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Tigers make major cuts in player development staff

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Coaching vacancies will allow their new VP of Player Development to build his own staff once the Tigers make a hire there.

Toronto Blue Jays v Detroit Tigers Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

With the exception of the Triple-A International League, the minor league affiliates completed their 2021 seasons over the weekend. While the Toledo Mud Hens and other Triple-A affiliates will stay in action through next week to continue to serve as feeder league and support for the major league franchises, this marks the end of the minor league regular season. As a result, the Detroit Tigers revamped front office is already making moves in terms of their organizational coaching staff.

On Tuesday, Brett Ghiroli and Cody Stavenhagen of The Athletic reported a lengthy list of names among the Tigers’ player development staff who won’t have their contracts renewed for 2022. Many of these coaches have been a part of the player development staff for quite some time, signaling a pretty serious, though expected, overhaul is underway as the organization prepares to hire a new Vice President of Player Development.

These decisions aren’t so surprising, of course. Three weeks ago, the organization made made major changes to their front office, promoting Jay Sartori, formerly the Senior Director of Baseball Analytics and Operations and the key architect of the club’s analytics department and modernization of the front office, to Vice-President and Assistant General Manager. Sam Menzin, formerly Tigers’ Director of Baseball Operations and Professional Scouting, was also promoted to Vice-President and Assistant General Manager. In the process, long-time player development honcho and Vice-President, David Littlefield, was moved out of that role to a retirement gig, as was his other half, former Vice-President David Chadd.

Those moves represent a whole new phase for the Tigers’ front office. With Littlefield out, current Director of Player Development, Kenny Graham, takes over running player development until a Vice-President, possibly Graham himself, is hired into the executive role, presumably under the Vice-President of Player Development title.

Among the longest tenured coaches to be released is A.J. Sager, who pitched for the Tigers as well as the San Diego Padres in the 90’s. Sager became the organization’s roving pitching instructor way back in 2013. At various times, Sager has been a minor league pitching coach for the Toledo Mud Hens, and even spent part of the 2018 season as the Tigers bullpen coach.

Willie Blair joined the Tigers’ organization back in 2015, taking over as the Double-A Erie SeaWolves pitching coach prior to the 2016 season. Since 2018, Blair has been the A-ball level West Michigan Whitecaps pitching coach. Blair came up through the Toronto Blue Jays organization and made his major league debut in 1990. He spent the decade bouncing between organizations, including pitching for the Tigers in 1997, and again from 1999 through 2001.

Mark Johnson was the Erie SeaWolves pitching coach this season. Bill Springman was the West Michigan Whitecaps’ hitting coach. Cathcart, a former outfield and baserunning instructor in the Miami Marlins organization, was a former manager of the Connecticut Tigers, and was slated to manage the 2020 short season A-ball Norwich Unicorns before their season, and ultimately the New York-Penn League, was disbanded.

There appears to be a mix of different coaching specialties bound for replacement here. However, it’s hard to ignore how many pitching coaches in the system are being ousted here. The next development honcho in the system will be remaking all aspects of the staff, but the pitching coaches seem bound for a major overhaul. Notably, newer hires like Dan Hubbs, the Tigers Director of Pitching Development and Strategies, appears to be sticking around, so perhaps the implementation side of things is where the Tigers are looking for fresh voices well aligned with the new front office’s philosophies and priorities.