The Detroit Tigers had good reason to start overhauling the player development structure before the regular season ended. With the Arizona Fall League starting up next week, and instructional league work set to begin, they needed to get the top seat filled in time to start hiring coaches. Ryan Garko, the Tigers new Vice-President of Player Development, has only been on the job about two weeks, and there is a lot to get in order to begin the offseason portion of the player development calendar.
The latest notable hire was announced on Tuesday by Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, Al Avila. The Tigers have hired Gabe Ribas into the newly created role of Director of Pitching.
Ribas, 41 years old, was drafted out of Northwestern by the San Diego Padres in the 14th round back in 2002. He never reached the major leagues, eventually playing some independent league ball before turning to the coaching side. He cut his teeth as a college assistant, but has spent the last four seasons as the pitching coordinator for the Los Angeles Dodgers. In that role, he was a hub between their various departments, from analytics and performance science to the minor league coaching staffs. The job was to foster a unified effort in developing pitchers within the Dodgers organization, while at the same time allowing for much greater customization from player to player as well.
This is how Ribas describes his role on his Linkedin page. As you’d expect, coordinators coordinate things.
Worked cross-departmentally to formulate and implement development structure for 135 pitching prospects in the LA Dodgers Minor League System. Assisted all affiliate coaches in formulation and execution of data-driven development plans. Facilitated collaboration between on-field staff, performance science, strength and conditioning, quantitative analytics, and others in order to construct and continually modify a highly individualized and comprehensive pitching development program.
The job with the Tigers has a loftier title, but we’ll have to see if the Tigers will have one, or perhaps multiple pitching coordinators reporting to Ribas as Director of Pitching. Avila described the new role as essentially coaching the coaches.
“We have to have people teaching how to teach,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said Tuesday. “With the new information, the new technology, the average coach that maybe is not too accustomed to that has to be taught a new way.”
In the past, a lack of unified processes, goals, and communication could leave coaches working at cross purposes to others, with players getting conflicting instruction from place to place. Player development also involved a lot of cookie cutter approaches, as minor league systems lacked expertise and investment. With multiple departments contributing information nowadays, coordinated planning is a requirement to maximize the value of development work with each individual player.
Overall, there are signs that the Tigers really are thinking differently. Kyle Glaser, writing for Baseball America, wrote up the Tigers’ instructional league rosters last Saturday. Notably, he mentioned that the players would be split into two camps, one for skill acquisition, and one for pitch design. That’s an example of customizing the player development process.
Rather than putting everyone together and running a typical camp with a whole team worth of players all doing the same things, the Tigers are starting to differentiate more. That takes not only expertise, but investment in personnel, and the organization is doing much better on both fronts. Having two camps allows for separate instruction for younger, more raw prospects, who are still learning fundamentals and tried to build themselves up physically in baseball specific ways, versus more advanced pitchers in particular, who need to work on tuning their stuff and their mechanics. Presumably we’ll see a lot more of this in years to come.
As far as Ribas, well it’s hard to argue with hiring the Dodgers’ pitching coordinator. He comes highly regarded, both personally and professionally, and you can’t do too much better than poaching top coaches from one the league’s premier player development systems. Obviously A.J. Hinch, bench coach George Lombard, pitching coach Chris Fetter, and others have all come through that coaching tree, and like most of the big moves the Tigers have made over the past year, this has Hinch’s fingerprints all over it.
It’s taken far longer than we hoped, but the Tigers are starting to deliver on their promises to seriously upgrade the player development systems. Hopefully good results aren’t far behind.