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Detroit Tigers hire former MLB first baseman Ryan Garko as VP of Player Development

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He’s a familiar name, but his coaching career didn’t make him an obvious candidate, at least to us.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels-Media Day Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers’ search for a new player development chief is over. On Thursday, the team announced that Ryan Garko, the Los Angeles Angels replay coordinator and former major league first baseman, has been hired as Vice-President of Player Development.

We had a few names in mind for the job, mainly coordinators and former coordinators from the top organizations in player development, but Garko’s name didn’t come up. That’s not surprising, as figuring out who the hot young development aces are is pretty tricky without a lot of insider sourcing.

Garko will probably be familiar to many of you from his time as a major league first baseman for the Cleveland Indians from 2005-2009. A big hitting prospect in the minor leagues with a decidedly bat-first profile, Garko needed to mash to find a consistent major league role, and could never do so consistently at the highest levels. His best season came in 2007, when he hit 21 home runs in 541 plate appearances, with a wRC+ of 124. Garko played a bit for the San Francisco Giants as well as the Texas Rangers before finishing his pro career in South Korea.

When Garko retired in early 2013, became a coach at Stanford University, before he was plucked by the Los Angeles Dodgers as a coach. Garko managed the Double-A Tulsa Drillers in the Dodgers’ organization for the 2016 season. At that point he left the pros to become head baseball coach at University of the Pacific. That’s pretty clearly a guy who was on the fast track and thought as a smart, young voice in the game. You don’t typically see players retire, immediately take a minor league managers gig at the Double-A level, for one of the best organizations in the game, and then a head coaching college gig, all that quickly. Garko is still only 40 years old.

He stepped down from University of the Pacific prior to the 2020 season to join Los Angeles Angels’ manager, Joe Maddon’s staff. For the past two seasons, he’s coached for the Angels, and worked as their replay coordinator. He was also involved in coordinating analytics for players and coaches, and gameplanning against opposing pitchers.

The connections to A.J. Hinch, Chris Fetter, and George Lombard, are fairly obvious as each spent time in coaching and player development with the Dodgers’ organization. Garko graduated from Stanford, as did Hinch, and returned there to coach after his pro career ended. Dan Hubbs, the Tigers’ Director of Pitching Development and Strategies since 2019, also played in the Dodgers minor league system.

Beyond that, we know little about Garko beyond his resumé. His development philosophies and areas of expertise aren’t readily apparent. Because of his connections to the major league coaching staff, we can feel confident that they had a major role in putting Garko forward as a candidate. That should ease concerns. Otherwise there’s little to say until we see who he hires for some of the vacant coaching spots in the Tigers system.

This isn’t a position that is easily evaluated in a year, so we’ll just have to put our faith in the Tigers’ brain trust, and hope they got a really good up-and-coming player development specialist to take over the reins.