Ron Gardenhire’s words have been heard.
The Tigers will be putting teeth into their development process. There won’t be a woodshed built at the Tigertown complex. Nor will solitary-confinement cells be installed at their Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A ballparks.
But rules and enforcement are about to be ramped up within the Tigers’ teaching system.
“I think it’s a valid point,” said Dave Littlefield, the Tigers vice president of development, whose job is to head coaches, managers, and instructors charged with getting kid prospects ready for the big leagues.
“It’s imperative that we have to improve. We’ve got to get better on the player-development side. I understand that comes with growing pains, but whether it’s working on baserunning, relays, bunt defense, PFP (pitchers’ fielding practice) — all these things are part of it. We’ve got to tighten things up, and police things in a stronger manner.”
Gardenhire is the Tigers manager who, during his first full season in Detroit, often sermonized about missed cutoff men and sloppy fundamentals. He was especially loud two weeks ago when another batch of bad cutoffs by “everyone” sent him on a rant that made more than clear changes were coming.
“We’ve got to eliminate long throws and get it to the cutoff man, and quit trying to throw out people,” Gardenhire said. “We throw it over the first guy’s head (shallow outfield cutoff target) and bounce it to the second guy.
“And that’s very irritating.”
This wasn’t the first time, nor the second or third, that Gardenhire had wondered what presumably was being taught in the Tigers bushes. He allowed last month that “we don’t have all the answers” in speaking for himself and his coaches, some of whom came with him from the Twins system.
But he knew he and the Tigers front office and farm staff would be chatting seriously about development policies when the team has organizational meetings next week at Lakeland, Fla.
“Yes,” Gardenhire said, all but marking his desk calendar with red ink. “October 8.”
That the Tigers can suddenly unveil new teaching methods on Tigertown’s back fields isn’t terribly realistic, as Gardenhire acknowledges. Teaching methodology is basic in baseball and universal. Rather, it may be a matter of enforcement.
There might, as Gardenhire has said, need to be a few during-game benchings.
“Obviously, there have been mistakes made at the major-league level,” Littlefield said, adding that players all the time are told in ways not always gentle that they need to shape up.
He mentioned a meeting Tuesday morning during which Willie Horton, the Tigers slugger from the 1960s and ‘70s who now is a front-office adviser, spoke about a lesson learned when Horton was barely 20 years old and playing Winter Ball.
And a youngster messed up.
“Willie said he was taken out of a game, and he’s never forgotten it,” Littlefield said. “It had real impact. Done at the right time, we all acknowledge it can help players.”
The Tigers this week are wrapping up three weeks of instructional camp at the Tigertown complex. The camp is an annual rite for players at the Single-A and rookie levels and reinforces lessons that can benefit from a postseason refresher course.
The camp does not include players from Double A and Triple A who, in many cases, are headed for offseason work in the winter leagues and Arizona Fall League.
Among those trekking to the Caribbean, or elsewhere, are infielders Willi Castro, Sergio Alcantara, and Dawel Lugo, all of whom are set to play in the Dominican Republic Winter League. Grayson Greiner, the young catcher who is being counted on in 2019, likewise is heading to the Dominican Republic.
Isaac Paredes, the 19-year-old slasher who continued hitting even after he was boosted to Double A, will play this winter in the Mexican League, while a pair of outfielders, Victor Reyes and Jacob Robson, will travel to Venezuela.
Heading to the Arizona Fall League next week will be outfielders Daz Cameron and Danny Woodrow, catcher Jake Rogers, as well as pitchers Sandy Baez, John Schreiber, and Eduardo Jimenez.
Additionally, left-handed pitcher Daniel Norris, who was hurt most of the 2018 season, will make a handful of starts for the Dominican league’s Aguilas Cibaenas.
That leaves others to spend a nice, refreshing October, November, and December at the Tigertown complex’s weight room. The list is heavy with pitchers.
“One thing that’s evolved,” Littlefield said, “is that pitchers who have been throwing since January, by this time of year if they’ve been healthy the whole season, there are views that rest and recovery is necessary, but also strength training that we’ll be focusing on.
“So, they won’t be here relaxing. We’ll keep their arms moving into October, put them on strength and conditioning training through November and December. No throwing, but they’ll be gaining strength.”
There will not be the sounds of jail doors slamming shut or stocks being locked down on the arms and necks of Tigers prospects who in 2018 have missed cutoff men or who have messed up on the bases.
But next year there could be something, for a baseball player, that is much worse:
A summons from the dugout and a seat on the pine.