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Monday, March 30, 2020

Chris Ilitch: Tigers have made ‘great strides’ this year

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Michael Whitaker
Always at the front lines of Detroit Sports.

The Detroit Tigers eclipsed the 100-loss mark for the first time since their disastrous 2003 campaign, and it doesn’t appear as though next season will fare much better.

But according to owner Chris Ilitch, the fans will be excited to see the progress the team will eventually be making.

“I think our fans are excited to see the next wave of young stars put on the Old English D,” Ilitch said on Friday. “I know that’s what they want because I talk to a lot of our fans and they tell me how engaged they are, how they are following our prospects and, like me, can’t wait until they make it here to Detroit and Comerica Park.”

The frustration that fans are feeling over the lack of recent success has extended to the Ilitch family – namely Chris’ young son. But he, like any other fan, will have to endure the process.

“Yes, I have encountered some negativity,” Ilitch said. “My 9-year-old son is not happy. He really wants us to win right now. I say, ‘Son, I want to win right now.’ And then I’ll explain to him how the process works. He gets it — kind of.”

But the buildup of losses are simply a step in the journey to becoming a contender again, and Ilitch is encouraged by what he views as a vast improvement of the team’s farm system. According to Baseball America, Detroit’s prospect ranking improved from dead last in 2015 to 13th; their MLB Pipeline was ranked 10th overall before this season and is currently sixth.

“As it relates to Gardy (manager Ron Gardenhire), Al and myself, we’re all on the same page,” Ilitch said. “For me, it’s about progress, and when I look at our organization for this season, there’s been a lot of great progress.”

“Of our top 30 prospects, almost two dozen players are at the Double-A, Triple-A and Major League levels, and to me, that’s impressive,” he said. “That’s one of the highest numbers in Major League Baseball. That’s progress and I am pleased about that.

“That bodes well for our short-term and our long-term success.”

But when will the team be opening the checkbook to attract high priced free-agents again? Ilitch didn’t give a specific time period, but simply said that when the time is right, it will happen.

“Al (Avila, general manager) and I have talked a lot about that,” Ilitch said. “It’s certainly part of the plan. When Al feels the time is right, he’s going to have the resources to go out and address specific needs.

“It is undoubtedly part of our plan.”

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