Detroit Tigers: Al Avila and Paul Mainieri’s friendship blooms LSU pipeline

An old friendship between Detroit Tigers General Manager Al Avila and LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri brings an LSU pipeline to the organization.

The Detroit Tigers are gearing up for the start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season, and along with that comes the testing of new players in Summer Camp. During the last Summer Camp intrasquad game, the Tigers saw Alex Lange pitch at Comerica Park for the first time.

This brought announcers Dan Dickerson and Jack Morris to bring up the fact that Lange hails from Lousiana State University (LSU). They then connected that another draftee Zack Hess who also pitched in the last intrasquad also played his college ball for coach Paul Mainieri at LSU.

This got me thinking about others and how LSU has been a pipeline for the Tigers to tap into talent. Doing some research brings up something that makes this all much clearer and shows how things could be great for the Tigers’ future.

Detroit Free Press Jeff Seidel uncovered some information that must have been overlooked, or only less relevant in the past; there was quite the connection between LSU coach Mainieri and none other than General Manager (GM) Al Avila.

Mainieri coached back in the 1980s; he was the head coach at St. Thomas University, which is an NAIA school in Miami, Florida.

This just happened to be while Avila was finishing up his degree at St. Thomas University, and Mainieri included him on his staff.

This was just the start for both of them, as Seidel elaborates, Mainieri would move on, ultimately to end up at LSU nowadays and Avila would follow his career path ending up with the Tigers organization.

With the two remaining close friends, Avila has easy access to top-notch scouting information on players who Mainieri is coaching/has coached. While there are plenty of teams out there where personnel has connections to college, but this one explains the LSU influx of players.

Who have the Detroit Tigers brought in courtesy of the “LSU pipeline”?

Recently, the Tigers have been keen on Mainieri’s players, drafting two, and acquiring one in the Nicholas Castellanos trade. They also have JaCoby Jones, who was acquired in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates for reliever Joakim Soria in 2015.

The Tigers seem to be on the benefitting end of this friendship between Avila and Mainieri, but only time will tell. Jones has been a mainstay in the Tigers lineup in recent years, barring injury. In 2020, he is looking to get comfortable at the plate and become an everyday centerfielder who’s defensive tools are more than present.

The right-handed pitcher acquired in the Castellanos trade is Alex Lange, who was added to the 60-man player pool for the 2020 season, was one of Mainieri’s former aces. At the college level, your ace is the pitcher who starts every Friday night, Lange was that guy, at first.

Lange would get moved to the bullpen where he has seemingly come into his own and is an LSU-product the Tigers are looking to keep around as a part of their future pitching staff. The 24-year old, the right-hander will look to make the most of opportunities to be around the organization’s top prospects in the Player Pool and continue his development.

Mainieri must have gotten ahold of Avila’s ear when it comes to outfielder Daniel Cabrera and pitcher Zack Hess. In 2019, the Tigers would scoop up the right-handed throwing Hess who was a product of LSU who was the flamethrowing closer paired with Lange.

Hess is a tall (6-foot-6, 219-lb) right-hander who has a bit of a violent wind-up. Perhaps, Mainieri recommended the Tigers spend a draft choice on him and try to work him into a big-league bullpen given his stuff on the hill. Given his violent mechanics and head movement, Hess wavers with control, but he makes up for it with his ability to induce swings and misses for strikeouts.

One of the Tigers’ “steals” of their 2020 MLB First-Year Amateur Player Draft was outfielder Daniel Cabrera. Mainieri spoke incredibly fondly of the outfielder who was called the “purest bat in the draft,” according to some reports.

The Tigers would ultimately scoop up Cabrera in the second round in 2020 as considered to be a “steal” by many. Cabrera’s left-handed abilities in the box give him future value with this organization. Expect Cabrera to progress as a left-handed outfielder with some pop, possibly similar to Brett Gardner or even Curtis Granderson (post-Tigers days).

The relationship between Detroit Tigers GM Avila and LSU coach Mainieri could benefit the organization greatly.

The Tigers seem to have a great source of information being able to go directly to a player’s coach, knowing Avila and Mainieri have this established friendship. Granted, plenty of other teams and personnel have this type of thing, but it’s a cool situation for Avila and Mainieri, who have been close for so long.

The four players mentioned here are not the only former LSU players to roll through the Tigers organization in recent years, Mikie Mahtook is also a former LSU Tiger. Hopefully, these four are the beginning of a cluster of LSU players who will help facilitate this rebuild.

For now, Avila can sit back and watch the current on-field product take on the 2020 sprint season while the extra players in the Player-Pool keep going with intrasquad games and live batting practice in Toledo.

For Mainieri, he will be getting ready to bring his athletes back to campus for fall practice amid all the health and safety protocols that are coming into play with COVID-19.

Looking on the positive side, the hope would be that Avila and Mainieri can share some conversations next Spring regarding the 2021 LSU Tigers team and which players the Tigers may want on their draft lists in the 2021 draft.

The Detroit Tigers could look to continue this LSU pipeline of players via future drafts to help the health of the minor leagues and this organization.