Al Avila confident, pleased with Tigers' haul of experienced position players in MLB draft

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
The Tigers drafted Arizona third baseman Nick Quintana in the second round of the MLB draft, starting a run of five straight college hitters they selected.

Detroit — The Detroit Tigers accomplished what they set out to do, general manager Al Avila said, in terms of the draft this week.

With the Tigers deep in pitching prospects in the minor leagues, the intent in this draft was to add position players with the potential to produce offensively.

Avila felt the organization did just that.

“It was a position player-heavy draft, as opposed to the years that there was more pitching that we liked better, per se,” Avila said. “This year was more of that (position player), luckily for us. That’s something we were aware of, and we were aggressive in that sense.

“We wanted to draft some position players, offensive bats, preferably with some experience. We went heavy on college position players, and that’s kind of the way it worked out.”

The depth of position prospects in the Tigers’ system, at this point, lags behind the pitchers.

“We have a few hitters that we like a lot and a few we are hoping will come along,” Avila said. “But coming into this draft we wanted to give it an energy boost of position players.

“We should be able to come out (of this draft) with good hitters that can help us in the near future.”

The Tigers selected outfielder Riley Greene with their first-round pick, and quickly signed him Wednesday, enabling Greene to begin his professional career this summer.

Avila said Greene likely will start in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League before moving him along.

At this point, Greene will begin the summer as a center fielder, though that could change in the future.

“He’ll either play himself into that position long term or play himself into a corner (outfield position),” Avila said. “At the end of the day, what we’re looking for is the bat.

“From a little over a year ago to present day, he has increased his running speed. Another thing is instincts. He’s learned to play it (center field) better, and he’s worked real hard. One of his goals is to stay in center field and he’s determined to make it happen.”

Avila touched on a variety of subjects in a pregame meeting with reporters Thursday in the Tigers’ dugout.

An arthritic knee will limit the tigers' Miguel Cabrera to designated-hitter duties the rest of the season, and likely the rest of his career.

► On the revelation this week that Miguel Cabrera has an arthritic knee which will limit Cabrera to being a designated hitter this year, and likely the rest of his career:

“With any veteran player and injury, you’ll be concerned. But you can’t let that paralyze you. Basically you have to move forward, and our trainers and doctors work on him every single day, trying to keep him on the field. The good news is that it’s a chronic thing that he’ll have to live with it, (but) with treatment, you put him on the field. The bad news, obviously, is it’s going to get worse as it goes along, so it’s incumbent on him to stay in good shape and for us to make sure we give him proper treatment and rest. If you’re able to keep that going, we should be able to keep him productive on the field through the remainder of his contract. That is our expectation and hope.”

Avila expects Cabrera to stay in the DH position.

“I wouldn’t expect to see him playing first base the rest of this year,” Avila said. “If it is, it might be once or twice out of necessity.”

► On the depth of the Tigers’ draft:

“We’re very happy with the guys we took right after (Greene). All those guys were college hitters, most of them are playing in the Super Regionals (NCAA postseason tournament), and they’ve all been very successful to some degree at the college level, some of them in the Cape Cod League. As far as who we picked after Riley Greene, especially in the first 10 picks, we’re pretty happy there.”

► On the possibility of promoting pitcher Casey Mize, who is dominating at the Double-A level:

“He has performed very well in Erie, and we have been talking about his next promotion and where is that going to be. The next step, logically, would be Toledo (Triple-A). (Pitcher Matt) Manning, the same thing. He’s been pitching very well there, and (pitcher Alex) Faedo has had some outstanding games also. At some point, I can’t give you a timeline, but probably at some point this season, you might see, if not all three, a couple of those guys in Toledo.”

Avila doesn’t want to rush a prospect too soon, because it’s vital for the player to learn to overcome adversity at the minor league level, and also because the Tigers are in a rebuilding, non-contending situation.

Avila said former Tigers pitchers Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello all encountered difficulties — Porcello and Scherzer were sent back briefly to the minors —as young major leaguers, so it’s good to continue the learning process in the minors.

“You want him to face some adversity, too, so they can overcome that when they come up here,” Avila said. “Even hitters, you’re going to go through that process. That’s why, for us, if there’s no reason, and I hear people saying bring up Casey Mize right now. Well, there’s no real purpose in doing that. All you’re going to do is retard the progress he’s made already and, quite frankly, it’s not going to make us into playoff contenders this year, so it just defeats the purpose. It’s just logic.”

► On the state of the rebuild:

“We have some guys who are doing well and we have some guys who aren’t doing well, and that’s part of the process you worry about, and grind out the guys who aren’t doing well and call the minor league guys and ask what is going on here, and how can we get better there.

“The guys who are doing well, you rejoice in that and continue to enjoy that part of it.”

► On acquiring help for the major league roster, given the injuries to the pitching staff and infield:

“We’re always looking to outside the organization to improve the club; however at this time of  year, it’s real difficult. You’re always looking at ways, but you’re never going to make a huge impact like that right now. Our focus is getting guys back healthy.

“With the team we have right now, we stay the course and give opportunity to young players. Our whole focus is to give opportunities to young players and see who will be our next star players.”

Avila said pitchers Jordan Zimmermann (right elbow UCL sprain) and Tyson Ross (right ulnar nerve neuritis) are on schedule to pitch in the next “few weeks.”

►On Triple-A pitching prospects Kyle Funkhouser and Beau Burrows, both recovering from injuries:

“Funkhouser is back on the mound, he pitched for Lakeland and (pitched) well. We’ll give him one outing in Erie and after that, if all goes well, we’ll bump him up to Toledo, and following right behind him is Beau Burrows. My hope is those two guys get back to Toledo doing what they’re supposed to be, and capable of, doing and if that’s the case, we’ll probably see those two guys, at some point, in the major-league level later in the summer. That is our hope; that’s what we’re looking for.”

►On the struggles of infielder Jeimer Candelario (left shoulder inflammation), who was demoted to Toledo last month for a period of time:

“Jeimer is still young enough where there’s still optimism he can become the player he can become. He’s still young enough to do that. However, anytime a player struggles,  you do get concerned. The injury here, obviously, is not great. But it opens up an opportunity for (Dawel) Lugo to play more often. One of the guys we have that people don’t talk about is Brandon Dixon, who is having a great year. We’re very happy with what he’s done. Right now, we are giving opportunities and guys that will take advantage of it will rise.”

Twitter: @tkulfan