Curran: Tigers Withhold Critics on ‘Rebuild’ Season

The Detroit Tigers are opening up their season series against the Los Angeles Angels on Memorial Day and there will be some familiar faces dawning the Halos uniform this time around. Well-known in Detroit as “Everyday Ian” and “J-Up,” Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton will be in the Angels lineup after being traded from the Tigers in the offseason. Though the trade of Kinsler and Upton had ruffled the feathers of many Tigers faithful, it may come a bit of a surprise as to the success the Tigers have had without the two All-Stars.

At the end of last season, the Tigers were losers of 98 games, the most in the franchise since 2003, and many parts were not working for them. Brad Ausmus was on the hot seat, Nicholas Castellanos looked uncomfortable in his move to right field, highly touted prospects were getting called up and not performing and injuries plagued veteran leaders Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. It was time to hit the panic button and begin the rebuilding process and that’s exactly what they did in trading Kinsler, Upton and of course future Hall of Famer, Justin Verlander.

The Tigers acquired four prospects between the Kinsler and Upton trade from the Angels farm system including three pitchers and an outfielder. But none of these players have debuted yet in the MLB and quite frankly Dixon Machado, who is replacing Kinsler, is barely over the Mendoza Line and JaCoby Jones replacing Upton in left field is hitting just .228. But it has opened up a new opportunity for a team full of prospects to figure it out together and something is working. This is not new territory for manager Ron Gardenhire, who has worked with this before with the Minnesota Twins and created a top-tier farm system in baseball.

It comes with patience. Someone who hasn’t watched the Tigers in two years may only recognize one or two names on the team now, but look at the success they have had thus far. They now sit in second place in the American League Central, surpassing the expectations of many. Gardenhire is giving the team the ability to compete and at the same time trusting their maturation process. Sure, Gardenhire would love to have a Gold Glove winner at second base and 30 plus home run hitter in left, but the process comes with time. At one point, every major leaguer was a prospect hoping for a chance to play but it came with patience and timing.

Detroit has already begun developing a better farm system and players are starting to shine through. Niko Goodrum, Jeimer Candelario, and John Hicks are some of the fresher faces but look at the improvements already from players less than three years in the league like Michael Fulmer, James McCann, or Matt Boyd. Prospect Daz Cameron, son of former MLB outfielder Mike Cameron, was acquired in the Verlander deal with Houston. He is now hitting .302 in class A advanced in Lakeland for the Tigers. They have the parts working and with a farm system now getting stronger, they have more options in the rebuilding process. Eventually, it will come back to the question, should they trade a top prospect for a Gold Glove or Cy Young winner?

The Tigers will look to stay on the winning side of things this series with the Angels but it will be hard not to notice one of the best in the game, Mike Trout. Trout is projected to have one of the greatest seasons in MLB history and has already proved himself elite. Trout hit just .220 in his rookie season with the Angels, deeming it all the more important to stay patient with talent.

The baseball season is often referred to as a marathon, not a sprint. Some prospects want to race but it’s those who can slow down the game that will endure and help rebuild a baseball team.