is assisted by Bream, 44, a co-pilot who is expected to ascend when Reid is ready for more relaxed years.

They oversee a four-man staff that operates accordingly:

Wetherby covers American League East teams. Tanner handles the National League Central. Littlefield, who came aboard when Russell moved to the Diamondbacks, has the National League East. Egan specializes in the American League West, while Olander studies the National League West.

Everyone takes a turn on the Tigers' terrain, the American League Central. The same scouts also keep an eye on Double A and Triple A teams in their territories.

"We have a good group, with very good opinions," Dombrowski said Friday, shortly before 33,084 watched the Tigers triumph on a gorgeous 70-degree day in Detroit. "They speak their minds, and sometimes they differ, and they're not afraid to differ.

"No one takes it personally. What matters is that in making a deal it's always important to be as thorough, and to hear from as many voices as possible."

Dombrowski says, if anything, the Tigers probably operate with a slightly smaller big-league scouting staff than do most teams. He finds the group to be right in size and in makeup. There are men, such as Egan and Reid, he has known for decades.

Younger blood steadily is added. Different perspectives become part of a science, and a craft, that Dombrowski and most GMs believe can never be replaced by simple statistical appraisals. You need a trained human eye inspecting a ballplayer's inventory. You need people who understand the big-leaguer's psyche and challenges when evaluating a key ingredient in any player's profile: makeup.

Dombrowski sifts through data (front-office associates Mike Smith and Sam Menzin are vital with numbers) and listens to his scouts. They arrive at a consensus. They bring to Detroit another big-leaguer who, based on their past scorecards, has a chance to be the very guy they were seeking.

It's how you win. With personnel. And with people who understand it.