DETROIT -- It could be another long season for the Detroit Tigers, but fans in the Motor City may not have to look far for signs of hope.
About 60 miles down Interstate 75.
"We've got some pretty good ones going to Triple-A Toledo," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They ought to be pretty happy down there. They're going to see some pretty good pitchers."
Gardenhire and general manager Al Avila indicated Thursday that some of Detroit's top prospects will likely spend time at Toledo this season. The Tigers are hoping to improve after losing 114 games in 2019, but they're also leery of rushing young players too quickly.
Avila was asked about right-handers Casey Mize and Matt Manning, two of the game's top 20 prospects according to Baseball America. Although Avila didn't say anything certain about the organization's plans, it does not sound like those two will be joining the Tigers right away in the big leagues.
"I think it would be our preference for them to start in Toledo -- have a great year, have good years in Toledo," Avila said. "Hopefully we have a good start, and hopefully some of our young players do well, and hopefully at some point during the season, we can bring them up."
Detroit has five players among Baseball America's top 100 prospects: Mize, Manning, left-hander Tarik Skubal, outfielder Riley Greene and third baseman Isaac Paredes. None of them have appeared above Double-A, but Paredes is on the 40-man roster, and Mize, Manning and Skubal are non-roster invitees to major league spring training.
The Tigers are holding their annual winter caravan this week, and Avila, Gardenhire and several players talked to reporters at Comerica Park. Detroit made a few additions this offseason, signing catcher Austin Romine, first baseman C.J. Cron and second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Gardenhire is looking forward to a little more competition for playing time.
"We want to start putting a good team on the field, and we want these kids to continue to develop, so it's a dicey little thing to do," Gardenhire said. "You can sit there and say, 'Well, you're going to play because you're a young kid coming up, and you're still learning.' ... That's good and fine, but you still have to go out there and play. You have to get it done. You have to start getting it done."
Another big topic at the ballpark Thursday was the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal. Mike Fiers, the former Houston pitcher who went public about the scheme, played for the Tigers in 2018, immediately after leaving the Astros. Fiers told The Athletic he warned teammates with Detroit to have their guard up when facing Houston -- and that was confirmed Thursday.
"He didn't really say what they were doing, but he just said, 'Make sure you guys have multiple sign sets and you can switch it up on the go. Just be careful with these guys,'" pitcher Jordan Zimmermann said.
Baseball's investigation found the Astros used a video feed from center field to see the opposing catcher's signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal batters what kind of pitch was coming.
Three managers have lost their jobs amid the fallout -- Houston's A.J. Hinch, Boston's Alex Cora and the New York Mets' Carlos Beltran. Cora was Houston's bench coach in 2017, and Beltran played for the Astros. Major League Baseball also is investigating whether the Red Sox stole signs.
Zimmermann said he wasn't sure if more teams might be engaging in this sort of sign stealing.
"Fiers must have knew something when he came here, because he just said, 'Make sure you switch up the signs quite often,'" Zimmermann said. "Boston was another team that we did the same thing. Hopefully that puts an end to all the stuff."
Gardenhire was asked if he had any ideas for how to prevent it.
"Yeah," he joked. "Don't put trash cans around the dugout."