Q&A: Dave Owen, Detroit Tigers’ Director of Player Development

As Detroit’s director of player development, Dave Owen is in charge of a farm system seemingly short on sure-thing talent. The team’s top prospect (according Baseball America), Devon Travis, was traded to Toronto for Anthony Gose. The No. 2 prospect, Steven Moya, struck out 161 times in Double-A. No. 3, Buck Farmer, had an 11.57 ERA in a four-game cameo after being promoted to the big leagues. No. 4, Derek Hill, is 18 years old and hit .208 in rookie ball.

It would be a mistake to dismiss the potential of the Tigers’ system. Moya had 35 home runs this year and has light-tower power. Farmer’s failure followed eye-opening performances in the minors. Hill was the 23rd-overall pick in this year’s draft.

The trio doesn’t represent the only talent in the pipeline. Jonathon Crawford, the Tigers’ first-round pick on 2013, had a 2.85 ERA in low-A West Michigan. Kevin Ziomek, last year’s second-round pick, had a 2.27 ERA and an 11.1 K/9 on the same club. A number of other players possess potentially promising futures as well.


Owen on the organization’s approach with first-year players: “We let them play. We want to give the kids a chance to breathe. I don’t think it’s right to do much with them the first year. We don’t have all the answers. How can we start making adjustments the first time we see a kid play? That first year is such a whirlwind for them anyway, with the draft and everything going on. We want to see them and evaluate, and we”ll eventually work in a few tweaks here and there.”

On Derek Hill: “We got Derek this year in the draft, so I’ve just seen him a little bit. It’s a small sample size, but this guy is exciting. He’s fun to watch. He’s just a young kid – he’s just out of high school – but he can really run. He’s a glider who runs easy and can really cover some ground. He’s a true centerfielder. At the plate, it looks like he’s going to be able to use all fields. I can see him being a base stealer. This kid has the raw potential to be a really good major-league player.”

On Steven Moya: “He’s got a chance to be a special guy. He’s got great power and it’s not just pull. He’s got power all over the park. He can go out to left field and center field. It’s a nice package. He’s a big, young man – a big, strong kid. He’s got a great body.

“Sometimes he is (too aggressive). He’s still learning himself as far as strike-zone discipline and pitch recognition. Mo’s working on that. He’s learning how teams are going to attack him – how they’re pitching him — and he’s learning how to make adjustments to compensate for that.

“It’s important to be realistic and know you have weaknesses that you need to make better. Mo does. He has a tremendous idea of what he needs to do and he’s very diligent about working on them.”

On advancing players through the system: “Our role is to get these kids in spots to gain experience and have success. We want to give them an opportunity to grow as players. Movement, as far as promotions from one level to the next, is really… a lot of it depends on success. A lot of it depends on how they’re playing. You want to keep challenging these guys. Let’s say a player is in Grand Rapids, our (West Michigan) low-A ball club, and he’s tearing it up. If you don’t feel that league is challenging him anymore, you push him to the next level. You keep doing that and hopefully he ends up in Detroit.”

On aggressively promoting Buck Farmer: “Sometimes it just comes down to timing – specific needs our organization needs at a specific time – and at that time it was Buck Farmer. It very easily could have been Jonathon Crawford or Kevin Ziomek. There were quite a few guys on that Grand Rapids team that are good-looking prospects.

“As a group, we just felt like (Farmer) was a kid who had the weapons to compete. Not that the other guys don’t. This is definitely not any disrespect for any of of other players, it’s just that we felt it was the right time to give him a shot.”

On Jonathon Crawford: “Jonathon has tremendous ability. He’s a kid who was our top pick, so we expect really good things out of him. He’s kind of in the same mold of a lot of those guys – with Kevin (Ziomek), with Chad Green, with (Austin) Kubitza, with Buck. It’s about consistency with his pitches, consistency with his delivery, commanding his fastball and his secondary stuff. When he’s right, man, he can dominate. He has power stuff. It’s really exciting. And he’s a good athlete. He’ll find his place.”

On Kevin Ziomek: “Kevin has a great feel for pitching. I’m really looking forward to him continuing his growth. He’s got three average-to-plus pitches, and he’s got some deception in his delivery. He’s a good-looking kid. He’s got that first full season under his belt and he’s been through a spring training, so he knows what to expect next year. I know we expect a lot out of him.”

On Robbie Ray: It’s hard to go to the big leagues and stay. A lot of guys will go to the big leagues and then get send back down. They’ll use that to help them and Robbie is one of those guys. He understands now what it’s like, and that are adjustments to make. Baseball is a game of adjustments. You get there and see what it’s all about – you get in the mix – and find out ‘this wasn’t working as well as I thought it should be.’ You work on that and get it right. You make yourself better so you’re more prepared when you go back. Robbie has a tremendous arm. With him, I think it’s more location and repeating his delivery.”

On the Devon Travis deal: “Dave Dombrowski is very smart and he’s always going to ask for a lot of opinions, not only of me, but of other people in our organization. We all have our opinions of what a guy is going to do in the future, and how he fits. It’s ultimately Dave’s decision – he’s the boss – and he’s going to do his homework before he makes this kind of move.

“I talked to Devon after the trade was made and told him how much we appreciate what he did for the Tigers. He’s a young man who is very professional. We do everything we can to help all of our guys grow as players, and I wished Devon continued success.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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the fume
9 years ago

That 2013 draft looks nice so far. No huge upside guys, but 4 of the first 6 guys have gotten off to great starts in their career, and Crawford’s ship is far from sailed.

Interesting to see where that West Michigan group gets assigned for 2015.