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Tigers GM Al Avila says he can see the light at end of tunnel

Posted: 5:19 PM, Jan 26, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-26 22:19:09Z
Al_Avila_Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers

DETROIT (AP) -- The Detroit Tigers are young, inexpensive and unlikely to be much of a threat in the AL Central.

For at least a couple more years, general manager Al Avila doesn't plan to jolt the roster with any big-money free agents. Instead, he and his front office are patiently waiting for their minor leaguers to develop into big league contributors.

A season after dropping 98 games for the second consecutive year, the club believes its future is beginning to take form.

"I can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Avila told reporters Saturday at TigerFest.

It just won't have much effect at Comerica Park this summer.

Led by last year's No. 1 overall draft pick, right-hander Casey Mize, the farm system is certainly improved, but most of its top players aren't likely to see Detroit until 2020 at the earliest.

While that group develops, a fifth consecutive losing season seems likely. Before the slump, the Tigers won the AL Central four times in a row and reached the World Series in 2012 for the second time in seven years.

Detroit at least expects to have a healthy Miguel Cabrera to open the season. The two-time MVP was limited to 38 games last year due to biceps surgery. The team is unsure if Cabrera will spend more time at first base or designated hitter, but his presence should at least give fans a reason to tune in.

"A lot of people are counting us out by looking at our team and roster," outfielder JaCoby Jones said. "Last year, we didn't have one of the best hitters of all-time on our team. He was hurt. But having Miggy back, being healthy that helps us out tremendously."

The team's only other lineup mainstay might not be around for long. Detroit has been trying to trade Nicholas Castellanos, but Avila has been unable to find a taker for the outfielder who hit .298 with 23 homers last year. Castellanos has one year left before becoming eligible for free agency and will earn nearly $10 million this season.

Castellanos did not attend TigerFest due to a family commitment. With how the trade market is shaking out, Avila expects Castellanos to report to spring training with Detroit next month. That's just fine with manager Ron Gardenhire.

"He's a pretty good baseball player," Gardenhire said. "I hope he stays with us for a long, long time."

Among the more intriguing players in camp this year will be 26-year-old Kaleb Cowart. Detroit plans to convert the former Angels third baseman into a right-handed pitcher after he hit .177 over parts of the previous four seasons. Cowart was drafted No. 18 overall by the Angels in 2010 out of high school.

"Our scouts saw him as an amateur and they tell me was a legitimate pitching prospect," Avila said. "He was such a good athlete that obviously you give him the opportunity to play a position and you see if he can hit. That has not gone as well. In getting him, we felt that we have a possibility of a two-way guy. We're going to put him on the mound and see if he can recapture what our guys saw when he was drafted."